The shallow creek barely supported our kayaks and the confines closed in tightly. We laid our paddles lengthwise and pulled ourselves through hand over hand, gripping muddy mangrove roots. Crabs scampered across overhanging branches like salty sentries, as sunlight flickered through gaps in the canopy.
I was here to suss out a secret garden with Tampa Bay guide Geoff Page and his buddy. Geoff had warned me to bring my sense of adventure, as we were going exploring like Tom and Huck. Before the sun would sink we’d worm our way into one of Tampa Bay’s secluded sanctuaries, well fortified against a powered boat assault. Low tide restricts anyone without a paddle, and soft muddy bottoms make the approaches and interiors impossible to traverse on foot. Reaching the hidden bounty is challenging even in a kayak, but the reward more than justifies the effort.
Geoff told me the hidden lagoon we sought is known as Moses Hole to those few who’ve solved its riddle.
Curiously, the site’s entrance didn’t seem like much of anything, just a nondescript fold in the mangrove shoreline. There were hints that this little corner concealed something more, small rafts of leaves and floating grass drifted in from elsewhere—nature’s crumb trail. If you weren’t specifically looking for a tidal creek snaking its narrow way through a magnificent mangrove forest, you might not even notice this little gold mine. Most didn’t.
We pushed on, encroaching branches occasionally brushing off our caps, rods laid low on the decks to avoid snags. Deep within the maze, there was no sense of time. The sun was hidden. The air grew close and breathless.
Eventually we emerged into openness, an absolute angling oasis. The brilliant sunlight penetrating the verdant canopy cast gilded freckles upon our path like a giant disco strobe. The tranquil lagoon was no more than 200 yards on a side.
Big schools of harmless, vegetarian mullet rumbled across shallow grass beds on the secluded lagoon’s fringes.
They flushed crabs, shrimp and other sea treats from their hiding spots and into the jaws of opportunistic predators. We could sense the snook and redfish hunting. The fish were blissfully unaware of our presence. A treasure trove waited.
We unlimbered our rods, commencing angling ecstasy among the unsuspecting fish. Geoff flung a topwater. Only a few cranks in his rod doubled over to the staccato beat of a redfish tail. Geoff’s friend opted for a silver and gold leadhead with a chartreuse, gold and root beer colored plastic body. A snook eagerly snapped up the irridescent offering. I got into the action, teasing the semi-captive fish with a scented shrimp under a cork. We caught fish one after the other.
At times I held my breath in anticipation of the speckled trout, sheepshead, black drum or mangrove snapper that would soon latch onto my line. Today, it wasn’t to be, as the reds and snook greedily monopolized our offerings. We let them all go. It was enough to know that the privilege to fish this secret garden was ours and ours alone. No one else had earned it this day.
This article originally appeared on page 62 of the Early Summer edition of Kayak Angler magazine. To read the full article click here.