Camping and Fishing in the Keys
Depending on the route you choose, it takes from 5-6 hours to drive from Englewood to Marathon, but it’s worth it. There’s no better place than the Florida Keys to find a cool ocean breeze and some good inshore fishing in summer. No matter which direction the sea breeze comes from, it’s welcome. The old railroad bridges have become fine fishing platforms for anglers taking advantage of the tidal flows between Florida Bay and the Atlantic. Moving water is often the key to finding feeding fish.
We tow our Aliner™ camper and take the less traveled route, US27 south of Lake Okeechobee to 997 merging with US 1 to the Keys. It’s a little longer than I-75 but is more scenic with a lot less traffic.
Hurricane Irma wrecked all 4 of the State Park camping spots in the Keys but most are up and running again. These parks are full a year in advance so it’s absolutely necessary to get camping reservations any time of year to prevent being turned away after a long drive.
Marathon is close to the middle of the keys and provides a launching and camping base for expeditions to nearby bridges and flats as well as the cultural entertainment in Key West if nothing is biting. Just before Marathon is Curry Hammock State Park on Little Crawl Key. This small park is now open after hurricane Irma. The campsites are level and the showers are hot. There are kayaks to rent but we usually bring our own. With a kayak dolly, launching from your campsite is realistic. There’s a kayak trail that circumnavigates Little Crawl Key and takes an angler through several types of fish habitat. It is best done at a high tide. The flats off the south shore will supply light tackle action with barracuda and snapper. The shallow bay to the east is prime habitat for snook. Be sure to cast a jig or shrimp to the mangroves ahead of your kayak. At the end of this bay is a small mangrove channel that takes you under the bridge that goes to Curry Hammock S.P. This bridge is usually packed with mangrove snapper that cannot be caught from this “No Fishing” bridge. Tie off to the mangroves and have some shrimp ready and catch a snapper dinner. Also, try casting a bait or lure with wire leader, in the channel by the kayak rack on an outgoing tide. Barracuda and sharks should keep you busy.
Past Marathon, across the Seven Mile Bridge, Bahia Honda State Park has great camping facilities for the angler. This park has also reopened after hurricane Irma. The Bahia Honda channel can be accessed from the sea wall under the old railroad bridge. Catch a small baitfish to present under a popping cork. With a larger 30 lb. rig, toss this combo into the channel on an outgoing tide. Sharks and seasonal tarpon patrol this area and are usually willing to eat a pinfish. There are over 2 miles of beach and grass flats on the south side of this state park that are good for wade angling and can produce bonefish, snapper, barracuda and others. Those folks that walk east towards Marathon will find less pressure and more fish. We usually wade along the cove east of the RV camp sites and concentrate our casts on the grass areas. 1/16th ounce jigs and soft plastics work well but we could easily switch the plastic for a chin hooked shrimp to crawl along the bottom. Retrieve lures fast to get the attention of the barracuda. Bridge fishing and wading are more popular than kayaking here.
The 2 other State Parks with camping facilities in the Florida Key are John Pennekamp Coral Reef S.P. and Long Key S.P. We have camped at Pennekamp but prefer to be further down the keys for the fishing. Last year Long Key S.P. just finished a major update project that kept them closed for a while, then Irma undid their good work. This state park has campsites right along the beach that are ideal for kayakers. As soon as they reopen, we’re heading that way.