Road Trip--Southern Gulf Coast and the FL Everglades

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Cholo

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This is not going to be a long thread like my '18 and '19 road trips were :)

My plan was to go freshwater fishing in the Florida Everglades and hit Key West for a couple of days and take the boat to Dry Tortugas National Park. The weather wasn't cooperative enough and February came and went. Seems the Key West hotel rates about doubled between Feb. and March to about $400+++ per night. Plan B was thought up and I was gone in 36 hours...

I've ridden the gulf coast from west of New Orleans to Port Arthur, TX. I've never driven it from east of New Orleans to Clearwater, FL. I'm talking mainly roads that run the coast and Islands of MS, AL, and FL, not the highways. I didn't want to miss a single mile of it unless it was only residential streets.

Made a beeline to just north of NO onto Hwy 607 to 90 and Henderson Point, MS where I would start my Gulf Coast trip. Um, on 607 I was stopped at a guard shack and told to turn around--John C Stennis Space Center. Good idea.

Hwy. 90 runs right along the pristine white sand beaches. What a difference compared to the dark pebble beaches west of NO that nobody would want to visit. I somehow missed S Beach Blvd that ran from Lakeshore to Bay St. Louis, MS. IOW, my trip should have started in Lakeshore, MS instead of Henderson Point pictured below :(



I've wanted to visit Biloxi, MS ever since Jimmy Buffett had a song by that name. The town was just okay. At least it wasn't crowded, and it had a pretty beach.



In Pascagoula, MS, where I stayed the 1st night, I noticed many business signs blown out from the hurricanes. We are right in Hurricane Alley. This one, of many, was at a Burger King.



The next day I was off to Dauphin Island, AL where I caught a ferry to Fort Morgan. I enjoyed climbing around on that fort that was built by slaves. Well, they didn't drive there so they brought all the materials in by boat. If you click the link below you'll then have to click: Did you mean: Fort Morgan (Alabama)? I don't know why I can't get the link to transfer correctly.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Morgan_(Alabama)





Hit 182 and went west until I ran out of road, then east until the very end of the road in Johnson Beach National Seashore, FL, so beautiful! There were so few people, just how I like things to be. A few were surf fishing and others just walking on the beach, maybe 10 people. I just sat at a picnic table under a roof and watched the waves rolling into the beach. Kind of like the song Sitting on the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding. There was no place in the world I'd have rather been than right there right then. The weather was perfect!

I turned around and went north on 292 to east on 292A. Why not hang a right onto S Blue Angel Parkway. I can hug the coast here, I thought. Uh oh, another guard shack with no obvious place to turn around. I am where I'm not supposed to be, again; Naval Air Station Pensacola, FL. There was a turn around just before the shack and instead of getting out of there I figured I'd check out a way to drive around it. A car pulls up beside me and asks me what I'm doing here. He was security, but not a uniformed MP, and said I might want to find my way out somewhere else. Nooo problem...



On this trip so far so good, until I realized I'm now in Florida and it's Spring Break time. Great... At least Bike Week is on the opposite side of the state :)

Although AL claims to be part of the Emerald Coast, it really kicks in once you reach Ft. Pickens/Pensacola Beach, FL and their emerald green waters going east. I wish I'd taken more pics.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emerald_Coast
 
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In my searches of where to move, the Gulf Coast and all of Florida is on my list.

I've made a half-dozen trips down there in the last 4 years, and I love it .

I am envious that you are so much closer than I am, and you can make car trips.

Nice report.

WAYNO.
 
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Lookin good. Go down the west coast and harass Colonialgirl. Key West is an interesting town. Always wanted to do the Dry Tortugas trip but just never got off my butt to go.
 

Cholo

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Time to head to Gulf Breeze and Pensacola Beach. There's only one problem: The Hwy. 98 bridge is closed and the traffic is backed up more than 10 miles on 281 over Pensacola Bay. I'm starting to hit the spring break people and it's a mess. I went all the way to 87 and got a room for the night. I'll hit the coast 1st thing in the AM when the college kids are still sleeping it off.

