UPCOMING EVENT: Walmart Bass Fishing League - 2016 - Lake Okeechobee

Dry Tortugas

-------------------------------------- Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the January-February 2006 issue of FLW Outdoors Magazine. -------------------------------------- February isn't what some saltwater anglers across the country would call the "hot" month when it comes to fishing. But in one area in the Straits of Florida, October to April is the prime time to come down and boat a bountiful cornucopia of saltwater species. Named the Dry Tortugas by Ponce De Leon for its lack of fresh water and, at the time, abundance of sea turtles, this chain of islands owned by the United States, 70 miles west of Key West, Fla., offers some of the most beautiful, historic and heart-pounding angling action of any saltwater venue during winter and early spring. Most anglers who vacation in South Florida for a bit of offshore fishing in the Tortugas will likely find themselves in Key West. In fact, Earnest Hemmingway fancied Key West so much that after one visit, he packed up and moved there permanently. At one point, Key West was said to be the wealthiest city in the nation, and majestic homes lining the shores of the island evidence that speculation. Fans of Hemmingway can patron the same establishment he frequented with his good friend "Sloppy Joe" at Captain Tony's Saloon. While there is another good destination actually called Sloppy Joe's, it is believed that Captain Tony's was the original pub where Joe and Hemmingway shared stories, many of which were said to lead to some of Hemmingway's books. If you're not into the pub scene, then you should step over to Mallory Square in the early evening hours to witness some of the most breathtaking sunsets while listening to performers, live music and shopping in the open-air markets. It's truly a unique experience, highly regarded by travelers and locals alike. But the number-one point of interest around Key West is the Dry Tortugas. Dry Tortugas National Park offers great historical tours as well as camping and beach activities on the sands bordering some of the clearest water you've ever seen. It's common to see fish swimming around on the bottom in 50 feet of water. The national park is the only at-sea national park in the country and home to Fort Jefferson, an island penal colony where Dr. Samuel Mudd was sentenced and served his time alone for many years. He was convicted of aiding and conspiring with John Wilkes Booth on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln when he repaired Booth's broken leg, which broke on the jump from the famed balcony shooting. And if historic tours and camping don't tickle your fancy then the surreal experience of scuba diving in Kingfish are common in Dry Tortugas' clear waters.the Dry Tortugas will. Several outfitters can provide you with the necessary equipment. The water is clear and the numerous species of fish, turtles and other sea life will cause your wandering mind to receive a "connection interrupted" with reality. The fishing in the Dry Tortugas is more of the same. Five records have come from these islands, including the all-tackle black grouper record of 113 pounds, 6 ounces. It's not uncommon to run into large schools of dolphin, along with wahoo, kingfish, cobia, jack, grouper, snapper, barracudas and a host of other species that will fall for lightweight fly offerings or heavy-duty live-bait rigs. Several outfitters run charters out of Key West. For your first foray into the unknown, this might be your best bet. For the adventurous soul who wants to go it on his or her own, be prepared for an hour or more one-way boat ride from Key West to the National Park. There is no gas, food or other amenities on the islands, so take what you need to get there and back. Take a variety of baits and rigs with you, as you never know what you're liable to run into out there. For most anglers, the thrill of a topwater bite in the Dry Tortugas is unmatched. Anglers commonly hook 200-plus-pound jewfish on fly rods. Think that's crazy? Then seeing a 30-pound grouper shoot off the corral reef bottom in 12 feet of water and cartwheel end over end, slapping himself silly with the topwater bait that's hooked in the side of his mouth, will really send your blood pumper into jumbled rhythms. Topwater action reaches the summit of fishing excitement here. Jolting concussions interrupt melodic cadences of whispering gallops across the surface. These metaphors multiply in the confines of greenish-blue backdrops and shadows of darting predators when you talk about topwater fishing in the Dry Tortugas. It's as close to "shooting fish in a barrel" as the average angler will ever come. The history of Fort Jefferson After the War of 1812, a set of forts stretching from Maine to Texas was planned to protect the United States from foreign attacks. Fort Jefferson was to be the grandest of all the forts. In 1845, the islands of the Dry Tortugas became a military reservation, so the construction of the fort could begin. The fort walls were not complete until 1862, and it was named in honor of Thomas Jefferson. Construction on the fort dragged on for more than 30 years and construction ended before completion. Weather, funding, and difficulties in transporting supplies and laborers to such a remote location made the endeavor too much to bear. Then came the invention of the rifled cannon during the Civil War that exposed vulnerabilities in the walls, making the fort obsolete. During the Civil War, the fort was used as a prison for deserters and other criminals. In 1874, the army gave up on the fort because of hurricanes and plagues of yellow fever. It wasn't until 1898 that the Navy reopened the fort to use it during the Spanish-American War. The fort was again used during World War I. The islands were designated a bird reserve and transferred to the Department of Agriculture in 1908. President Franklin Roosevelt selected it as the Fort Jefferson National Monument on Jan. 4, 1935 - the first marine area to receive that designation. The monument was upgraded to national park status in a bill signed by President George Bush in 1992.

