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Posted on May 24, 2013 in Deep Thoughts
My First Everglades Camping Experience
by Jason Schratwieser

I really don’t consider myself an overly superstitious person, or at least I didn’t till my first camping experience in the Everglades backcountry nearly a decade ago. It was February, prime time for camping on chickees deep in the backcountry that are only accessible by boat. Fellow IGFA co-worker Adrian Gray and I had planned for a two-day, one-night fishing trip in search of snook, redfish or whatever else we could catch.

For some reason at the time, I was under the incorrect assumption that access to the chickees was on a first-come-first-serve basis that required no paperwork. Little did I know that Everglades National Park has a system that requires people to sign up for particular camping sites. They do this not only to keep tabs on who’s out there camping, but also to ensure that paddlers traversing the Wilderness Waterway will have places to rest along the way.

The fateful day in question started innocuously enough. We had great weather when we launched and proceeded directly to the Roberts River chickee to deposit our camping gear. Once the boat was unencumbered of the way-too-much gear we had brought, we set out to fish all the way to the Shark River. The weather continued chamber-of-commerce perfect and, if I recall correctly, we caught a fair number of fish along the way. You’d think I’d have a better recollection of the actual fishing, but the events that transpired after that seems to have occluded that part.

It was late afternoon and we decided to head back to our chickee to set up camp and perhaps do a little dusk fishing afterwards. I was taking a bit of a circuitous route through a twisty, mangrove-lined creek that had numerous smaller creeks emptying into it. I was paying attention, and by that I mean taking mental notes that this might be a good area to fish later. What I wasn’t paying attention to was where I was actually going because I ran my old Whipray on a low plane into a mangrove point. Immediately after impact, Adrian stood up, uttered a nervous laugh and said that he wasn’t hurt in the least. After I saw that Adrian was fine, I next turned to see what condition my skiff was in. Mangrove branches and leaves littered the cockpit but an inspection outside of the hull miraculously revealed only cosmetic smudges from mangrove bark. Luckily, all I had done was dealt a glancing blow to one of the mangrove’s prop roots. I remember us laughing after we found all was OK, and one of us commented something to the effect of “at least we got our bad luck out of the way.” Boy, were we wrong.