Shell Key, 1/26/04
A secret lagoon... stays secret!
At least we tried!
Ya know, we were startin to get spoiled by Largo Sound. A not-so-bad drive (bout an hour and 3/4), nice launch, great setting at Pennekamp, et al. But somehow the open road beckons, not to mention the purple alure of Islamorada and it's enticing moniker of "Sportfishing Capitol of the World". Home of rich guys, thong bikinis and big boners.
Let me add that Sue Sea and I splurged at Jet Outdoors in Miami and treated ourselves to a economical tent, coupla sleepin bags and fresh copies of "Kayaking the Keys" by Kathleen Patton and "Fly Fishing the Florida Keys" by Capn Ben Taylor.
Quick aside: both excellent references. You think you know how to work the Keys? Wrong. Run, don't walk to buy Taylor's missive which also covers light spinnin tackle. And Patton's book really gives you a great sense of the history of each of her 50 trips.
And let us not forget that IM is also the home of the World Wide Sportman featuring hidden vacumn cleaner outlets through out its entire two stories, designed to suck every last free cent outa yer jeans.
The day before Sue Sea and I had decided to simply take a ride just to get away. Next thing you know we'd passed thru Tavernier, Islamorada and approaching Long Key. We were both struck by the special open vistas unique to the Middle Keys featuring huge broad flats, meandering channels and the kind of aquamarine colors eaily mistaken for heaven on earth. It is. And right here in Paradise. So we just hadda return yaks in er, hand. And to where?
Picked Shell off MM79 for one reason. A unique large hidden lagoon, reputed to be chock full of unfished fish. Sue Sea, shellmeistress supreme, will go anywhere named "Shell Key" to find ever new and beautiful specimens.
According to Patton, you head south past Bud n Mary's (MM80), just over the bridge, and pull off to the right/east. Super! We pulled up within about 6 feet of the shore, easy rock-free launch. Shell Key is to the north (remember US1 runs SW here). SK is off to your right a tad. You head to the west/left edge and make your way clockwise around the back (west). Look carefully for Shell Key sign (now tilted and tired) stating "No Trespassing" and keep goin maybe another 1/2 mile. Eyes peeled you'll spot a 2nd sign.
This is the way in. "...a low narrow Mangrove tunnel just to the left of the sign" states the author. We headed in (check pic "entry2shell1.jpg"). Not too bad, just as described. And true to description it was rock n rollin with literally hundreds and hundreds of milling, scurrying small snapper.
Now I was excited! Got to the point where paddlin became difficult and our paddles became pushpoles. At a small pool, Sue Sea in her smaller Scrambler forged ahead, no doubt drawn by images of heaps of new and untouched shells. I could hear her crashing ahead.
Slowed way down by my 15 ft. Pro, it soon became a hand over hand contest, pulling ourselved over, under, around and thru the ever narrowing "tunnel" (see entry2shell2.jpg, and this pic isn't even close to how bad it got). I kept yelling... can you see the end? "Nope, but it's gettin lighter.
It quickly got to the point where I could barely move. I was forced to even remove my lures from my hull huggin rods, and push the rods under my hatch bungies so nary an inch would project off the deck. Worse yet, I feared the tide was still dropping and I had visions of bein trapped and suffering likely hypothermia if we didn't get out. And noone would have a clue we were there!
Kinda makes a case for a handheld VHF, first aid kit and survival blankets if you're leavin the beaten channel.
So the Capn spoke. "We're leaving. Now." Reluctantly Sue Sea agreed and we managed to pull and scrape our way out. In doing so we passed a school of 5 to 10 pound reds and some more than decent snook. Amazing. It's clear where fish go during these cold fronts. Ten feet out from the entrance not a single fish. Ten feet in - hundreds!
So the "secret lagoon" remained sadly secret. What was once minimally accessible is no longer. It's clear that the rangers have no interest in keepin this incredible lagoon accessible to smaller paddlecraft. It wouldn't be too difficult. I have no doubt that these fish were headin there, and in amazing numbers.
A fishin and shellin Garden of Eden, no doubt about it!
Once extracted we continued round the north side of Shell then headed across the broad flats that surround the south, east and north sides. Were rewarded with a close encounter of a porpoise, numerous sharks (3 to 5 ft.) and rays. We crossed one of the many deep aquamarine channels that divide these broad vistas, flats, mangrove islands and hammocks to arrive back on the western shore of Islamorada.
Cruised past World Wide Sportsman through a patchwork of mangrove hammocks in shallow water. Magnificent. And arrived back at the launch. I took a quick paddle under the bridge down the channel to the flats patchwork east of Bud n Mary's. It's clear that depending on the winds you can always find relatively protect lee waters and unending flats.
This is not a report but this area is known for permit, cruising tarpon, large bonefish, really large cuda, snook, reds and sharks. The setting is idyllic and you certainly won't lack for a choice of good eats and music to finish the day, watch the sunset and hope for the green flash.
Just another day in Paradise. Tight lines.
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