Headed out in pea soup fog. The visibility was about 50 yds. before I could see headlights coming in the opposite direction. And of course, silver and charcoal cars always seem to be the ones who don't turn on their effin headlights!

I headed west from Pensacola Beach towards Ft. Pickens, also built by New Orleans slaves.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Pickens

I'm driving along in the fog and suddenly I'm surrounded by white sand dunes, absolutely gorgeous in the fog and all. The sand must have to be cleared off the road at times or the road would completely disappear. You have to be careful where you stop because you don't want to get into the soft sand! The Gulf is right there and I can't even see it. It was cool! The fog lifted a bit by the time I got to the fort. It looked eerie!





This was driving back towards Pensacola Beach. The Gulf is just to the right, somewhere.









Cool, huh? :)

Now east on 399 thru Gulf Islands National Seashore run by the National Park Service. Just spectacular! The spring break families and college kids don't go to these places. They want to hang out where the crowds are, which was fine by me!



The fog finally lifted. And now you know why they call this the Emerald Coast.



I'll back up a little. The homes along the Gulf are built on stilts for when the storm surge comes in from the hurricanes. Just about every one is painted a pastel color. There was no place to park for me to get a good pic of them all lined up in a row, but you get the idea with this so-so pic taken in an out of the way place that wasn't crowded with homes.



Took 98 to a very popular destination--Destin. I'd say this is the top spot for tourists in the northern gulf coast, and with good reason. It's beautiful, but crowded. Took scenic hwy. 98 along the coast but didn't stop.

Took 30A thru beautiful little towns like Seaside and Seacrest. I didn't care that it was crowded, the bikinis were amazing! :mrgreen: I don't recall seeing any fast food joints in these towns. Nice!

Thru Panama City Beach and down 98. About 20 miles before you get to Mexico Beach you start seeing the destruction from the '18 Category 5 hurricane that devastated this gulf coast town. It took a direct hit just east of the eyewall, always the worst place to be.

Took 30E to the end past Cape San Blas and then out to St. George Island the next morning. I loved these little islands and peninsulas that few tourists go to compared to other places, especially when they have beautiful beaches.
 
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Sounds like a fun trip.
My folks used to stay in Key West in the winter first in a RV just north of the Navy's airbase
and later on a house boat just north of Key west on the gulf side. That got too costly
so they moved up to Marathon Key and bought a condo and sold the houseboat,
I heard a hurricane finally killed it for good.
When you get to Pine key hunt up the No Name Pub used to be kind of a hole
but I heard it was remodeled. Used to be a big biker destination.
Check out the street performers and the drunks in Key West....some of the drunks
put on a pretty good show. Dry Tortuga is worth boat ride if it's a nice day.
Not sure how it is with covid but be prepared for traffic to really suck in the
southern keys.
Used to be a place just north of Marathon were you could swim with dolphins
if you're into that stuff.
Just thinking about the Key's brought back lots of memories
Dave
 

turd

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Ahhhh, Cholo, thank you for photo documenting your trips. If I did that mostly what you would see is snow....maybe a few trees bent over by the wind. :mrgreen: Wait 'till later this year and I will send some pics of the main season here... beer season. :mrgreen: Crops up, waiting to see if we get to harvest what we sow......
 

Cholo

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I havn't been to the Keys since I went there on my motorcycle the day after Christmas '76. I've heard they've built a new bridge since then :mrgreen: I'll bet it would be hard to recognize.

turd, I was about to get into the best part of this road trip, the fishing. I follow a guy on youtube from around you who goes by NDYakAngler. Amazing! :shock:

St. George Island was beautiful!



Turn SW and it ends at a gated community. Pretty, but yawn. Bet it costs a bunch to live here!



