Bull sharks swarm in jungle rivers like schools of piranha. Gators have to be push-poled away from the boat. Wild boars stroll the beaches. And plenty of big snook, reds and trout-along with the occasional barrel-size grouper-bust up your tackle. Sound like your kind of place? If it is, visit Everglades National Park this winter. Despite the mad rush to suburbanize the rest of Florida, the vast national park at the southern tip remains as wild as ever. Camping in the backcountry puts you in the middle of the action, well beyond waters visited by weekend fishermen.
Camping where mosquitoes travel in swarms? Actually, no. In winter, the bug count is modest, especially if you choose a campground well up one of the rivers, where saltwater mosquitoes and the tiny no-see-ums are scarce. On a trip last year in December, there were few insects in attendance, and though we slept in screened tents, the snoring of fellow campers was more annoying than the few bugs that got inside. (You’ll still want to carry a repellent, though-and between April and October, forget it!)
Wilderness camping is made possible through a series of federally maintained sites, most of them just big enough for one party. Some are on shell mounds left by the Native Americans who used to call the Glades home before the days of insect repellent. (Now those were tough people!) Others are wood platforms built by the National Park Service. All have enclosed toilets (with plenty of spiders inside) and hot-and-cold-running raccoons (be sure to store your food in raccoon-proof containers when you head out for the day).
The fishing ranges from good to spectacular if you know where to go. It’s not a matter of simply casting a Zara Spook at any likely looking shoreline. The best action is usually found on run-outs from smaller creeks, around rock holes and in the bends of deep but narrow creeks on strong tide flows.
We fished live mullet for monster grouper and big snook on our last trip and caught some of both-we also caught a lot of bull sharks. In some creeks, the bulls were so thick and voracious that a fall overboard would surely result in some sad news for your family back home. Gators, never hunted here, are equally possessive when you drop a live mullet near them, and may demand a fee for using their turf.
To camp the backcountry you need a $10 permit, available at visitor stations in Everglades City on the west end of the park and in Flamingo on the east side. Contact: Everglades National Park (305-242-7700; www.nps.gov/ever/).