Another key component of an angler’s experience within the Eleven Angling network is the company’s apparent approach to guiding. Captains, like Paul, are salaried employees of Eleven Experience and work hard to maintain that position. The company provides them with top-of-the-line gear, boats, and clientele, and they work hard to earn good tips and keep their positions. I have never been out fishing with a more professional or knowledgeable guide.
It was obvious from the get-go that Paul knew his way around this place like the back of his hand. Each turn and pass were navigated with certainty and speed—and there were a lot of turns to reach the bay.
We started out the trip heading for blue waters and the boundary of the park, where he handed me an 8-weight rod and told me to sit on the forward casting platform as we motored down the line of buoys looking for tripletail. It didn’t take long to find a couple and begin our assault. These fish absolutely hunted down my shrimp fly with reckless abandon, and it didn’t take long before we had boated two nice fish. The first of which put up a great fight. It was a great way to break the ice and get warmed up. We motored down the line some more, but there weren’t many fish on buoys, so Paul said we would head inland.
We moved on to the tidal flats to look for snook and possible tarpon. Along the flats, the water was stained, but it turned clear within leeward coves and shallows. Within a minute or two, I began to catch small snook that were hiding along the mangroves and structured shoreline. These were mostly small fish under the two-pound mark, but they were all wild and beautiful, and I enjoyed it immensely. At one point, Paul told me, “Big snook at 1 o’clock,” but I had just released a cast at 11 o’clock that got clobbered by a small snook. I looked up, and that’s when I saw the larger 30-plus-inch fish swimming away from the commotion of the jumps and thrashing of my smaller catch. Bad timing, but it was great to see a big fish patrolling the flats. I caught a half dozen smaller snook in just a few hours.
Then, we decided to have a much-needed lunch break. Beverages and food were just another small part in the larger picture of Eleven’s premium approach to guided trips. We had deli subs for lunch, and Paul had one cooler stocked with condiments, snacks, and protein bars, and another stocked full of about anything you could wish to quench your thirst: water, Gatorade, coconut water, cold-brew coffees, and soda. You couldn’t ask for more in a day trip.
Next we planned on heading for the backcountry at an entry point farther down the coast, but not before motoring back out to the buoy line to see if the fish had shown up with the changing tide. Sure enough, there they were. It was like a switch was flipped, because now there were tripletail everywhere, and we fished and boated a dozen before finally setting a course for the backcountry. After navigating our way through a precarious and low-hanging mangrove tunnel we found our way to more open waters, where we fished for more snook and micro-tarpon. Before the cold front, Paul assured me, the micro tarpon would have been a sure thing, but during our time in the backcountry they mostly just rolled, avoided us, and sometimes swiped at our flies halfheartedly, though there were a handful of times where slow hookset may have been to blame. The snook however were always willing, and we boated another dozen or so before the sun began to set; and what a sunset it was.
The great part about the Everglades is the abundance of beautiful habitat and wildlife. Their were birds everywhere, including roseate spoonbills, wood stork, herons, terns, and cormorants galore. We also spotted the occasional alligator swimming or sunning along the mangroves. The one thing I was surprised by was the lack of bugs. There were hardly any even in the backcountry, which Paul later told me was not a good thing. The next morning, the bugs greeted us at our hotel door and Paul thought it was a sign of a good day. Indeed it was.
On day two, we woke early and motored through the dark to a new river system much farther down the coast. Talk about trusting your guide! These waters are convoluted and can be perilous enough in the middle of the day, but at night, you really have to know them well.
We greeted the sunrise in the middle of a large channel with a smooth surface, which was perfect for spotting rolling fish. We spotted a few early, but as the sun rose higher the activity began to increase, and we followed several large fish into a smaller channel no more than 90 feet wide and approximately three to four feet deep. There were a lot of tarpon in this channel, and we spent the morning blind-casting and trying to get casts at rolling fish.