FLAMINGO, Fla. — One of the best things about fishing in Everglades National Park is that even if the wind is howling, you can usually find somewhere to fish in comfort.
That was the situation on a recent visit to the park with Capt. Rick Murphy and Jennifer Reeves, the hosts of the Chevy Florida Insider Fishing Report on SunSports.
Murphy, 49, of Homestead, has fished in the park since 1974 and he has an intimate knowledge of its rivers, bays and creeks. So he wasn’t concerned about the strong wind that was churning the water in Florida Bay because he was headed to the protected waters along the Gulf coast of the park.
He did have to run through the bay to get to the East Cape Canal, which heads north into the park’s interior. To smooth out the ride to the canal in his 18 1/2-foot Maverick skiff, Murphy moved his Minn Kota electric trolling motor from its mount at the bow to a mount in front of the boat’s poling platform. That rear mount is only for securing the motor, not running it, and transferring that weight to the back allowed the boat to glide over the choppy water instead of pounding through it.
Once we were in what’s known as the park’s backcountry, the water was nice and calm. When we came out along the coast, the water was barely ruffled by the wind and we could see tarpon rolling on the surface.
Murphy went to where the tarpon seemed to be most plentiful, then he hooked a live pinfish under a float on a 20-pound spinning outfit and cast it out. As soon as the pinfish hit the water, a tarpon whacked it. The tarpon didn’t get hooked, but at least we knew we were in the right place.
The plan was for Reeves and I to let our baits drift with the current by letting line off the reel. As Murphy said, “Pinfish are like traveling salesmen,” so the more territory the baits covered, the better our chances of getting a tarpon to bite.
Reeves, the weekend meteorologist for NBC 6 in Miami and an avid angler, had never caught a tarpon. She had several bites, but each time she reeled the line tight, the big, silver fish would leap out of the water and throw the hook.
I had one bite when, after letting my pinfish drift a long way, Murphy told me to slowly reel it back to the boat. That fish also got away.
When the tide switched from outgoing to incoming and the wind strengthened, the water got too rough to see the tarpon, so Murphy headed back inside, running far into the backcountry to Tarpon Bay, where the water had just a hint of salt.
“We can catch snook here as well as bass,” Murphy said as he rigged baitcasting and spinning outfits spooled with Sufix braided line and fluorocarbon leaders with an assortment of Rapala suspending jerkbaits.
Sure enough, it didn’t take Murphy many casts with a chartreuse-and-chrome colored Flat Rap to catch both species as well as ladyfish.
Reeves, who joined Insider as co-host this year — the show’s ninth season kicked off Thursday and each episode repeats at 3:30 p.m. Friday and at 9:30 a.m. Saturday — also caught snook and ladyfish using a Twitchin’ Rap, a lure that Murphy helped design.
I didn’t catch as many fish as my companions, but I had a nice variety using an X-Rap: a slot-sized snook (snook season in Gulf waters is closed through Aug. 31), a keeper redfish, a largemouth bass and some small snook and ladyfish.
Among the keys to our success was keeping the tips of our fishing rods just above the water to make our lures run deeper.
“The wind was blowing out of the north and the water was pretty much out from under the bushes, so we had a low water situation,” Murphy said. “We weren’t catching fish on the dropoff where the water went from 4.5 to 6 feet, we were catching the fish halfway back to the boat.”
Another thing Murphy did was use his Minn Kota trolling motor to cover water as we cast our lures. When we got a few bites, he hit a button on the remote control around his neck to lock in the GPS coordinates and the trolling motor kept the boat in that spot better than an anchor.