Flamingo, Florida Bay and Key Largo

Ahh, nothing like a trip to south Florida to break up the monotony. This time we didn’t take the Sea Pearl with us. We’re getting serious about scouting a large area in a short amount of time. Florida Bay is a big place and we both have to work for a living. Spare time is at a premium. As luck would have it, Excitable Boy has a connection who is an expert on Florida Bay and the Flamingo area. Brother in law Bo Boulenger has a big day job as the CEO of Baptist Hospital in Miami. He still finds the time to fish all over the world and his specialty is Florida Bay. Bo is a big Watertribe fan and he volunteered to be our guide and “friend of the team” by giving us a crash course in navigating this knarly last 40 miles of the EC.

We loaded up the Jeep on Friday morning with Joy (Mrs. Excitable Boy) driving, RWB navigating and EB enjoying the ride and planning the mission for the next day. Once in Miami, we headed to Coconut Grove for lunch and a tour of The Barnacle, Commodore Monroe’s home and grounds on Biscayne Bay. We soaked up the vibe there for an hour or so and then walked to the gelato shop for an ice cream treat. This EC planning has it’s benefits. We ended the day at Bo and Liz’s home in South Miami and a wonderful Yellow Tail Snapper dinner and planning session for the next day. We readied our boat for the mission; Bo’s Hewes Bonefisher flats boat. We’d be seeing most of Florida Bay at about 32 mph with the big Yamaha pushing us along. We also planned on at least a couple of hours fishing some of Bo’s hotspots. A nip of 23 year old rum for a nightcap and we were fast asleep by 10 pm. Lots of anticipation for the big day on Saturday.

We hit the road by 7 am and were in Key Largo launching about 2 miles north of the finish area for the EC by 8 am. It was windy, blowing about 15 out of the east. Not bad heading to Flamingo but we’d slog it out on the way home for sure. We ran the northern route over to Flamingo with our GPS and Ipad recording the tracks. Getting a good visual feel for the area and the severe shallow expanse was both valuable and humbling. The channels are about as wide as a country road and the current rips through them like a raging river. We ran through Crocodile Dragover and then headed south for a look at Twisty Mile and Jimmie Channel.

Then back through the Dump Keys and Tin Can Channel into Flamingo. Just before Flamingo we fished the eastern side of Palm Key (not far from where the Scamp crew planted themselves permanently in an EC a couple of years ago). This is a hot spot for Snook, Trout etc. but we were there at the wrong time and came up short

. We cruised into Flamingo for gas and some more fishing along the shore near the ranger station. RWB and EB had never been to Flamingo. It’s just an outpost with fuel docks, canoe rentals, Everglades Park headquarters and a restaurant. We were surprised at the number of people there doing the eco tourism thing. We were in awe of the beauty of the place and it was easy to become tourist. Bo kept us on track and coached us back to reality with his constant tips and references to areas we needed to pay attention to.

Our plan after lunch was to scout several versions of the “southern route”. This route has become popular with the Class 4 sailboats when there is a strong east wind. As we headed out of Flamingo, Bo had one more hotspot left to try and that would prove to be a nice treat for us amateur fisherman.

We headed south on the route just to the west of the Dildo Key (nice name) Bank. Then Bo abruptly headed west to an area that is remote enough to not be on our GPS charts. We ran into an unmarked channel at high speed and stopped in about 12 feet of water with flats on all sides. We immediately started catching Ladyfish which was amusing. We got into some Jacks and then it got weird. Something hit my line and just ripped off the lure like it wasn’t even there. We were using 16 pound test braided line with 20 pound leaders, expecting Snook, Redfish etc.  Bo looked at me and said he thought it was a big Tarpon that hit my lure. Just then RWB jerked his rod up and set his hook into something big. EB was falling all over the boat clearing lines and gear while Bo was directing RWB in the fine art of playing and landing a big Tarpon. None of us thought the fight would last long but for some reason the Tarpon didn’t break off. RWB fought a valiant battle for about 5 minutes. We estimated the Tarpon at about 5′ long and 75 pounds. He jumped 3 times and RWB had him near the boat on his side once. Just as EB found his Iphone and discovered it was turned off the battle got intense. We got a couple of photos of Runs fighting the fish and one fleeting photo of Mr. Tarpon breaking the leader and waving goodbye. For Bo it was just another day in Florida Bay but for us it was like being stars on The Florida Sportsman. Ahh, the luck, she’s still good.

RWB and his expert guide Bo


Mr. Tarpon saying goodbye

After recovering from that adventure it was back to work. We got back on course and headed south through Man O War Channel then Iron Pipe Channel into Rabbit Key Basin and up through the Gopher Keys. Things open up a bit around there but it is still wicked shallow. We eventually made our way to the Inter-coastal Waterway near Islamorada. You’re not home yet when you get to the ICW. It is about 12 miles northeast along the keys to Sunset Cove and the finish at Key Largo. We kept thinking that this long southern route offers some good possibilities but it’s not easy. Nothing in Florida Bay looks easy and all of the routes we looked at were not inviting in any way. The last part of the race is going to be the toughest. If the wind is out of the east, there is no good route for a Sea Pearl.

The team…

We pulled up near Cotton Key at Islamorada and finished our sandwiches and took a break from the pounding 2 to 3 foot chop. At this point we just laughed about the choices. It was all bad. At least we knew the area now and had some good navigational data. As we headed back to Key Largo, we saw a Sea Pearl with 3 guys anchored up near Pidgeon Key. We headed over to say hi and found out they were from Tavenier. I didn’t catch the owner’s name but we told them we were scouting routes for the EC. The guy who owned the boat just laughed and said he was too old for that sort of thing. That was a little unsettling since he looked to be about 15 years younger than we are. At this point, we’re committed so it’s too late to worry about age.

Bo (our guide) and Luke

A half hour later we were back at the boat ramp. It was 4 pm and we had exactly 100 nautical miles on the GPS.

We loaded up the boat and headed back to Miami for a feast that Joy and Liz had planned. They had spent the day running around Miami doing errands and visiting the Viscaya estate grounds. After a long shower and a rum drink or two, we were all celebrating a mission accomplished. RWB’s fish story was retold and got better every time. The next time we’ll be back here will be about 50 days from now when we’ve finished our first EC. Can’t wait for March 2, 2013.

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