If you’ve ever fished the marine waters of Everglades National Park in sunny Florida, you know that it is one of the world’s premier destinations for fly and light-tackle anglers. Nearly all of Florida’s glamorous shallow-water game fish such as tarpon, bonefish, permit, snook and redfish can be sight-fished in water barely deep enough to get your knees wet.
However, getting from point A to point B in this neck of the woods seldom involves traveling in a straight line. The Florida Bay portion of the park can be particularly tricky, as it is composed of numerous basins of “deep water” typically less than six feet deep that are bounded a labyrinthine system of extremely shallow banks that may become completely exposed on very low tides.
It takes time to learn how to effectively and responsibly run a shallow-draft skiff in these waters. Getting from one basin to another requires considerable local knowledge of where channels (marked and unmarked) bisect banks and allow safe transit without damaging the submerged seagrasses that are the lifeblood of Florida Bay. The actual fishing is done primarily with the aid of a pushpole or trolling motor to avoid spooking fish – and responsible anglers wait till they are: 1) far enough away from other anglers that are fishing; and 2) in water deep enough before firing up their engines and motoring to the next spot.
Unfortunately, years of boat use by uneducated and uncaring anglers has created substantial damage to seagrass in some areas of the park. As such, a pilot study initiated in 2010 created a poll-and-troll zone in Snake Bight, one of the park’s most heavily used shallow-water areas that prohibits the use of combustion motors. Nearly three years after its implementation, many anglers – including some who were initially against the concept – are seeing the benefits of the project.
I fish this area often and have to admit that the demeanor of the redfish and snook seems to have improved without skiffs whizzing about. And it’s also nice not having to worry about some jerk in a tunnel hull spinning up on plane in foot of water while you’re patiently polling after a school of fish.
The forthcoming Everglades National Park General Management Plan includes incorporating extensive “poll-and-troll” areas that, if approved, would prohibit boaters from using internal combustion motors. How extensive, you ask? If approved, the plan would prohibit engine use in approximately 30 percent of the park.
Make no mistake, the Park’s preferred alternative would greatly restrict how boaters could access Florida Bay. Yet, there could also be some vast improvement to the fishing and fishing experience at the same time. Fortunately, as I write this, Everglades National Park is holding a series of public scoping meetings and is collecting comments about its preferred alternative.
Most anglers that fish Everglades National Park know it’s a special place that deserves protection but at the same time want reasonable access. If you enjoy fishing this special piece of water, now’s the time to submit constructive comments to Park staff. Working together, we need to be able to strike a balance between protecting this unique fishing destination while at the same time providing a means to responsibly access it. The public comment period ends May 12, 2013. Click here to make your voice heard.