Heading NE on the island gets me to another beautiful State Park--Dr. Julian G Bruce St. George State Park. That's a mouthful!







After hitting Bald Point State Park and Alligator Point I headed to St. Marks Lighthouse, one of the only times I took a road straight to the beach with no parallel roads. I was surprised to see about 15 vehicles there.







Bought a FL freshwater fishing license in Perry. You'd need a separate salt water license.

I hit Beach Rd. SW of Perry and took it all the way the the outpost fishing village of Steinhatchee. Getting here was the middle of nowhere, and along comes a guy on a bicycle. There is nowhere on earth where someone won't take a bicycle.

Somewhere south of Crystal River the hwy. was just lined with construction barrels and I knew it was only going to get worse. I've been down the coast all the way to Naples/Marco Island even though it was years ago. I saw what I wanted to see and it was time to head to the Everglades.

I've recently gotten back into fishing and I heard south FL had some great freshwater holes loaded with whatever. I'll be wetting a line by tomorrow noon.
 

Muley Gil

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"Although AL claims to be part of the Emerald Coast, it really kicks in once you reach Ft. Pickens/Pensacola Beach, FL and their emerald green waters going east. I wish I'd taken more pics."

That part of Florida really should have been part of the State of Alabama.

I visited Ft Morgan back in the '80s. At that time, there was an exhibit that had copies of a letter by a Captain Campbell who was a member of an Confederate artillery unit from Alabama. One of the captain's great, great nephews was a close college friend. He also had a copy of the letter. My friend's granddaddy had donated the original letter to the Alabama Archives.
 
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Wow! What a great trip Cholo, I haven't heard of those forts, Fort Morgan and Fort Pickens. I've been a few places on your trip, Biloxi and Destin Florida, but just driving through. It is interesting and would like to go back and spend some more time.

How many days in all was the trip?

Love the pictures of the fog. I bet that was beautiful.
 

Jimbo357mag

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Cholo said:
I've recently gotten back into fishing and I heard south FL had some great freshwater holes loaded with whatever. I'll be wetting a line by tomorrow noon.
There are a lot of fish camps around Lake Okeechobee around the south end near Clewiston.

https://www.yellowpages.com/clewiston-fl/fishing-camps
 

contender

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Seeing this stuff brought back memories. I've been to many of these very same places. You have seen some nice places.

You mentioned Crystal River Fl. In that area,, there is some great freshwater fishing. Lake Panasoffkee (??spelling??) and the Withlacoochie river always gave me good fishing memories.
 

Cholo

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Thanks, all.

Kevin, the fog ride was the coolest part of the coastal trip by far. It was a short road trip-10 days.

Jimbo, I wanted to be in the swamp pretty much by myself, but thanks for the info! :)

I took 41 from Naples to Miami instead of 75 because it's less crowded and I took 41 from Miami to Naples in '75 and wanted to do it again. I also saw on Youtube that there was some good Peacock bass fishing in the main canal that runs along 41. I didn't have any luck and didn't care for standing in the sun all day. I've seen where a guy gets up under the bridges, but I couldn't find a place to park :(

There's so much water in the Everglades, an understatement LOL I zoomed in on Google maps and found dirt roads and went for a ride, gators all over the place! There's so much wildlife here. I could look into some of the water and see hundreds of fish of all sizes. There are gators at every open space. This is alligator city so if they spook you, you might not have such a good time. I simply respect them. There are tens of thousands of them south of I-75, if not millions. Time to see what I can catch.



I'd see a black brackish pool of water and cast a few times and voila! By the time the sun went down I'd had my best day fishing ever! I caught no less than 250 fish, the coolest an Oscar. Oscars originate in the Amazon and are aquarium fish that grow too big so people throw them into the Everglades where they thrive. They run from 10-12", but don't let that fool you. A 10" Oscar might weigh a pound while a 12" could weigh 2+ #'s. Pound for pound they are the strongest fighting fish I've ever caught bar none. This is the 1st one I caught, should have turned the camera angle. You can still see the lure in its mouth.



