When we arrived at the park, we went into the ranger station and purchased our camping permit. We told the ranger where we would be camping, and he asked us if we knew the back way into the campsite because the front entrance was shallow and covered up with Oyster beds. Being anxious to get on the water, we told the ranger that "Oh yeah, we know how to get in the back way......no problem, we have been out here before."
After we launched the boat, we made out way through a creek on our way to Whitewater Bay. We passed a few people kayaking and canoeing silently through the mangroves.As we motored on, we entered Coot Bay....no pun intended, but, ironically, the bay was littered with hundreds and hundreds of Coots! They were everywhere and were no doubt resting from their long migration. This was an unbelievable site, and we knew we were in for a special trip.
Jeff and I had been talking about taking this trip for a month or two, and somehow, we were able to hit it just right. The sun was shining, there was virtually no wind, and the forecast looked perfect. It seemed as if we were the only people on the water as we entered Whitewater Bay. Although, Whitewater Bay is so giant it could be easy to get out of sight and off the beaten path if you were a Gladesman.....or if you were a guy with no clue as to where to go. Getting lost is very easy in the endless miles of canals, mangroves, and hidden bays. It truly would take more than 100 lifetimes to fish most of the water in Whitewater Bay. It truly is a back country fishing paradise.
After about an hour or so, we finally ended up at our campsite. We entered through the "front" entrance, tied off the boat, and set up our camp. Unfortunately, since the weather was so good, the Noseeums were swarming!!!! They were in our eyes, mouths, ears, and every other uncovered and covered section of our bodies. Relentless terrorists is the only phrase that comes to mind when describing these flying devils. Our only savior was a smokey campfire, sunglasses and a Windbuff pulled up covering our entire face.
As we were setting up our camp, we noticed a lot of commotion going on just out in front of our campsite. We could see Mullet everywhere, and all kinds of predators murdering them! As if the bugs were not enough reason for getting on the water quickly, this Mullet massacre made us move even faster. We rigged our rods with our fly of choice, and Jeffro poled us on his skiff out into the mouth of the madness. Mullet were dying everywhere! Lemon Sharks, Bull Sharks, Dolphins and huge Tarpon were all smashing the bait balls. It was a sight like you read about.....a true feeding frenzy. Tarpon were launching through the schools of Mullet and breaching with jaws full of 12'' bait hanging out of their mouths, and it was happening as far as the eye could see. Jeff put the push pole down and we started drifting around in the middle the frenzy. We made some casts at some Tarpon which were rolling outside the bait balls. We had some good shots and ended up getting lucky. We managed to hook two tarpon in an hour or so before the sun went down. One of which went easily over 100 lbs, and the other that was not far off of that mark. Unfortunately, we did not manage to land either fish, but we were thrilled with our success. As the sun went down and the frenzy came to a close, we headed back to camp to make some dinner.
Back at camp, Jeff and I relaxed around our campfire as we threw back a couple of delicious frosty oat sodas. We were still in awe over what we had witnessed earlier in the evening. We tossed around ideas of what to do the following morning, and what fly patterns to try if we were lucky enough to find these Tarpon again the following day. We were graced with the presence by one of the locals that evening. "Tyrone", a local raccoon took it upon himself to look through some of out shopping bags we had some supplies in. Unfortunately for him, we had all of the food put up in the coolers, and he was only able to find some paper towels and tinfoil. He patrolled out entire camp for an hour or so as we watched him, finally, he bedded down just past where we were sitting like a pet dog would do and went to sleep. He had clearly done this before, and was no doubt looking for handouts. We told "Tyrone" that he was welcome to hang out as long as he wanted, but we were going to sleep.
The following morning, I woke up just before the sun came up. As I rolled over, Jeffro said that we have a problem. Looking out of the tent window, we saw that Oyster bed that the park Ranger had told us about was not under water anymore and we could see it sticking out of the water clear as day. The ''back way'' into the campsite, the one we had told him we knew where it was that we did not take, was obvious why he suggested to us to enter that way. The tide was low, and the water level was nowhere near where the boat was. Jeff's skiff was sitting high and dry! Oops.....chock this one up as a learning experience. As we sat there waiting on the tide to come in, the frenzy had already started again. All we could do was hurry up and wait while watching mother nature's wrath unleashing on schools of Mullet.
It seemed like forever waiting there.....we were missing an extraordinary opportunity at Tarpon on fly, and very very big Tarpon on fly at that. We tried pushing the boat, but, with all the fuel we had on board we were not able to budge it. We ended up waiting like an hour or so, then we were finally able to slide the boat off of the tree stump we had so gracefully parked it on, and made our way out onto the beach. I poled the skiff around with Jeffro on the bow for a while. The Tarpon were again smashing bait as far as you could see as wave after wave of Mullet made their way down the beach. We had shot after shot into,around and besides the schools of bait but could not manage to buy a bite from a Poon.
