The Vanhunks Guide To Cruising The Everglade’s Ten Thousand Islands In Your Fishing Kayak
Got a fishing kayak? If you’re an avid kayak fisher, solo or tandem, and into anything from fly fishing to light tackle, there is one place in Florida you must visit. Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, in the western Everglades is an angler’s paradise. This is one of the ‘must do’ locations for kayak fishing in the United States. Your Black Bass fishing kayak is the perfect craft for fishing these incredible waters with their varied conditions and multitude of fish species.
The state of Florida, with its vast coastlines, great climate and impressive fisheries, is undoubtedly one of the fishing kayak capitals of the world. The star of this fishing paradise is south of Chokoloskee Island in the Ten Thousand Islands section, of the Everglades National Park. The area is incredible for hanging out in your fishing kayak doing what you do best. It’s full of rich history and has plenty of great activities to keep the whole family occupied.
With so many options for fishing in the area, it is a hard to decide where to start. It would not be a bad choice to use a local fishing guide for your first few trips to the area. However, we have put together some of the best locations in the area to head out on your fishing kayak and enjoy the best the area has to offer.
Chokoloskee Island and the Western Everglades
This star of the kayak fishing world is an easy commute from the major city centers of Florida. It’s located only 90 minutes from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers, and within 40 minutes of nearby Naples and Marco Island. Pack up your gear, make sure your fishing kayak is loaded with a wide variety of tackle and lures and get ready to hit a wide variety of species. Few places rival the western Everglades when it comes to kayak fishing.
The Western Everglades are a massive nursery of marine life that feeds an array of sport and eating fish. From its rivers, flats, and islands spills the food that nurtures the species that kayak fishing enthusiasts seek – bass, tarpon, snook, redfish, trout, permit, cobia, shark, grouper, snapper, pompano, sheepshead, triple tail, mackerel and kingfish. It’s common to catch a dozen or more species in a single trip. Again, make sure your fishing kayak is properly loaded with all tackle requirements!
The center piece of this incredible kayak fishing paradise is Chokoloskee Island. Chokoloskee is a 137-acre island, rich with history, on the southern side of the Ten Thousand Islands area. To the northwest are literally thousands of mangrove islands to explore on your fishing kayak. You could literally spend years paddling these waters without ever fishing them all.
Against the mainland’s southern shore, the waters of the tidal rivers have been flowing in and out of the backcountry since the time before habitation. These rivers provide excellent opportunities to fish oyster bars, sand and mud flats, scoured holes, river mouths, run-offs and feeder creeks in your fishing kayak. It is literally kayak fishing nirvana. You will be able to fish with lures, trawling and there are a plethora of live bait options. Pump prawns in the mud flats, use small crabs and catch bait fish with ease on your down rod. Quite often you will be catching smaller species and simply get hit by a larger game fish, so be prepared for anything.
A fishing kayak with pedals is a must in this area, as the tidal movements and currents can be extreme. The Black Bass and Tarpon fishing kayaks are ideal for fishing around Chokoloskee Island.
Kayak Fishing the backcountry tidal rivers
While all fishing is highly recommended in the area, it is on a fishing kayak that you will truly get the full experience. While the head waters are crystal clear, they become tea-colored from the tannic acid released by the mangroves, the deeper you head up the rivers. While this adds some colour to the water, it still provides for excellent sight fishing opportunities from your fishing kayak.
The rivers are littered with small mangrove islands and feeder creeks that are havens for fish, such as the resident populations of small tarpon. A fishing kayak is the perfect craft for manoeuvring through these tight spaces and the low ceilinged tunnels amongst the Mangroves. You may want to use a smaller fishing kayak when paddling the tight waterways. We suggest the Manatee and Whale Runner, both nine foot fishing kayaks for use in tight waterways.
The moving water scours deep holes and at the same time create sand and mud flats. Numerous oyster bars and mud banks, nature’s breeding grounds for crabs, shrimp and small fishes, are up and down the river. These create natural channels and eddies perfect for hooking fish off of a fishing kayak. You may want to pack an anchor though, in order to stay on the perfect spot when the tides are pushing. You can also pack a bait pump on your fishing kayak for live bait. Simply beach your kayak on the mud flats and pump for prawn, worms and small crabs to use as bait. Make sure to have a live bait bucket on board.
The North Rivers
North of Chokoloskee Island you will find literally hundreds of creeks and small rivers to explore on your fishing kayak. The Pumpkin, Little Wood, Wood, East, Fakahatchee, Ferguson, Barron and Turner rivers will keep you occupied for days. No matter which river or tributary you explore, there are more excellent kayak fishing spots than you could possibly try in a year. You will spend days paddling and fishing the area.