I brought 2 spinning rods/reels: 1) Medium Lite fast action with 12# braid and a 10# leader. 2) Medium fast action with 20# braid and a 12# leader. The 2nd was far better at getting the Oscars in before the gators got them. Yes, it was a rush to the finish, and sometimes the gators won. I hated that it got my lure with the fish, but that's just the way it was. I did everything I could to land it, but sometimes the gator was simply quicker. I think they got 4 where they were faster than I was.

One time I was working a jig in a 6' hole and my rod bent over--oh, yeah! The next thing I knew a gator exploded out of that hole about 10' from me with my jig in its wide open mouth :shock: I don't think it's possible for a man to point his rod at a gator and yank back to break the leader faster than I did, never a dull moment.

I didn't like the small canals that run parallel to the roads. I liked the small pools where you could actually see 100 fish milling about which usually included the slimy Gar.













In 4 days I probably caught 1,200 fish +/-, 300 or so of them Oscars. I simply don't know what some of the other fish were called. I can say that if you're used to sticking your thumb in a fish's mouth so you can freeze it to remove the hook, you'd better not do it down here! Oscars have sharp teeth. There's a nice fighting black and white speckled fish vaguely resembling a black crappie that you catch in numbers. My thumb went into the 1st one's mouth and I yanked it out bleeding. They have one fang on the top and 2 on the bottom. Believe me, you won't do it a 2nd time LOL I'd really like to know what these fish were, but the images on the net don't match.

if you're a clean freak and every time you get a scratch you have to put antiseptic on it and a bandage, this place isn't for you. You're going to bleed. These fish not only have teeth, they have fins that are sharper then surgical needles and they will puncture you, regularly.

Here's a pic of my left hand that grabs the fish to unhook them. I couldn't even use this hand on the steering wheel when I left for the night. It doesn't show the punctures on my finger tips. I brought supposedly puncture proof gloves that I could have cut the finger tips out of and avoided this, but noooOOOooo, I just had to bleed. This feels like a thousand paper cuts with a few needles thrown in :)



Bring a lot of lures! Oscars will dig for the tree roots and rocks and break off. Gators will get a few no matter how hard you try to keep them away. They eat for a living and are very good at it! These fish have teeth. Those teeth will break your line!

I was catching so many fish I didn't have time to eat, didn't want to. The roads thru the swamp are straight and, obviously, man made. I need an app on my phone that can lead me back to fishing holes where I did really well, like 150 fish, before I left. I rarely found that spot again no matter how much I thought I would recognize landmarks. I know there has to be an app, but will it work where there's no cell signal?

I didn't take a lot of pics in the Everglades; I was too busy catching fish. Your hands will stay slimy and you won't want to handle your phone too much. I do wish I'd have taken more pics, especially of the few memorable people I ran into who simply loved this place as much as I did.

I never caught a Peacock bass :( A local told me they were in there, but no luck. The Oscars made up for it more or less. Bring a fish lip gripper, something like this: http://www.amazon.com/ZACX-Gripper-8%C2%BD-inch-Stainless-Extended/dp/B07MX9P42H/ref=asc_df_B07MX9P42H/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=314272482652&hvpos=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=17520052236663514916&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9011126&hvtargid=pla-654605253348&psc=1 I should have used mine sooner. Oscars have both bony and fleshy mouths and are a chore to unhook when the barb gets buried! Bring quality pliers to help remove the hooks!!!

Final advice? Don't get lost, and be prepared for the mosquito onslaught when the sun goes down. Don't go to Florida in March. Don't speed in Florida, or south of Adel in Georgia. Don't feed the alligators--on purpose!!! Don't die! Enjoy all Florida has to offer.