Tags: destinations  jason-sealock 


Destination: Cal Delta

Anchored by the convergence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, along with countless tributaries and rural streams, Delta waters comprise a labyrinthine of navigable arteries, all subject to tidal influence through their common connection to San Francisco Bay. There's plenty of area to spread out and select your own little piece of paradise, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself overwhelmed with a dilemma borne of abundance – in other words, it all looks fishy. READ MORE »


Warrior River giants: Nick’s secret no more

With all the facets of media these days, we are constantly blasted with sales pitches for one “top-notch fishery.” Others claim, “You can catch a hundred fish a day here.” Or, “Trophy smallmouths roam these waters.” And my personal favorite is, “If you want to catch the fish of a lifetime, this is your place.” Unfortunately, few fisheries live up to the hype. It’s fair to say that with the exception of a few, typically all the hoopla turns out to be false advertising. READ MORE »


Destination: Lake Amistad

Its Spanish name means "friendship" and bass anglers who value that rare mix of quality and quantity will enjoy getting to know Lake Amistad. A largemouth powerhouse that attracts a steady stream of tournament and casual angling interest to its namesake National Recreation Area – the Rio Grande reservoir just 12 miles northwest of Del Rio, Texas – also abounds in subtle scenic beauty, historical treasures and some cross-cultural accents you won't want to miss. READ MORE »


Destination: 1000 Islands

As far as fishing destinations go, the 1000 Islands region is easily one of the most highly recommended areas to visit in the lower 48 states. READ MORE »


Lake Okeechobee rebound

Lake Okeechobee has experienced both ends of the see-saw. But with a renewed sense of balance born of prudent water management and the silver lining of dark ecological clouds, Florida’s largest inland water body is on track to return to its finest form since the heydays of the 1980s. READ MORE »


Destination: Lake St. Clair/Windsor, Ontario

Like a Hobbit among giants, St. Clair’s 460-square miles appear minute in the Great Lakes region. Nevertheless, this dynamic fishery consistently cranks out the big catches – both in terms of numbers and individual fish. There’s no denying the greater overall potential found in nearby Lakes Erie and Huron, but the spunky St. Clair more than holds its own. READ MORE »


Destination: Washington D.C.

Rare is the case when Washington D.C. finds Democrats and Republicans seeing eye-to-eye. However, both parties can agree that the historic waters of the Potomac River offer tremendous angling opportunity within close proximity to the U.S. capital. READ MORE »


Destination: Lake Champlain

Four centuries ago, a French explorer surveyed a long, narrow lake tucked between the Adirondack and Green mountains and said, “Wow!” – or at least the 17th century equivalent expression. Today, not much has changed as Lake Champlain still conveys a sense of wonderment and breathtaking beauty for both newcomers and veteran anglers alike. READ MORE »


A crankbait ‘Dives-To’ new depths

For some reason, crankbaits overtook other lures this year in the speck of cyberspace inside my head that is my attention span. My wife gets annoyed that I can’t hear other words when I’m singularly focused on one task or noise. The problem is compounded when it involves something to do with fishing. READ MORE »


