The Everglades

Florida

Story and Photos By Dan Armitage

Plenty of wildlife calls the Everglades home. Best for a winter getaway, fishing and watching lots of wildlife.

Pelicans and spoonbills aboundPelicans and spoonbills abound.

"Consider it like boating in the Bahamas," offered the fellow launching in the lane next to me. "You're pretty much on your own out there, so prepare and proceed with care." Facing a maze of mangroves, mudflats, and oyster bars in the heart of the Everglades, I weighed that advice each morning when we left the dock to explore the watery wilds surrounding our base at the Outdoor Resorts marina, on 148-acre Chokoloskee Island. Surrounded by national park, the marina for many generations has served as an end-of-the-road outpost and jumping-off point for commercial and sport anglers heading into the Everglades and Ten Thousand Islands waters.

The fishing is good in the one and a half million acres of the Everglades ParkThe fishing is good in the one and a half million acres of the Everglades Park.

If you don't love fishing or wildlife watching, move on to the next destination, for there's little else to do here on the water. Watercraft with drafts greater than 18 inches are limited in their operating area in the shallows that dominate the region. Cellphone service is nonexistent in much of the Everglades, and I found I couldn't count on getting a response to a VHF courtesy radio check, either; although you may be heard, you likely won't get a response unless you report that you're in need of assistance. Get an up-to-date chart of the area, and make sure any electronic charts are current. It's a good idea to seek local advice, too; doing so prevented me from getting stuck in the shallows, which were not clear on my chartplotter. You can't count on channel markers to help you navigate park waters, either, as their use is purposely limited in the 1.3 million-acre Wilderness Waterway designation that substantially covers most of the park's 1.5 million acres.

Everglades Know How

When To Go

While fishing is good year-round, non-Floridians may find all but the winter months a bit hot.

Everglades and Naples Florida map

Where To Stay

RV pads and motel rooms on the marina are available at the resort starting at $99 a night. See Outdoor Resorts of Chokoloskee.

Also, get local tourism info from the Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau in Naples, Marco Island. www.paradisecoast.com

Where To Launch

The most popular public launch ramp on Chokoloskee Island is operated by the adjacent Outdoor Resorts and charges $20. Picking the brain of marina manager Kenny Brown for boating and fishing advice while forking it over? Priceless.

Details

The author booked with HOPE Fishing Adventures and says that Capt. Charlie Phillips is the president of the Florida Guides Association and that "if he can't accommodate you, one of his fellow members will."

Ask a local if you can follow his or her boat to learn the cuts and channels that lead through the backcountry to the popular fishing and boating destinations. Fishing guides and guests at our resort offered that option when we told them it was our first time boating in the area. We also used our boat's GPS backtracking option to mark and save those routes so we had a trail to follow to get back to the dock.

Top off your boat and vehicle fuel tanks before you get too far from I-75; gas gets more expensive the farther you travel from the interstate, and it may be unavailable at any price for short intervals at some marinas during peak holiday periods.

Make no mistake, this is glorious backwoods boating, so carry a few spare parts, such as a prop, and know how to change it out. Bring along water shoes that won't get sucked off your feet in muck or compromised by sharp oyster shells. Bring binoculars for watching everything from gators and manatees to bald eagles and roseate spoonbills, among all the wildlife that abounds in the Everglades. Pack sunscreen and insect repellant if you visit in the winter months; double the amount of both at any other time of year. The sun is strong year-round, and the moment it dips below the horizon, skeeters and no-see-ums descend. But, oh, man, it's all worth it. 

— Published: Spring 2016


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