Out back in the Everglades

It's not easy fishing and camping out of a kayak. When you have to paddle a heavy boat packed with enough food, water and gear to survive for several days on a barrier island, the last thing you want to do is head off down some side creek in search of snook. ¶ Fishing, or let's say "catching," usually takes a back seat to paddling. ¶ But there is an alternative. ¶ "You cheat," explained master kayak angler Todd Llewellyn. "On our last trip, we lived like kings. We even had ice."

Three brothers

Llewellyn, 45, and his three brothers grew up in Miami fishing the waters of Biscayne Bay, but as adults, they spread out across the country to pursue other career and fishing interests.

"I live in Colorado, so I am a trout fishermen," said Jeff Llewellyn, 50. "I am used to streams and mountain lakes, not oyster bars and mangroves."

But when Todd of St. Petersburg called and proposed a powerboat-supported kayak fishing expedition, Jeff couldn't say no.

"In the end, I was able to convince two of my brothers (Rik) and a nephew (Adam) to go," Todd said of the four-night trip last fall. "We really didn't know what to expect."

Todd, an Allstate insurance agent, has established enough of a name for himself in the kayak fishing community that he is sponsored by Wilderness Systems, one of the leading manufacturers of plastic, sit-on-top kayaks. So Todd and the crew loaded up the boats and headed for Everglades City.

On the beach

Everglades National Park's Wilderness Waterway, a 99-mile route from Chokoloskee to Flamingo, has dozens of campsites. Some are located on island beaches, some on isolated patches of high ground scattered around the park and others on "chickees" or free-standing platforms built directly over the water.

"You don't know where you are going to camp until the morning you are about to leave when they assign you a spot," Todd said. "We were hoping to get a chickee so we could fish deep into the backcountry. But we ended up on Mormon Key, which turned out to work great as well."

Charles Wright, an Everglades City charter boat captain who caters to kayak fishermen, arranged to have a 24-foot skiff ferry Llewellyn's party and their gear (kayaks included) roughly 8 miles out to Mormon Key. Their island campsite gave them the option of fishing numerous rivers and creeks, as well as Florida Bay.

Todd, who came equipped with a GPS, had scouted the area before he arrived via Google Earth on the Internet. "That, combined with the charts, gave me a pretty good idea where I wanted to fish," he said.

Fillets on the fire

Before leaving St. Petersburg, Todd had stocked up on steaks, chicken, hot dogs and hamburgers, which he vacuum-packed in plastic bags and stored on ice.

"Having the boat bring us out there allowed us to bring a cooler," he said. "You still have to pack pretty light, but after a couple of days, you can't imagine how nice it is to have ice."

Llewellyn had brought along a variety of topwater plugs and soft-bodied jigs, but he wasn't confident enough as far as the fish were concerned to forgo food for his party of four.

"We ended up fishing the Chatham and Houston rivers," he said. "The tide was ripping, and we ended up having some long paddles, including a 16-mile round trip one day, but the fishing was well worth it."

The anglers caught numerous redfish, trout and snook, releasing most, but saving a few for the dinner.

"We had brought along a folding grill," Todd said. "We dug a fire pit on the beach, made a fillet board out of a piece of driftwood and cooked our catch. That had to be the highlight of the trip. There is nothing like redfish grilled over an open fire."

Words of advice

Planning a kayak fishing/camping trip in the Everglades is not difficult. But every hour of research you do at home could save you days of headaches in the field.

"You have to make sure that you bring everything you will need," Todd said. "Because once you are out there, you are on your own until the boat comes and picks you up."

For information on Everglades National Park, go to www.nps.gov/ever.

>>fast facts

If you go

Charles Wright of Everglades Kayak Fishing regularly transports kayak fishermen into the backcountry of Everglades National Park. Prices for guided trips start at $399 per person. Call (239) 695-9107, visit www.evergladeskayakfishing.com, or e-mail captwright@evergladeskayakfishing.com.

Fishing regulations

Anglers may have four fillets per person for immediate consumption at designated campsites. All other fish must remain whole while in the park. Florida bag and size limits apply.

Out back in the Everglades 03/13/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 14, 2008 9:00pm]

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