The Dry Tortuga’s were discovered by Juan Ponce de Leon in 1511. In the mid-nineteenth century, the Navy built Fort Jefferson to protect against pirates. The fort still stands as the largest masonry structure in the Americas, using over 16 million bricks. The National Park Service took over the archipelago of keys in 1935. Today, tourists, divers and anglers cross 70 miles from Key West by ferry or sea plane to pull exotic species out of crystal blue water.
CAMPER: Darin O’Brien, tournament angler and outdoor writer.
Bring everything in and pack everything out. The only luxury is composting outhouses.
CAR CAMPING EVEREST BASECAMP
A cushy ferry ride to the island leaves you 70 miles from Key West. Park Service is available 24/7.
TOURIST MECCA TOTAL ISOLATION
Despite being remote, the islands are a popular tourist destination. Ferries and float planes bring up to 180 sightseers at a time. Few visitors stay the night, after the last boat leaves the island is empty.
TARGET: Grouper, snapper, tarpon, permit, snook, amberjack, barracuda and sharks.
TACKLE BOX: Heavy jigging rods, 50-pound braid and vertical jigs. Medium spinning rod, 20-pound braid and 40-pound fluorocarbon leader with soft plastic flukes and swimbaits.
METHOD: Fishing is only allowed in a one mile radius of Fort Jefferson. The deepest water is on the east side. Find rockpiles and ledges then drop a jig. Or, sight fish in the shallow flats with light tackle. Keep a rod rigged with a scented shrimp imitation for finicky hogfish. Some of the park rangers are fishermen and they are happy to share fishing information.
LAUNCH: The ferry can only carry three kayaks per trip.
CAMPING KIT: Heavy-duty tent spikes for the sand-shale soil. Use an air mattress and sheet,
no sleeping bag in the hot summer. Bring two gallons of water per person each day. Fuel stoves are not allowed, so bring charcoal and use the park grills. Hope to cook fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT: A depth finder and GPS combo for finding submerged structure that holds fish.
MUST SEE: Take a tour of Fort Jefferson. Treat yourself to lunch on the ferry boat, it’s cheap and offers delicious calories that don’t taste like charcoal