I made my first visit to Flamingo in the Everglades Park back in 1998. The company I was with at the time sent me to down to Orlando from South Carolina for a training class. I talked them into paying my mileage for my vehicle rather than airfare and rental car expenses. What I didn't tell them was I would be pulling the Maverick flats boat I had just bought along to the training with me. I took a few extra days of vacation and headed straight to the end of the road in the Everglades Park ending up at Flamingo. If I remember correctly, I missed the first couple days of the class because I was still fishing...not sure why my job with that company didn't work out.
As I was headed into the park, I stopped for gas and found the convenience store (Dion's) had great looking fried chicken. Being a southern boy and knowing it was my last chance at anything other than canned beans for a few days, I loaded up a huge box of chicken and biscuits. When I got to the campground at Flamingo and was setting up my tent I heard a noise and a raccoon was up on my boat grabbing chicken as fast as he could. I ran him off and placed the chicken inside a compartment of the boat. Ten minutes later I hear more rustling around and there is one raccoon holding the compartment lid open and the second grabbing the whole box of chicken. A high speed chase through the campground ensues and I did collect two pieces that they dropped.
Fast forward to April 2013 and I'm laying in a comfy cabin of the Mother Boat operated by Blue Moon Expeditions thinking about how much my trips to the glades over the years had evolved. Rather than chasing raccoons for my dinner, I sat in a comfortable air conditioned lounge enjoying a wonderful pasta dish with a nice fresh salad and key lime pie for desert. We were anchored up inside the Little Shark River, a 25 mile one way run from the nearest launch.
This allowed us to enjoy fishing until almost full dark, something I had never been able to do in the remote parts of the park before. On all my previous trips we had to wrap up fishing by 3:30 to make the long run back to Flamingo to fuel the boat before the store closed at 5:30. It also allowed me to fish the predawn bite in the remote part of the glades without making a long run in the dark. Being able to quickly come back in for lunch during the slower times at mid day, get out of the heat and even catch a quick nap was extremely nice.
Having fished the glades many times since that first trip back in 1998, my buddy Kevin and I elected to do the package where I supply my own boat but we use the Marquesa as a floating fishing lodge. This package covers lodging and all meals. What a great experience. Other than gaining a little weight from the hearty meals, it was really enjoyable to meet other fisherman and discuss the experiences from everyone's day.
There was an extremely nice couple from Maryland that ran an offshore charter up there. During their fishing offseason in Maryland they had been coming to the Keys for many years to do more fishing. People after my own heart. They told great stories about the husband's 15 year pursuit of Permit on fly rod. They decided to take a break from the Keys and come experience the glades for a few days.
There were a couple of other guys also doing a bring your own boat package. They ran their boat all the way down from Goodland to meet the mother boat which is apparently over 50 miles one way. I felt kind of bad for them because one fellow wasn't feeling good on the day they had to leave and the rain and wind kicked up that day. It didn't seem like it was going to slow them down though. They seemed ready for the adventure of it.
On our last day a young coupe from Charleston came in. The wife was a Clemson graduate just like my fishing partner and I. Her husband who is originally from Texas just rolled his eyes that they came all the way into the glades back country just to hear more Clemson football talk. He was extremely gung-ho to get his first tarpon. I know they connected on one throwing plugs fishing with Captain Shafter Johnston their very first evening. I really hope they were able to get one.
By not having 50 miles of round trip running to the campground everyday, we were able to do a lot more exploring than usual. I found several new spots I can't wait to get back to. Captain Johnston recommended one really good area up inside a remote river where we were able to get our back country slam of snook, redfish and trout all site casting in just a few minutes. I had run past that area dozens of times and never gave it a second look. With the cold weather in March the tarpon were just getting going but it was tougher fishing than normal for April. We did mange to put 6 nice size tarpon in the air, all on live bait. We never could get them to eat an artificial this trip. It was nice seeing good numbers of snook around, they were really the highlight of the trip. We found good numbers of them from the back country all the way to the gulf coast. Interestingly everything seemed to key on shrimp imitators. They were much preferred over the baitfish imitators we tried. Many of the fish we caught had shrimp visible in their mouth or spit them onto the deck.
Way back inside Whitewater Bay we spotted a really nice goliath grouper sitting against a downed tree. His nose was directly against the thickest part of the log facing into the current. There was just no good way to present the bait to him without getting hung in the tree. After about my 10th attempt, I tried to get really aggressive and bonked him right in the head with the bait and he took off. I doubt I could have turned him out of the tree but it would have been fun while it lasted.
The only downside to this trip is now I am spoiled and camping in the Flamingo campground won't seem same going forward.
By Chip Willimon
Bio: Chip currently lives in North Carolina but makes 4 separate week long trips a year to the Everglades Park or Keys primarily targeting Tarpon and Snook in remote areas of the region. His favorite months to fish the area is from Mid March to Mid October. Since most of the friends that accompany him on his adventures are generally not hardcore saltwater fishermen he tends to focus on light tackle and live bait fishing, only pulling the fly rod out on occasion.