Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fly Fishing the Lower Florida Keys 2011 (Double click on the images for an enlarged view)

The family was on spring break in Key West at the end of April 2011 and I was all geared up to do some flats fishing. Unfortunately, the wind was not about to cooperate. It blew east or SE 15-25 the whole week we were there and it was dificult to find any lee at all (at least by wading).

I ended up trying to fish 2 different days.

The first day, I checked out some spots on the Atlantic side of Sugerloaf Key that looked good on google earth images and were mentioned in Stu Apte's Key's fishing book as good spots to find fish.

The access to southern Sugarloaf flats is tricky and because of parking restrictions will involve a fair bit of walking to get to the flat. Zen Park is closed, but there is room to park adjacent to the street. This spot shows potential.

Looking for the way to the secret spot on Sugerloaf Key

Sometimes you need to bushwhack through the mangrove to get to the flat

Next I went to the end of Little Torch Key to fish the flats NE of the point at the end of the road. I had to bushwhack some to get to the flat, but nothing horrendous. The flat was nice, but as soon as you got 100 from the mangrove shore, the water got bumpy and it was difficult to see. I did see jumping fish and a moving mud, but it turned out that this was a school of grunts not bones. I picked a few grunts out of the pack.

I finally thought I had a bone when I hooked up and my reel started to sing. Alas, it was a bonnethead shark. I pulled him into the shallows, a place he did not want to go, and got the hook out with my Leatherman pliers. He was released and revived none the worse for the wear.

The reward - small grunts feeding in the muds

And a small bonnethead shark...

The second day, I was advised to check out a flat on No Name Key - over the bridge, past, the No Name bar. I was a little unsure about parking since you're in the Key Deer wildlife area. The map I had showed roads throughut the refuge (probably from when the area was slated for development). The "roads" are still there, but totally overgrown, pitted, and you cannot drive on them through the refuge. You can walk on them however, and I spent a good hour hoofing it over a mile or two to reach the flat on the southwest corner of the key.

The beginning of the trail at Key Deer refuge on No Name Key

Makin' my way...

Nearing the coast...

Step through the portal...

It was a pretty flat, but again the wind was not my friend, and you really couldn't see to cast. I blind casted to patchy sand/grass areas that I hoped would be ambush spots. After hours of casting and moving, I did hook one small fish, but performed the long line release.

Too much chop for me. I couldn't see anything at distance and just blind casted the whole time....

So there you have it. Both days of fishing were a bust. Nice flats, but I think I need to go to the Keys in August and suffer the heat for a chance at some calm days with less wind, warmer waters, and more abundant fishing opportunity.

It's no wonder people flock to Mallory Square for these daily sunsets.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

McFee Knob and Tinker Cliffs Hike April 29- May 1, 2011 (Click on the pictures to enlarge them)

Getting ready to hike the John Muir Trail later this summer and wanted to do a shakedown weekender to make sure the gear was working well and ID any necessary repairs or other needs.

My friend Chis recommended an overnight hike up to McAfee Knob and said we wouldn't regret it. We were joined by our friend Harry (who had backpacked with me in the Smokies last October) and Noel (a friend of Chris' and an avid AT section backpacker).

Friday, April 29, 2011

We left after work on Friday and drove past Roanoke to the Dragon's Tooth trailhead parking lot on Rt. 311. We got in around 11 pm and pitched the tent in a grassy spot off the stone parking area. Chris thought this would be a good place to camp since there's a good bathroom available at the trailhead.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

We got up the next morning, swung by a mini mart for some not-so-good coffee and sweets, and made it to the parking lot where Rt. 311 crosses the AT.

This was going to be the end of our hike, and it is also where we had out shuttle driver ( Homer Witcher: 540-266-4849) pick us up to take us to the starting trailhead - Andy Layne Trail. Homer charged the four of us $20 for the shuttle - a good deal! We got to the Andy Lane Trail about8:45 am and started our climb to the first destination - the Tinker Cliffs.

The hike started out easy with some fence and stream crossings before the trail started to climb.

It was steady going up, but not that difficult it seemed. We took breaks where we needed them and we were in no particular hurry so we just made our own pace.

It was a beautiful day and perfect weather for hiking. You could tell as we approached the Tinker Cliffs, because these huge rock formations began to jut out of the ground.

The rock formations at Tinker Cliffs were spectacular as was the view!

At Tinker Cliffs we met a group of college students from Michigan who said they were taking their outdoor course final with a backpacking trip on the AT. Man, I wish they had those courses back when I was a student!. As we hiked away from the cliffs, we continued to enjoy the views, the flowers, and the rock formations jutting from the ground.

We were headed to the Campbell Shelter and had some more climbing to do.

More pretty flowers and rocks...

We made it to the Campbell Shelter by about 3 pm. and got the tents and hammock up, and we pumped water for the evening meal and to have a relaxing beverage. Harry always comes through with some specialty instants that he hocks during his international flights.

We lounged around, some more than others, as we greeted other hikers, and waited for our evening assault of McAfee Knob for the sunset views. Here's a picture of a Nixon at rest.

Without packs, we bounded up the trail for about 3/4 of a mile to McAfee Knob. No wonder this is such a popular spot. The views are spectacular! If you click on the picture of Noel (below) it will enlarge, and you can see the Tinker Cliffs on the peak at the end of the ridge over his right shoulder.

Here's a picture of Harry on the Knob

Momma don't like this picture...

Even messing with the camera settings, I had a hard time capturing the sunset. Even as the sun went down, the sky was still bright and I just couldn't capture the scene with my electrons. Hope my memory will serve me well.

Back at camp, we listened to some thru-hiker stories as we sat around the campfire. Sleep came easily.

Sunday May 1, 2011

We got up, made breakfast, and pumped water. We gave our extra food to the thru-hikers. I tried to offer a packet of instant hot cider, but one of the thru-hikers flipped the packet over and complained about the low caloric content and mumbled something about making it would be a waste of fuel. Apparently we messed around too much, because we were the last to leave Campbell Shelter.

We hiked up to McAffee Knob, with packs this time. The view was still great, but what it showed us was a rapidly approaching front - the rain was coming earlier than we planned.

We hoofed it down the trail to the parking lot where Rt. 311 crossed the AT. The rain was only intermittent and after about 1.5 miles we shed the rain gear. The trail was good and the hiking mostly easy with some ups, but not too bad.

Even with the rain in the forecast there were lots of day hikers headed for the Knob from the Rt 311 parking lot. We continued on and made it to the car without incident. Still raining on and off, we made it to Rt. 81 and pulled off for some post hiking grub. By the time we made it back to Virginia Beach, the sun was shining - another beautiful day to be alive!