We then had realized that we did not have any flies even close to the size of the bait the Tarpon were eating. I should have listened to my good buddy Capt Paul who had told me to tie some giant flies.....he was right, again. Oh well, we spent the better part of the morning chasing Tarpon without any success. As the sun came up, the frenzy had stopped once again, and we tried to cast to sporadic rolling Tarpon but did not manage to fool any. So, we headed back to camp to have some lunch. After learning the hard way as to where to park the skiff last night, we anchored it in a channel with plenty of water this time. We headed up to our campsite and made some sandwiches for lunch. Once again we bombarded by Noseeums to the point of utter insanity! Looking down at your skin, there were hundreds of them all over us! The attack drove us back to the boat where the tiny bugs were surprisingly not as bad. We decided to switch our efforts to chasing Redfish after the brutality of what we endured earlier with the Tarpon. We were goofing off and making some casts right from the poling platform on the boat while right next to us a baby Tarpon was crushing bait as it was drawn out of the creek on the start of the outgoing tide. First cast, first Redfish!
Total,we managed to pick up about 6 or 7 Reds and bunch of Lady fish on the 5 wt and had a blast! After that, we went out and explored a few more creeks and did not have much success. We tried many different fly combinations and could not find any fish. We ended up motoring to another bay which had 4 creeks dumping into it. We poled the boat for a while and ended up finding another good pod of Tarpon smashing Mullet. We staked out for a while but only had a couple of legit shots and could not make it happen. So, we decided to call it a day. We had noticed earlier that one of the creeks mouths in the bay we were fishing headed towards our camp site. On a whim, we headed up that creek hoping to find the back entrance to our campsite. We fished our way up there and managed to land a few Trout, and found a few smaller Tarpon rolling around. We came to a junction in the creek took a left and miraculously ended up right where we should have. I wish we had know this 2 days before....
Our last night in camp, we treated ourselves to a great meal. We had Ribeye steaks, and baked potatoes cooked in foil right in the fire place, and washed it down with some cold beer. Shortly after we started cooking, our camp visitor showed up again and started searching the site for anything edible. We started feeling a little bad for him, and out of our stupidity, we gave him a few tortilla chips. A few beers later.....Jeffro decided to feed this raccoon by hand. It went smoothly a couple of times, and then went to shit. The third and final feeding, the raccoon missed the chip Jeff was offering in his hand, and bit Jeffro right on the thumb! I almost fell out of my chair laughing at him. Luckily, the raccoon did not break the skin and Jeff did not need to be treated for Rabies. After the mauling, Tyrone must have elt bad because he left our site and we never saw him again. I warned Jeff that if i woke up in the tent as he was foaming at the mouth I was going to commandeer his skiff leave him in the Glades. Fortunately, it did not have to come to that.
When we woke up the next morning, we decided to get the move on and head on out early. But, as we looked on the roof of our tent, we saw the mother load of Noseeums all over it. They were just waiting to dive bomb us as soon as we left our bug free sanctuary. We finally mustered up the balls to leave the tent, and broke down our campsite in record time! Seriously, we had that placed packed up and loaded into the skiff in about 5 minutes flat! Not bad in my opinion. We had learned our lesson on the previous morning as to where to park the boat, so leaving was not an issue. We decided to head out the creek, the ''Back way'' into our campsite on our departure. As soon as we got the skiff on a plane, we saw our first Tarpon roll, then another, then another. They were everywhere! We immediately stopped the boat, Jeffro got on the tower and poled us up the creek hoping to get a shot at another Poon. We came to a junction and saw about 10 fishing rolling around. I had a big version of Capt Paul's secret ocean Tarpon fly on that he had tied and left ragged and untrimmed. This fly pushes a lot of water and looks deadly in the murky creek water. I made a few casts with no takes. Then, we had a big fish roll about 50 feet from the boat. I made a cast to where we last saw the fish and began slowly stripping the fly back towards the boat. I made about 3 strips and the line went tight. I strip set hard and launched this Poon down the canal. The fish tailwalked and through the fly right back in my face! DAMN! Missed another one, but, jumping a Tarpon is almost as good as landing one in my opinion, especially in a creek that is no more than 30 feet wide. On the next cast, I accidentally hooked an Alligator on a blind cast and it set the hook right into it's armor like back. Wow.....the fly penetrated Alligator armor, but could not penetrate the mouth of a Poon. That shows how tough and boney a Tarpon's mouth truly is. We ended up switching positions and Jeffro got on the bow. We chased a few Tarpon up the creek with an incoming tide but could not catch up with them. So, we decided to call it, and head back to civilization.
On our ride back, we were blessed with 15-20 knt winds and quartering seas in the Bay. It made for a wet ride, but, it really didn't matter. We were lucky to have had such a great fishing experience in a beautiful place, with virtually no one else around. We had witnessed some amazing events, and even avoided a trip to the emergency room for immediate rabies vaccinations. It truly was a perfect escape from reality. Now, I can't wait to get back up there.