“Bones and permit going off down here right now”-Randy
That’s the PM I received on June 19th. That same day I realized I had July 3rd off work so I decided to take the 1st and 2nd off, pack my stuff and head to Florida’s Lower Keys on a solo mission to catch some permit. It would be my adventure on my time without any distractions. Selfish? Maybe. Relaxing, solitude, spiritual, free, quiet? Yes. It seemed that simple. It's called a Mikaction.
For the past four years I’ve been trying to dial in the Florida Keys as best as I can with my buddy Jon. I’m not a very big fan of reading fishing reports as I figure the very best way to find the fish is to go look for yourself. I read maps, watch the weather, take notes and get in the water. This extends the adventure that much further and when the outcome is positive, the physical and mental reward is high. However, I’ve also been trying to hook up with Randy Morrow of Lower Keys Kayak Fishing at the same time. Things just haven’t worked out and our paths have not crossed, until now.
I left the house around 8:30am and headed for the Miami area. The Wynwood Arts District is a place I’ve been wanting to visit for some time now and time was exactly what I had. This area is loaded with unbelievable talent that is displayed on the walls of the buildings in the streets of Miami. It was extremely hard to limit my time there but I did my best and was back on the road by 12:30pm. As free as my time was, I had somewhat of a schedule to maintain.
Wynwood Walls-Just off I-95 in Miami
Check-in time at Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge was 3pm and my site was set-up and settled by 5:30pm. BPKFL is an excellent place to camp and very reasonably priced. With both primitive and RV slots, there is plenty of room. There are also daily activities, a pool, boat ramp and much more. #249 was my slot and it was a great corner lot with water on two sides and a massive mangrove tree to produce nice afternoon shade. Very easy kayak launch right at the site but this wasn’t in the plan. This was my first time staying on Big Pine and as familiar as I was with the local and endangered Key Deer, I had no idea what I was in for. No Name Pub was my spot for dinner and I enjoyed a nice small pizza and went back to Camp Conneen to get an early start in the morning.
My trusty Eureka Spitfire tent has been my home on some awesome adventures.
Thursday I found myself in Big Pine’s backyard, Coupon Bight. Randy informed me of a small kayak launch and without checking the tides or map, I went for it. Three minutes into the water and I see a heavy school of fish pushing the flat in my direction. “Too easy” I thought to myself. Without knowing what it was I made a cast towards them and they swam right by. I stalked them until I was able to see the species and found that it was school of large parrot fish. I stopped casting and observed these beautiful fish while they cut in and out of the mangroves. The tide was outgoing and all types of fish were on the move including small sharks and sea turtles. Juvenile lemon, bonnethead, blacktip and nurse sharks were all accounted for. The days paddle was an estimated 11 miles and was primarily exploration with the exception of a nice snapper hole I found.
A curious lemon shark learning how to stalk kayaks.
After dinner I started to make lunch for Fridays trip with Randy. Something I noticed around the island was that the Key deer signs all stated that it’s “unlawful” to feed the deer. I’m not 100% sure but unlawful doesn’t sound the same as illegal. Regardless, I don’t condone feeding ANY wildlife. All these thoughts were going through my head while I had a golf ball sized wet nose all up in my lunch making process. With front hooves on my lap, my new friend wouldn’t leave me alone. Amazingly I shouted “NO” at him and he gracefully left me alone. Human interaction is what gets wildlife killed in most cases and I felt bad that this small deer trotted off sad but such is life. I’m sure he got ice cream at the next site anyway.
Key deer look just like an average deer but much smaller and only live in the Keys.
Somewhere in my mini adventure I managed to stand on a hot surface and burn both of my heels bad enough to form blisters larger than a silver dollar. There is no feeling in my feet so I didn’t even know it happened. I only noticed this because one opened up and I saw the blood on my tent. This little bump in my path stood no chance against my first aid kit and alcohol. Both are kept in my kayak at all times and I highly recommend doing the same. Both don’t take up a lot of room and can really help you out in you find yourself in a bind. I also make sure a float plan with locations are given to a loved one and a VHF marine radio, cell phone and water are with me at all times. My Extrasport PFD is worn like my thinning hair as well. The world is a very unpredictable place and these exact items can save your life. Reassurance will give you more time to focus on making memories.
