THE EVER­GLADES’ SIL­VER LIN­ING

How Ex­perts Find and Catch Tar­pon in the Ever­glades Back­coun­try

Sport Fishing - - CONTENTS - By Adrian E. Gray

THE un­tamed wilder­ness of labyrinthine rivers, creeks and bays that con­sti­tute Ever­glades Na­tional Park’s back­coun­try can be as in­tim­i­dat­ing as it is sub­lime. De­spite their tricky nav­i­ga­tion, these wa­ters of­fer both amaz­ing fish­ing and peace from South Florida’s con­crete jun­gle just an hour away. It’s where you’ll find me in my sk­iff as of­ten as I can get away, through win­ter and into spring, hunt­ing for trea­sure — 100-pound in­gots of liv­ing sil­ver — the mighty tar­pon. A friend in­tro­duced me to this world-class fish­ery in the late 1990s, and ever since, it has been an ob­ses­sion of mine.

A high point in these years of ob­ses­sion came dur­ing a re­cent Jan­uary when Carl Ball (a char­ter cap­tain out of Mi­ami) and I found the mother lode of tar­pon.

We left the Flamingo ramp at But­ton­wood Creek, cleared Coot Bay and Tar­pon Creek and, within 20 min­utes, were hooked up to chrome-plated bal­lis­tic mis­siles in White­wa­ter Bay.

A sin­gle tar­pon had given up its lo­ca­tion when its mir­rored back re­flected the sun­light pierc­ing through the man­grove tree­tops. Pitch­ing plugs about the same size as Carl’s half-smoked Co­hiba on what could serve as bass-fish­ing tackle was the game. We jumped a dozen sil­ver kings, mostly in the 80- to 100-pound range, land­ing four in two hours of fish­ing be­fore we changed gears to tar­get snook in the deeper re­cesses of the Glades.

EX­PLOR­ING THE MAZE

It’s never easy fig­ur­ing out a fish­ery, es­pe­cially one that takes place within a maze. The vast­ness of the Ever­glades is over­whelm­ing (of­fer­ing vis­i­tors a re­minder just how in­signif­i­cant we re­ally are). The place can’t be tamed but learned only slowly through hard work and per­sis­tence.

The lat­est GPS tech­nol­ogy of­fers an­glers the chance to nav­i­gate these wa­ters in ways never avail­able to early pi­o­neers. My Raymarine Ax­iom 9 chart plot­ter with Navionics Plat­inum+ satel­lite im­agery opened wilder­ness doors when that chart chip be­came avail­able in 2007. Hav­ing the ben­e­fit of satel­lite im­agery in a GPS pro­vides a bird’s-eye view for nav­i­gat­ing and also of­fers an ef­fec­tive tool when try­ing to find lee shores on windy days. I wouldn’t ven­ture there without it.

Even with such elec­tron­ics, I file a float plan with fam­ily or friends be­fore fish­ing the Glades. A cur­rent, regis­tered, per­sonal ACR ResQLink per­sonal lo­ca­tor bea­con or Garmin in­Reach Ex­plorer satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tor is also a plus in case of emer­gency. There’s no TowBoatUSA or SeaTow to help you.

As an an­gler who fishes these wa­ters, I’ve learned much by chat­ting with sea­soned guides who ob­vi­ously share the same pas­sion for the park and its tar­pon. Capt. Steve Te­jera (knot­tightchar­ters.com) spe­cial­izes in fish­ing the back­coun­try 200-plus days a year. Tar­pon can be found all year in the many rivers, creeks, back bays, shal­low mud flats,

While hooked tar­pon might sulk deep when they’re able to, shal­low wa­ters in the Glades can deny them that op­por­tu­nity — so they go air­borne, a lot.

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