Trout Wide-Open on Top
The next day in the far north proved the best. Bellinger dropped us off at the bottom of Garfield Bight (just east of well-known Snake Bight). We ended up poling around one turtle-grass flat most of the morning since the seatrout bite was wide open on topwaters (with the odd ladyfish thrown in). Nearer shore we found some redfish willing; Hadden, fish-catching machine that he is, released quite a few while poling and sight-casting from what was at that time a prototype of the Freedom 14.
Having seen a pretty-good-size lemon shark, I sank a circle hook into a fist-size chunk of fresh ladyfish. About the time I forgot I was towing the bait under a float behind the kayak, the little spinner’s drag began to sing. It turned out to be not a shark at all but one of the trip’s better redfish. We also caught snook on these flats.
On the windiest of our four days, a lay-the-trees-over easterly talked us out of fishing the northern reaches. Rather, we fished pretty close to home, around shallows tucked in along the western shoreline of Upper Matecumbe Key, starting just above World Wide Sportsman and working our way south back to La Siesta.
We were pleasantly surprised with great action in the kayaks, mostly thanks to sharks (lemons, blacktips and bonnetheads).
“The best part” of fishing these waters for Kramer (who had previously fished them only from a skiff), “was having to master techniques to catch fish from the kayak.” He says that particularly meant operating in stealth mode and always being ready to cast quickly.
Besides the fishing opportunities the kayaks offered, says Venker, “I found it amazing what I could see and hear in those shallow mangrove bays — the fish and wildlife don’t even realize you’re there.”
From his days hard at it, Kramer offers three suggestions: 1) Don’t be afraid to go across crazy-shallow areas; that will get you where others (in boats) just can’t go — or have gone; 2) try to position yourself to take advantage of the wind when poling or drifting over a flat; and 3) be able to stake out immediately when you hook up.
I wouldn’t expect kayak fishing the shallows of Florida Bay to be every angler’s cup of tea. It’s definitely a whole different ball game and, in many ways, more challenging than zipping from spot to spot at 40 knots, and casting to fish a guide points out.
In this approach, the guide puts you in the area and waves goodbye. Then it — that is, Florida Bay — is all yours.
Capt. Matt Bellinger, Bamboo Charters — www.bamboocharters.com ($625 a day for two kayak anglers, $50 for each additional angler. Note: limited number of Freedom Hawks available at press time.)
La Siesta Resort & Marina — www.lasiestaresort.com
Florida Keys information — www.fla-keys.com
What to Bring on the Water
Wherever Bellinger decides the best fishing will be, he’ll get anglers there or as close as possible, and remain in the area. But it’s best to have a VHF and cell phone (in waterproof Plano or Pelican case); equip your iPhone with the Navionics app — it can be a lifesaver in the backcountry if you don’t have a separate GPS. For tackle, light spin and bait-cast gear will serve well — 8- to 12-pound braid or mono. You’ll want lots of soft plastics with worm hooks and light jigs as well as your favorite lures (don’t neglect topwaters). I found extra little bungee cords handy, among other things, for staking out with the pole. Don’t forget the bug repellent from spring through fall. And a small dry bag or two often prove useful.
Paddles aren’t the only way to move a kayak these days. Visit www.sportfishingmag.com/kayakpower and discover the many propulsion options that are available.