A very salty full moon
Friday morning I met Randy on Cudjoe Key and we hit the water at 9:30am. The production of my local fishery doesn’t base itself on tides as much as it does light so sleeping in before fishing is always odd to me. Randy knew my experience on the water was not that of a novice so we planned to cover a good amount of ground. Unfortunately like the previous day, the wind was not our best friend and neither were the clouds. Between the both of them, visibility proved to be tough especially since I’m not able to stand in my kayak. We stuck together and since Randy isn’t a paraplegic, he stood tall and called out locations of fish. We worked great as a team but unfortunately I was only able to get two good shots on decent permit and those good shots just weren’t good enough. A few decent snapper were caught to keep the skunk off and we wrapped the day up. About 7 hours and 10 miles were put on the books for the day and although I did not catch a permit, I couldn’t have asked for a better day, minus the wind. Randy is a great guide and human being with a plethora of knowledge extending beyond fishing. We targeted permit but he is able to expand your species list if that’s what you’re looking for.
Sitting on the seat back to get a few more inches of visibility.
We ended the day with dinner at Boondocks and random conversations. It was at this time that I informed him that if I landed a permit within the first hour I might have been disappointed because the degree of difficulty wouldn’t have stood up to my expectations. This is all part of my Keys permit adventure and only a stepping stone in the process. I’m paying my dues in order for it to pay off in the end. My first Keys permit will be well worth it.
Friday night I was lucky enough to watch the Big Pine Key fireworks display. Something had gone wrong when ordering the fireworks so they were forced to send them up on the 3rd and not the 4th. The view of the lower fireworks were obstructed by the bridge but I could see the high ones easily. They kept me company as I prepped my gear for a quick and easy exit first thing in the morning.
The ever so cool yet invasive, green iguana
Saturday left me thinking as always, “Where did the trip go?” Sugarloaf Key was on my agenda to explore for the morning before making the 5 hour drive home. The only fishing I planned on was a large hole that I was going to scout. I launched and headed towards a mangrove pass. It was early, July 4th and I managed to beat all the boats out and had the area to myself. The outgoing tide easily pulled me through this pass without having to use my paddle. Once on the other side I started to look for the large hole. As easy as it sounds to find a large hole in clear water, it wasn’t easy. My map showed me that I was on top of it but the visibility was very poor because of the clouds. I only spent a short time there and started to make my way back to the mangrove labyrinth. It was windy and I was out in the open so after a few good casts, I booked it.
Friends don't let friends let their boat get like this
There are a series of passes that lead from one side of Sugarloaf to the other. These passes are only navigable but kayak or canoe. When I first looked at them I saw that there were a number of them. I knew how I was going to get to the side I was on to begin with but I didn’t know how I was going to get back and left the map in the hatch. The tide was still outgoing so finding a passage and paddling against the water the entire time would lead me to the other side, eventually. It was fun getting lost in these small tunnels but it's extremely hard to turn a 12'9" boat around in a pass that's only 5' wide. I ended up finding a lure, two Cuban yoyo’s and some other trash that I collected. One of the yoyo’s took me about 15 minutes to retrieve because of the countless yards of heavy mono that was entangled in the mangrove roots. Just when I thought I had my bearings straight, I told a couple where to paddle to see the coolest part. About ten minutes later I realized I had no clue where I was and lead them to one of the long dead ends I had found. I apologized in my head and carried on. There was no sight of them the rest of the morning.
If you forget your kayak, the Keys have got you covered
Sorry, no motorboats back here.
Just like that, the trip was over. As hundreds of cars drove south to be in the Florida Keys for the 4th, I made up the small percentage driving north so I could be with my wife. They say you shouldn’t let material objects control your life. John Lennon said, “If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there'd be peace.” While I agree with that very much, I also think there would be a lot more peace if everyone owned a kayak or canoe. The wife can tell you that our trips almost always evolve around water and if I can bring my kayak or not. My kayak is a big piece of plastic material but it has changed my life in many ways. A good day of fishing does not beat out a bad day of fishing because when it all boils down, it’s about having a good time on the water. Let the distractions flow by and float your own boat.
It's much more than just a plastic boat.