THE EVERGLADES’ SILVER LINING
How Experts Find and Catch Tarpon in the Everglades Backcountry
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.