Running the Yamaha SHO V Max 250 LA

Waking up Tuesday to rain at 6 a.m. didn’t dampen the excitement of testing the new Yamaha outboards. The air was cool but not cold, and the rain was spitting and misting on the 45-minute drive to the test facility in Bridgeport, Ala. A quick safety meeting got everyone on the same page, and then a rundown of the SHO outboard came next. READ MORE »


Sneak peak: New Yamaha V MAX SHO

Game changer? It’s definitely going to be a drool inducer. We were invited to an early viewing of the new four-stroke outboards from Yamaha. Monday we were only privy to images of the new outboards, and Tuesday we’ll actually get to put them through their paces on several different boats. READ MORE »


Destination: Pigeon River

People travel from all over the country just to witness the beauty of the Smoky Mountains in the fall. Fall colors really set off an already gorgeous view. But these days, so many people visit the area that the quaint atmosphere of the resort towns, such as Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Pigeon Forge, Tenn., has been changed. These towns have become extremely busy tourist destinations in recent years, complete with sprawling malls, theme parks, go-kart rentals and wedding chapels. READ MORE »


Topwater poppers

Pop. Pop. Splash. Splash. Set the Hook. Grab the net. Then drop that keeper in the livewell and fire back out there again. The action can be fast and furious when bass are schooling or rummaging shallow bushes looking for an easy meal, and they readily fall victim to popping topwaters. There are literally dozens of popper varieties on the market, and we sampled a large pool of manufacturers’ offerings. READ MORE »


Meddling mud

Fish long enough and it’s bound to happen. The perfect trip goes awry with the inflow of sediment into an otherwise pristine paradise. Chocolate milk, brown gravy and molasses are all fine on the breakfast table, but they can turn an angler’s stomach when describing his favorite fishing spot being overrun with dirty water. During spring, rainy tournaments can go from a blowout to a washout in one evening. READ MORE »


California divergence

They’re connected only by their rankings as the top western bass waters in the nation, but despite completely different profiles, Clear Lake and the California Delta team up to offer a one-two punch of Golden State bass potential in relatively close proximity. READ MORE »


The flip-shot

The worm and weight spiraled end over end between the tules like a South American bola on its way to snare wild game. The rapid pitch-and-twirl combo hit the water with a near-silent entry, and the dark corner of the reed clump was motionless. Professional angler Michael Rooke of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., stood statuesque, peering into the water for what seemed like an eternity. Slowly, he raised the tip of his rod. READ MORE »


Off-the-wall ‘eye baits

The cameras rolled as waves and wind gently bucked the angler up and down in the chop while he explained the nuances of his new weapons. It wasn’t difficult to explain how pulling different crankbaits than the norm can be effective. However, pro angler Jason Kerr of Holly, Mich., had limited experience trolling the new Z-Man ChatterSticks on Lake Erie. READ MORE »


Upper Red Lake: Paradise on ice

Fifteen years ago it was considered a dead sea. Although hard to believe at over 250,000 acres, Red Lake was totally depleted by commercial netting. In 1995 an amazing class of crappies established themselves in the lake. That crappie class is dwindling, but Red Lake has recently undergone another transformation – this time becoming the No. 1 walleye-fishing destination in the Midwest. READ MORE »


Odyssey of the Otter

RIO JATAPU, Brazil — I recently took such a trip and experienced what felt like a lifetime of thrills and adventure in what was actually a week-long voyage in northwestern Brazil. Rich in animal life and abounding with botanical brilliance, this region defies summation – but “amazing” comes pretty close. READ MORE »


Mission to Mars: Yellowfin tuna

For decades, the entertainment industry has told us a trip to Mars will turn up little green men. Well, in the northern Gulf of Mexico, a trip to Mars yields a close encounter with the big yellow guys. Yellow as in yellowfin tuna. As in back-breaking, arm-stretching brutes. As in succulent fillets worth every ounce of pain and suffering. READ MORE »