Kayak Fishing/Camping the Dry Tortugas Part 2 of 2

This is part 2 of 2 of Kayak Fishing and Camping the Dry Tortugas

The adventure started well before the departure date of May 1st 2011. From buying gear, to what seem like a hundred phone calls, May 1st couldn’t come fast enough.

We decided to drive there a day earlier so everyone would be on the same page. Besides having to load at 6am that morning it was definitely a smart move.

A quick stop at Robbies to check out the ever present tarpon is always a treat when I go down there. Besides it gave everyone a chance to chill and have a good time documenting the tavel.

Getting there:

Since the Dry Tortuga is basically an island 70 miles in the middle of the no where there are limited ways to get there. Unless you or your buddy has access to a big boat you are limited a sea plane or a ferry to get there.

Another option is hire a charter but that can getter very expensive really fast. The sea plane option is cool if you only planning on hanging out then coming back. The cost isn’t too bad at about $250.00 a person.

For us the only way we were going to get all our gear there including the Kayak was the Yankee Freedom II. The cost of a regular day trip was $165 + tax and the cost for taking camping and kayak was about $200.00 after taxes. You are limited to 60lb of camping/fishing gear. Of course this does not include your water, food, cooler or your kayak. Extra cost to remember is the parking across the street from the marina is $13/day cash only and tipping the crew for loading all your gear.

The boat is 100′ long and 60′ wide catamaran. Air conditioned, comfortable and very clean. The crew were friendly and helpful. On the way over the winds were blowing 20mph with 4-7′ seas. I have to say the ride was very impressive. The boat was well over my expectations. Did I mention they even serve beer and cocktails when the boat is at sea.

Arrival at Fort Jefferson is a 10:30am. You get a camp ground orientation then you are free to set up your camp ground. Once that happens before you fish you need another orientation by the park ranger. Remember no trash left behind. Bring lots of trash bags as everything has to go back with you on the ferry. There are no trash cans there in the park.

Clothing:

Since you are limited to weight (not including your water and cooler) it just isn’t practical to bring a lot of clothing. Most of the guys limited themselves to minimal packed clothing.

Hats:

This is a must on these hot summer days. A couple guys the Tilly hat but any wide brim hat will do. My normal everyday visor and cap worked fine but when I’m out there with the sun beating down a wide brim hat is definitely preferred.

Sunglasses:

Sunglasses are very important if you want to fish in Florida waters especially the keys. They need to be polarized. You will be wearing this all day. Not only will it protect your eyes but it will definitely let you see the fish cutting down the glare in the water. I am currently using the Costa Del Mar 580P ambers. Ambers gives you better contrast and the polycarbonate not only is cheaper but much lighter as well.

Shirt:

Micro fiber shirts were the way to go on this. They are comfortable, if you get them wet it drives very quickly and has very good sun protection. I only brought 3 shirts me and rotated them. Many of the guys wore the Salty Fly micro fibers from the tournament made by Redzone Apparel.

A light rain jacket should be brought with you, just in case.

Pants:

Best option is the convertible pants that changes from long pants to shorts. The Guide series made by Simms worked great. They were comfortable, light weight, breathable and great sun protection. They are durable as well.  Since they dry quickly, I brought two pairs and just alternate them.

Shoes:

You will need two pair of shoes on this trip. One shoe that is comfortable to fish out of and stand on rough rocky terrain with. The other pair is for the end of day to hang out and relax with.

The fishing shoe for me was the Columbia Drain maker.(This was great way to test out the water shoe that I just got.) The shoe was super light weight, drained water really well, super grippy and it provided some really good protection when we were walking on those jagged rocks. The 2nd pair would be a comfortable sandal. This will let your feet breathe well and sand passes through. I do not recommend wearing sandals when fishing. The rocks there would slice you up.

Sun Protection:

Besides your normal UV protection gear mention previously you definitely want to bring with your favorite sun protection. The sun can be brutal out there especially this time of year.

A UV Buff face mask is almost a must to protect your face. Buff also makes a new light weight “Water Glove” that came to good use down there as well. It has added sun protection as well as protect you hands from blisters when you a paddling all day.

Camping:

You are designated to camp in a certain area. Campsites are first come first serve. Each site gets a charcoal only grill and one bench. There is a maximum of three tent per site and cost is three dollars per day per person.

There is a bathroom facilities there but do not expect any running water. Bring a lot of baby wipes to clean yourself up daily.

A cart will be provided for you to carry gear to your camping area.

Tent:

A wind resistant tent is a must. Since it is an island, if the wind is coming from an unfavorable direction you risk the chance of getting your tent blown away. A rain fly is a must have there. Though the showers are not heavy brief showers can happen any time.

A couple of the guys had issues with setting up their bigger tent. All of them agree that for the next time they will bring a much smaller more wind resistant tent.

I believe Jose and I had the most ideal tent for this type of camping. Not sure what brand Jose had but I was using the MSR Elbow room 2. It is a two person tent that was very wind resistant, light weight and pretty darn easy to set up. It comes with a rain fly and a ground fly. The tent sells for under $200.00 at Flintcreek.

Sleeping bag:

I recommend a nice and light weight sleeping bag. The lighter the better as you won’t be feeling very cold down there especially this time of year.

