Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak
Hell’s Bay in the Everglades backcountry of southern Florida is one of the best, and most diverse fisheries in the southeast. With summer right around the corner, the temperature isn’t the only thing that’s beginning to heat up. The fishing is, too. Before you go racing off into the backcountry, keep in mind a few helpful tips that will make your trip safer, more enjoyable, and hopefully more successful.
Though I’m a big fan of kayaking and paddle craft, I have to advocate the use of power boats in Hell’s Bay and the surrounding areas. There’s simply too much water to cover. With the closest kayak launch being over 12 miles away at Flamingo, you’d end up spending your whole day paddling. Instead, shallow drafting flats boats, or the ever popular Gheenoes are perfect for this area. You can cover a lot of water much faster and they’re overall safer than a kayak. Why, you may ask?Summertime storms. South Florida’s rainy season is already underway and when these big thunderstorms boil up in the afternoons, you have to be prepared to dodge them. That’s something that is very difficult to do while paddling a kayak, especially when you’re 10 miles from safety.
Hell’s Bay and the entire surrounding area is a massive mangrove swamp. Twists and turns, bayous, creeks, and small bays are what make up this place. And it all looks the same. Exactly the same. You absolutely need some form of navigational tool. I will not go out on the boat with at least a nautical map of the area, a compass, and a GPS. Preferably, more than one GPS with spare batteries. Getting turned around out there is a real possibility.In addition to that, sun protection is your next top priority. There’s no shade anywhere, so long pants, long sleeve shirts, and wide hats are a must. During the summer it’s oppressively hot. So sun gloves and sun buffs make that necessity list, too. And with it getting hot, the bugs begin to become a very big issue. Early morning and late evening is obviously the worst time, but simply being out of the wind or in the mangroves can be a one-way ticket to losing gallons of blood from mosquitos. Definitely bring plenty of bug spray.
So why suffer through all of this? Well for the fishing of course!Snook, tarpon, and redfish all call Hell’s Bay and the backcountry home over the summer. Flipping weedless jerk baits or DOA shrimp alongside the mangroves can be a sure ticket to some of these fish. Just be sure to bring plenty of extra tackle as losing fish in the mangroves is a harsh reality of this place. Also take special note of the tides. These fish need tidal movement to begin feeding and the more movement, the better the bite. Look for drop-offs and creek outflows to land some of the bigger fish. Like most fish, early morning and late evenings are the best time. Just be sure to give yourself enough daylight to navigate back to Flamingo where the only boat ramp is.
So, if you find your way down in sunny south Florida this summer, don’t hesitate to give the backcountry a try. It’s a fantastic fishery that shouldn’t be overlooked at any time of the year, especially not summer. Just be sure to plan ahead, bring plenty of tackle, and maybe just an extra can of bug spray.