When I in high school I often fished alone. Don’t tell anyone, but I even played hooky to spend time on the water. My friends, mostly musicians, didn’t fish.
As a young man I took many solo backpacking trips into the mountains of New England. My friends mostly didn’t hike, either. My mom would give me hell before every trip. “What if something happens to you up there?” she would ask. “Why don’t you go with someone else?”
My answers were always the same. “I will be careful. If I waited for other people to go with me, I would never go.” A big advantage of solo trips is that you can go whenever the mood strikes, whenever the time becomes available.
Time passes. Solo paddle trips to Everglades National Park began. Susan worried about me. She still does. “What if something happens to you down there?” she asks. “Why don’t you go with someone else?” We already know my response.
Any solo trip, whether it’s for four hours or four weeks, requires that you enjoy your own company. If you do, you probably do some solo fishing already. When you can, you go. You can perform all the experiments that are too embarrassing to indulge in front of friends. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, without having to confer or compromise with your buddies. You can be selfish, and get it out of your system. You can play your harmonica as loudly and badly as you want and no one complains.
I dropped the kayak to the water’s edge behind the National Park’s ranger station in Everglades City. After loading it with my gear, food, and water, paddling began. Tiger Key, lying at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico and only six or seven miles away, was the destination. The plan was to stay three nights in what proved to be a no-see-um infested paradise.
Proper planning (important!) had the tide flowing in the same direction as my travel. The day was glorious, the paddling leisurely, with short stops to fish likely looking spots. None produced. In the Everglades everything looks fishy, even when it’s not. You try places and look for clues, hoping to figure out the patterns. Finding patterns takes longer when you work solo, without a doubt. After three hours in the boat I reached my campsite without seeing or touching a fish.
A pattern turned up the next morning though, close to the campsite, in the first obviously fishy-looking spot I came to that morning. On the incoming tide a bar by a drop-off created a rip. Everglades fish, like fish anywhere, use current breaks to ambush passing edibles the current sweeps by. I cast a streamer and let it swing, working it in the current. Bam! A snook, a small one, but a fish. Eureka!
The bar that formed that rip was a long one, a five-minute paddle from my tent. I could wade fish it. It held jacks, ladyfish, redfish, snook, seatrout, even a small Goliath grouper. Swinging streamers produced the best fishing, fishing that was duplicated on any moving tide except high tide (too deep to wade then) during my visit. There were no monsters, or even ten pounders, but I’m past the point in my angling where anything less than huge is disappointing. It’s the Everglades. The chance for hooking a monster snook or tarpon is always there. The discovery of fish, so close to my campsite and so far from anyone else, was sweet. I owned that spot.
When you’re solo, you can’t share sweet discoveries with your friends. The only one you can talk to is yourself. Photographing your catch requires resourcefulness. The biggest disadvantage to going solo? No one assists you when you have a problem. Your approach to every day, every moment, must be, don’t screw up.
Every situation requires realistic risk assessment, because every problem is bigger when there’s only one head and two hands to solve it. Bring an extra paddle, an extra fishing rod. Bring a good first aid kit and know how to use it. Don’t take unnecessary risks. When in the slightest doubt wear your life jacket. Don’t screw up!
Two days were spent exploring nooks and crannies in the vicinity of Tiger Key, an enjoyable activity, looking for other places or patterns that might produce fish. None were found. Photos were made. Clouds, and birds, were watched. Cycles, tidal, lunar, solar, were observed, lived by.
I thrilled to the sight of soaring ospreys, crashing dolphins, rolling tarpon. I cast at and stuck a couple of houndfish, the only sight fishing I found on this trip. I fished the streamers I’d found that worked, both Clouser minnows and unweighted minnow imitations tied with synthetics. A deep satisfaction, derived from autonomy, settled into my bones.
The inevitable departure time rolled around. Proper planning had the tide flowing in the same direction as my travel. The day was overcast, windy. Rain threatened. My return route kept me in lees as much as possible. There was no hiding from wind or waves crossing Chokoloskee Bay, though. I arrived at the boat landing soaked from head to toe, then quietly loaded my gear.
Although solo trips don’t help you learn to schmooze at parties, the confidence and self-reliance you develop on an excursion like this seeps into all the other parts of your life. The most important by-product may be that you learn to trust your judgement. Going solo is good for you. Going solo surely beats staying at home, looking at a telephone or computer screen.
Take Your Own Everglades Trip
Everglades trips work best between Thanksgiving and Easter. You want to avoid the crowded times: the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and during Spring Break. You’ll need a boat, either your own or a rental, available from Everglades Adventures and Everglades Adventure Tours among others.
Preliminary trip planning information is available from the National Park Service.
For navigation you can go old school with a chart and compass, or new age with a GPS or telephone. The phone will require a solar charger. Even with the electronics, bringing a chart and compass is recommended.
You’ll need a fishing license.
If you’ve never been to Florida you may have concerns about reptiles. You’ll see some. They won’t bother you. Your automobile is an enormously greater risk to your safety than critters that live in the national park.
Everglades gamefish eat smaller fish, shrimp, and crabs. Your fly selection should reflect that. Flies should range in size from about #4 to #1/0. Some need weedguards. Carrying some poppers is a good idea.
The equipment list I use when preparing and packing for any trip can be found at this link.
John Kumiski is a recently retired, long-time fishing guide. He’s also a writer, photographer, and author, with hundreds of magazine articles and several books to his credit. His most recent book is called Fishing Florida by Paddle, published by Arcadia Publishing. You can see more of his work at www.johnkumiski.com.