Bugs:

Bugs were very minimal there. I actually brought along the 3m Ultrathon and Thermal cell but we never really needed them.

Food/Water/Beer:

Since there is nothing on island, all food and water should be brought with you. Sure you can eat fish for every meal but that gets to be a hassle when you want to be out there fishing.

One gallon per person per day is recommended. We went a little overboard and brought two gallons per person per day. Let’s just say we and a bunch left over and ended up giving them all away when we left.

If we had a chance to do it all again we would just do the one gallon per person per day. What we would bring more off is beer. Since alcohol is allowed it is just a nice way to end the evening. Besides theirs is nothing to do on the island after dark so you end sitting around the picnic table going over the day’s event.

As far as food goes, again we went overboard. We had lots of canned foods and snacks left over. For dinner we ended up eating the steaks first night then the rest of the time we either had the fish we caught that day or the freeze dried food by Backpaker’s Pantry.

The freeze dried food was actually much better than expected. We ate the Pad Thai, lasagna and even the freeze dried ice cream sandwich. The coffee was excellent and actually tasted a lot better than the instant coffee.

Next time here is what we would do:

Bring breakfast bars for breakfast. Everyone is usually in a hurry to launch we never did do anything big for breakfast.

Lunch will be peanut butter and jelly or, since the ferry comes daily, lunch can be bought for $5.00 between 11 to 1pm. This would save a lot of time, money and weight.

Dinner will consist of the catch of the day or the Backpaker’s Pantry meal. A tub of pull pork also would go a long ways for lunch and dinner.

 

Fishing:

Inshore fishing via kayak is limited to a one mile circle of the camp grounds (Garden Key). Outside of this is a study zone where fishing is prohibited. However on calm days, If you go a little further the zone opens up.

Limitations:

With the exception of the dock(when the ferry leaves) and the sea plane beach there is no fishing around the island itself because it is designated “swimming area”.

Fish you would encounter when Kayak fishing:

Barracuda, mangrove snapper, yellowtail snapper, mutton, permit, tarpon, sharks, Goliath grouper, hound fish, black groupers, spanish mackerel, snook, yellow jacks

Topography:

At the docks there are plenty of mangrove snappers to be had. If you had bait you can pretty much catch all you want. We used 1/4oz DOA shrimp and caught a few before they wised up to us. The docks also held tarpon, goliath and snooks.

The harbor when we were there were full of tarpon rolling when it wasn’t too windy. Since we wanted to catch them on the flats we did not target them much. The ranger there tells me we should drift live crabs for them.

The surround area was really nice lush grass flats and coral heads. The grass flats contained snappers and permit with the occasional tarpon laid up. Barracuda were plentiful as well. When we were there, we only saw a couple sharks but they tell me sharks are plentiful as well.

Beyond the breakers it dropped off to some really nice hard bottom. The area was full of turtles, yellowtail snappers, birds diving on bait. It was a shame the weather was not cooperation as we did not have much of a chance to explore beyond the reef like we wanted to.

Fishing:

Note you are able to harvest whatever is in season when fishing the proper zones. However you are not allowed to target Goliath or land a shark in the park.

Spin Gear:

I would bring two rods. A 4000 series reel with 15lb braid with a medium action 7′-7’6″ rod works great for the snappers and inshore fish. A heavier 6000 to 10000 series reel, 50lb braid and medium a heavy action 7′ rod works great for tarpon and near shore species.

Lures:

We brought along lots DOA lures for this trip. We mainly used the DOA shrimp, bait buster, swimming mullet, and terror eyes. The shrimp worked the best for the coral heads 15′ or less. When you got deeper we used the terror eyes and swimming mullet.

Fly Fishing:

A 10wt setup will do just fine for 90% of the fish we ran across in shore there. Bring a 12 wt just in case you find lots of tarpon on the flats. When we were there the temperature was still on the low side. The tarpon unfortunately was most in the deeper waters of the harbor.

With high winds and unexpected low water temperature the only fish we caught on fly were snappers and barracudas. We had limited shots with permit and tarpon. I am hoping to revisit soon when the temperature is a big higher.

Kayak

Note: You must have and wear at all times a coast guard approved PFD. You also need a whistle. Many of use opted for the inflatable units. At first I thought it would be bothersome but to be honest I forget I even had them on most of the day.

We had 3 types of kayaks going on this trip. Three out of the six kayaks including mine was the Hobie revolution complete with the peddle system. The peddle system makes going against the strong winds and current much easier. I added a standnfish pontoon system to make standing up and sight fishing a lot easier.

My setup consists of 2 fly rods (10wt and 12wt), one light spinning and one heavy spinning for any occasion.

 

Accessories:

An anchor system is high recommended. A normal anchor with 50′ of line for deeper water and the Wang Anchor with Steel Tip were used for the shallow stuff.

Cost:

So here is the basic run down in cost to do the trip. This is on a per person basis. Obviously I can’t include the gear and supplies you will buy for the trip. That will be up to your personal needs.

$75.00 hotel (Since we had a 7 hour drive we decided to get down to Key West the night before. Load time is 6am)

$200.00 Ferry cost

$53.00 4 days of parking cost (divide this by who many took the trip down with you)

$9.00 for park camping fees (This is for 3 nights for camping per person. You are limited to 3 nights there.)

 

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