As many of these stories begin, it all started with a text message from a good friend. Our buddy Michael at Hell’s Bay Boatworks knew we’d been itching to get down to South Florida for some fishing, so when we got the invitation for a long weekend of camping and chasing tarpon in the Everglades backcountry, it was a no-brainer … “How soon can we leave?”
The plan was to rendezvous at the Hell’s Bay Boatworks headquarters in Titusville, FL, before caravanning south. We met up on a Thursday afternoon, and our party began the trek. The group consisted of four trucks, four Hell’s Bay skiffs and nine people. With a crew this big, we were bound to have a good time if nothing else, but it didn’t hurt that the fishing reports were good. Spirits were high as we rolled out of town and made a few last-minute stops for provisions for the four-day hiatus. We grabbed enough food and boat fuel (and twice as much beer) to last far longer than needed and settled in for the remainder of the drive down.
We camped out the first night on the mainland, since we’d arrived late. After an early wake-up call Friday morning and a quick breakdown of our hastily set camp, we loaded every square inch of each skiff with all of our gear and launched. It was finally time to hit the water and make the 25-mile run into the backcountry to our chickee campsite.
After a few hours of getting things situated at the chickee, we headed out into the afternoon to try and find some fish. We found a few snook meandering through the mangroves and were able to get a fly in front of one. After hundreds of miles of travel and what seemed like days to arrive, we were finally tight on our first fish.
We quickly turned our attention to the tarpon and keyed in on targeting them for the remainder of the trip. The fish were plentiful — as a group we jumped double-digit numbers of big fish, but collectively we only managed to land one.
(Photo: Gary Gillett)
Each day, after a morning of fishing, we would cruise back to the chickee for a cold-beer-induced siesta and whip up some lunch. Around 3 o’clock or so, it was time to ride back out and search for fish until dark. As one might imagine, there isn’t much for nightlife when you’re camping in the middle of nowhere on an elevated surface over water, but nine people on a chickee and a few coolers of beer is really all we have to explain about our nightly entertainment. The new friendships made and the things we experienced are the best parts about going on a trip such as this. The very foundations of so many of our passions are tied to relationships with the people we meet along the way. While it is true that we are chasing fish, the overall experience is defined by so much more.
The days were filled with predawn runs through tannin-stained rivers, with no other boats in sight and hungry fish all around. Each morning began with the hum of the boat motors idling at camp as the day’s color began to break the horizon and drown out the millions of stars. There is no cell service or distraction from the outside world, and for those few days all that mattered or needed to matter was fishing. This place is truly remote and wild, and you’re reminded of that at every winding turn through the murky, mangrove-lined rivers that cut their way through the South Florida backcountry. Next time, we will go back even more prepared but with just as much anticipation as the first time. We don’t suspect that will ever change.