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We paddled to Watson’s Place – 15 miles. A neat paddle and my first into parts of the Wilderness Waterway. I was armed with map, compass and GPS. I tried to only use my map and compass and was right 90% of the time. I whimped out a few times and turned on my GPS to verify and was glad I did.
The paddle to Watson’s place takes you up the Lopez River from Chokoloskee. Watson’s place had 4 camping parties and we immediately became friends with a group of guys from Chicago. An older guy with his two sons were also there with their stinkpot and they didn’t catch any keepers that day so fished at camp and caught a few large catfish – the ones with the long dorsal fin. Well, the old guy cooked them up and asked if I wanted any so I said sure! It was really good! The no-see-ums were nasty in the early evening but a cold front came thru and it really got cold that night and the no-see-ums vanished.
Next day we went out Chatham River – very strong current pulled us out. At times with very little effort we were going over 6 mph so it is a strong current at the mouth going into the Gulf. Made it to Pavilion Key (8 miles) by around 11 am so we set up our tents and I decided to circumnavigate the island (3 miles) while trolling. I didn’t catch anything but it was a nice paddle.
We met a nice family who arrived on Pavilion by boat and were camping. The husband and son come running up with catfish on their fishing poles all excited say "What kind of fish are these?" and "Can you eat them?" I told them that I had just tried them and was impressed. I also told them to watch out for the dorsal fins and they both showed me multiple punctures in their hands! Then I said to be very careful and clean those out. I got very sick when I was younger from a catfish puncture to my hand. Anyway, they cleaned them and were going to have them for dinner the next day. The kid also caught a 3 foot hammerhead. They were using live shrimp for bait but fishing the shallow end of the island.
At sunset, I fished from shore and caught what looked like a lady fish with dark fins and had teeth like a barracuda; around 12 inches long. Then I almost caught the biggest fish I ever caught on a small rod. I was fishing at sunset and wham! I see a fish jump and hit my lure. I kept tension on because I was using a lure that I bent the barbs down on. It took me 10 minutes and when I got it 5 feet from shore it spit the lure out. I thought it was a large snook but it may have been a tarpon. It was probably just over 3 feet long if it was a snook or around 4 feet if it was a tarpon (tarpon get bigger than snook). I was bummed but also very pleased with the thrill.
That night the winds picked up and Mike was really nervous but she was a trooper and we did fine the next day on our paddle back into Chokoloskee. We saw dolphin when we launched Monday morning and we knew it was a good sign. Our whole paddle back we saw dolphin every now and then and Mike says they look out for you – and I believe her.
I had fun and learned a lot like I need to really be aware of sunburn and prevent it. Also, I need to wear shoes and socks - my feet got burned with my Tevas. I need to find a way to sleep more comfortably when it doesn't get real cold - I am too hot in my sleeping bag and too cold outside. I may bring a sheet for the warmer nights…
I hope seeing this post will inspire some of you to get out there and enjoy the heck out of our great resource - the Everglades National Park.
Camping Permits required if camping in ENP
Off-season: Free with self-registration
On-season: check with ranger station (visitor center) for rates and to reserve campsites.
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