The north rivers dump into large bays surrounded by thousands of islands. Each provides opportunities for you to reap the respective oyster bars, cuts, mangrove overhangs and rips from your fishing kayak. The islands themselves form massive blockages that tidal waters flow through. These blockages scour massive holes that are sometimes over 20 feet deep. The smaller of the groupers, the largest of the black drum, Spanish mackerel, and the cobia move into these areas in the cooler months. As things warm up in the spring, the massive goliath groupers, large numbers of large tarpon and the biggest of the snook move in. Snapper, jack, trout, pompano and ladyfish are a given almost year-round. Making this a truly incredible place in a fishing kayak.
You are definitely going to want to be on a larger fishing kayak with proper pedals and have an anchor on board. Also make sure to have a GPS and fish finder on board, so you always know your location and keep yourself in the right areas for the fish you are hunting. A couple of rod options would be wise as the variety of fish and sizes of fish is so large. You will want to be able to change up your tackle options at the drop of a hat.
The South Rivers
South you will find the Lopez, Chatham, Houston, Lostman’s, Rodgers, Broad and Harney rivers, as well as many unnamed creeks large enough to hold tarpon, snook, redfish, grouper and more. The south rivers are fed by the backcountry, a vast flooded area of saltwater bays, bayous, bights and islands. A large part of this area falls in the Everglades National Park – so make sure you have the correct fishing permits and where you are allowed to launch on your fishing kayak.
Higher in the backcountry, to the north, above the bays, are runoff creeks from the mainland. Here you can catch a snook in one cast, redfish the next and a large mouth bass on another. Literally a different species every cast and a full hold on your fishing kayak in very little time. Make sure to have some heavier tackle and rods here, as you don’t want to be caught off guard by the larger game fish. A drag anchor could also be a good piece of equipment for this area, allowing you to concentrate on fighting the fish, while not being dragged miles downstream.
The south river mouths are defined by massive oyster bars and channels that cut through even larger grass and mud flats. For most of the year, these areas concentrate large numbers of fish and wildlife. Fishing this area it is common to be amongst hundreds of wading birds, manatee, alligators, dolphin, eagles and osprey. You will even see deer, pigs, cats, and bear on the beaches. Not only will you be kept busy fishing on your fishing kayak, but get to see the varied wildlife of the Everglades. Also always be aware of the chance of seeing Alligators, and Bull Sharks can swim far up these channels and rivers from the sea.
Be prepared for ever-changing conditions and make sure you have loads of sunblock and protective gear. We highly recommend using a GPS and fish finder for this area.
Fishing Barrier Island
The outside barrier islands provide another incredible location for angling off of a fishing kayak. Snook, redfish, shark and jack roam these waters, making for excellent sight fishing opportunities. Trout, pompano, ladyfish, flounder and redfish are up on the flats. Tarpon, shark, cobia, large jack and dolphin will be there, alongside you, hunting the smaller species. You are going to be kept very busy on your fishing kayak. This is another area where you will need to ensure you have a wide variety of tackle and lures. This area should not be paddled without a GPS, fish finder and safety equipment such as flares. You are out on open water and the weather can change fast.
Just offshore of the Island, still within sight of land, are natural formations and man-made structures that attract huge stocks of fish. Here you will hook cobia, snook, goliath groupers, mackerel, kingfish, snapper and permit off of your fishing kayak. The possibility of losing your smaller fish to giant goliath grouper, or being run down by a shark, is a distinct possibility. You will be treated to an extremely exciting day out on your fishing kayak.
Pack food, drink and protective gear as you will more than likely loose track of time as you experience some of the best kayak fishing on the planet. Also ensure you have heavy tackle and rods for large game fish. Some of the goliath grouper and sharks here will be almost too big to land off a small kayak, making for extreme fishing. Also pack your waterproof camera to get the evidence as you will have to release most of these larger species.
The perfect kayak fishing destination
This area has to be at the top of your list for kayak fishing in Florida, if not the world. Unlike many other fishing areas in Florida, you will not be blown out by weather in the western Everglades. There are so many diverse areas and protected sites to choose from. No matter what the weather is doing, you will find a protected spot for your fishing kayak. Having said that, always be prepared for anything when fishing off of a kayak. You never know what will happen out there.
Another reason to head to this incredible destination will be the seclusion. This is one of the best destinations for kayak fishing on your own. You are guaranteed to find a secluded spot where it will be just you and the fish.
Lastly, this is one of the best places on earth to catch a wide variety of fish species. From smaller light tackle species, to the monsters of the game fishing world. Be prepared for anything to happen once you put your bait in the water.
So pack your fishing kayak, gear and tackle and head to the Ten Thousand Islands! You won’t regret it.
If you are looking for a guide to take you fishing in the area, check out Captain Charles Wright and his company Chokoloskee Charters. With huge area to cover, multitude of fishing species, and many different launch spots – being guided by an experienced local will be of major benefit. Thanks to him for much of the information in this article.