:mrgreen:
 

Watchman

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Excellent trip! My wife and I fished the gulf inlets to the glades by boat 15 years ago or so, and caught snook and tarpon.
Just curious, did you see any pythons? I hear they are really getting up in numbers these days...
 

turd

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39 degrees, windy and raining here. Spring. :cry: At least we don't have to shovel the rain. Cholo did you eat any of the fish you caught? Wonder if you pan fry Oscars? Used to have one in my aquarium. :mrgreen:
 

Cholo

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Watchman said:
Just curious, did you see any pythons?
It's odd that I didn't even think about the pythons. Along those lines, though:

For hours I was slaying fish in one location. I could see down the road a ways and there were 2 adults and 2 boys about 12. Just before dark I drove down to them. I mentioned to the woman, who I came to first, that the fish were really wearing it out! She was fishing with live bait and said: Every cast!

She was raised here but now lives in Nome, AK where it was -37* when she left to spend time with her brother and 2 nephews here in FL. She told me stories about going out in these swamps at night with her father. I mentioned that it probably hasn't changed that much over about 40-50 years. She said: Oh, yes, it has. There used to be all sorts of critters like raccoons until the pythons took over.

As we talked there was a Great Horned Owl about 25 yds. away in a tree. We could hear another calling back in the swamp. Really cool!

There are these huge birds everywhere you look. It's so quiet in there and suddenly you hear this huge splash, sometimes just 20' away in the brush. It's 1) A gator getting a meal, and they get a lot of them! 2) Smaller gators encroaching on a big gator's territory. What a serious pecking order they have down here. It's absolutely amazing how fast a gator can react and move. I'm just glad I wasn't on the menu. So you hear all of these massive splashes and I'm looking around to see what it was, but usually you can't see anything. Then I'd start thinking that it's been awhile since I looked behind me :shock:

Neither here nor there:

I'm heading east on Alligator Alley/41 and it's nothing but swamp. There's a sign that says 1,600 acres for sale. What are you going to do with it, raise water? LOL Right then one of those goofy Smart fortwo cars passes me going in the other direction. I thought if it wrecked in this swamp a gator would just eat the entire car.

When I started getting onto these one lane dirt roads you're away from it all pretty quickly. I'd been driving for 30 minutes and here comes the obligatory guy on his bicycle :mrgreen:

I try not to eat fast food and I have a really nice cooler with me. One AM I leave the hotel and wanted to get in a Burger King line. I'm just looking on my phone and it said to turn here. I'm waiting in this line and notice the BK is next door and I'm in a Starbucks line and can't get out of it. The guy asks me what I want and I told him nothing, that I'm in the wrong line and at least people will think I'm important or something. He laughed :)

If it weren't for the Oscars I would have looked more for the Peacock bass. You can only catch so many 8-9" fish before you get bored. When an Oscar hits the excitement is on including the fight and keeping them away from the gators.

I'm sure the Oscars are good to eat, though there is some concern here, and everywhere, about mercury content. I have no desire to keep any fish.

I saw a car on the way home with a vanity tag that said: Gas LOL. It was a Tesla :)

I'll go back to fish the everglades. I'll try some new places and also try to catch some Peacock bass. I will have a phone app, or even a Garmin, that can mark waypoints of good fishing locations so I can find them again. The everglades cover 7,800 square miles and a lot of it looks the same. Finding where I was 2 days ago is easier said than done.
 
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Thanks for sharing Cholo! Wow, the fishing was great! Were you on the motorcycle, or Mustang? Hmm I have never fished in Florida. I have snorkeled and SCUBA in the Crystal River. Swam with the Manatee, probed the cave called King Spring. Good times!
gramps
 

Cholo

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gramps, I took my van and was totally self contained, though I chose to stay in a motel because I sure like a nice shower after a sweaty slimy day of fishing :) I sold the Mustang a year ago January after owning it for over 24 years. I had some really good times in that car, but it was time for someone else to enjoy it. It found a new home in FL.
 

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