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Southwest Everglades for Rivers 97-104

Chokoloskee Island is the end of civilization on Florida’s SW coast. With less than 500 residents between Everglades City and Chokoloskee Island, it is no surprise they have but one school for K though 12 and most know all the business owners, as well as their neighbors by name. For us River Roamin’ Tillerys, it was our second time coming to the island and we decided to stay at our same RV park as before, Chokoloskee Island Resort, complete with a clubhouse that has a fully operating kitchen (came in super handy our first night) and lots of games; all available for use asking folks to simply clean up afterwards and not take anything out.

Three and half hours, taking all back roads from the Treasure Coast clear to the island, it was super windy that day. Crossing into Chokoloskee the high tide coupled with the strong wind had waves crashing up onto the road as we drove to our weekend retreat. Chris, grounds keeper and host, remembered us and our mission along with our truck camper and pontoon. However, as we walked into the office to find our what spot we were at, a strong wind and wave combo knocked down the fish cleaning station at the end of their dock right before our very eyes! Though the American flag continued to wave on the corner post of the dock, there was no salvaging the fish cleaning station nor were we able to put our boat in with the rough conditions. After Hurricane Ian in 2022, it was obvious this little slice of heaven in the Everglades had been hit hard. So, we got situated and utilized the common areas to shield ourselves from the high winds. Until that day, we had no idea our son, Charles was such a good ping pong player; he won $15 against mom and dad!  *Side note, we learned what a glitter bomb was that night after riding around with a semi-resident on his golf cart. Be sure to ask me all about it.

Knowing the tides are extreme that far south, we woke early and prepared to drive a short distance into Everglades City to use the boat ramp at The Rod & Gun Club. Talk about historic! Founded by Barron G. Collier in 1864, Everglades City was home to this prestigious banker and railroad man. He is the area’s first permanent white settler and bought almost all Southwest Florida, running the historic venue as a private club that hosted international dignitaries and several United States presidents. The boat ramp was a bit steep and beaten, yet it did the job. Once in the water we hit river #97 the Barron, which led us through downtown Everglades City. It was Good Friday so there were more people out and taking air boat tours or sitting outside having lunch, it was warmer and significantly less windy, so folks were happy to be outdoors. We spent hours tooling about and had a chance to follow the channel past the National Park beachy island parameters, beautiful waterscapes!

That evening we met several locals; a communal campfire tends to get people gathering. Boone was a memorable character and gave us most of the rundown on the town; glad to have met him even if Michael is not convinced, he caught a 5’ Snook.

That Saturday was a first for our family. We hired a captain. Captain Bruce has a custom boat made to navigate the low and windy waters of the Everglades with ease and was happy to take on our river roaming challenge for the day. He arrived at 7am just as the first bits of light were showing themselves, our drinks and lunches got shuffled into his built-in coolers, loaded with ice and once we were seated (Dad and I on the bench with the captain, mom in the middle and Charlie in the marine boat chair in front of us) we were off. It was chillier than anticipated, especially when going 30 plus miles per hour, though none of us complained and instead saw the most radiant sunrise. It took nearly a full hour and forty minutes, though we made it to the most southern of our rivers for the day and learned what good tarpon fishing it provided on our 98th river, the Harney. Captain Bruce made quick work of the next rivers and shared stories about each as he meandered us through the wide, shallow waters.

#99 the Broad River had me blown away by how big it was! #100 was a bonus river Captain Bruce know about, the Wood River. In the Wilderness Waterway fork, the other side was known as the Nightmare; we did not go down that path at all.  Next, was the Rodgers River (I remembered it was our #101 because that was the human dog dad’s name of Pongo in 101 Dalmatians).

We left that river and had a nice chance to do some fishing with the sun shining. Our Captain had his poles neatly mounted below the boat’s portside wall and with just a couple jigs my boys brought in trout one after the other.

With a successful bit of fishing under our belts, we went into the chickee course. For those who kayak and enjoy the challenge of primitive camping, this is a journey for you. As for us, it was a delight to do it all by this specially designed boat and visit the chickees as needed for a potty break. Inside the connecting waters, we hit the Lostmans River #102, the Chatham River #103 (here the Watson Place chickee was a visit and came with a history lesson about the outlaw homesteader of the late 1800’s that was a sugar cane plantation owner and serial killer). Our final river of the day was the Huston River off the Huston Bay for #104; seven hours of boating and site seeing was perfect. Back at the Captain’s marina and fish cleaning station, just to the south of ours, we got to eat our lunch and enjoy a cold drink while he filleted our trout and we settled the bill. It was worth every penny!

That final night of our stay, we had another fire. Our new friend Boon came back with his homemade moonshine, and we met others; some from England and Portugal and a couple from Michigan and another Canada and one set from Colorado. It was a great way to end our trip. While headed home we stopped off for lunch in Okeechobee. It was Easter Sunday, so options were more limited than normal; however, we found a gem. La Cabana Taqueria was fast and decently priced, they offer a taco platter with up to 50 perfectly constructed street tacos, great value and flavor! Wishing you all many wonderful memories roaming away.

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