CHOKOLOSKEE, FLA. — For most of the year, David and Kitty Snell are busy raising beautiful plants in their commercial greenhouses.
But when winter closes down production, the Mount Airy couple heads for their secluded winter hideaway on Florida's southwest coast for some fishing and relaxation.
It was David's love of fishing and the outdoors that originally led the Snells to Chokoloskee Island, some 35 miles south of Naples. Kitty at first resisted the idea of vacationing in such a remote locale, but quickly fell in love with both the people and the primitive beauty of the area.
"The Chokoloskee area is perfect," says Dave Snell. "You can fish the rivers, the back bays or the Gulf of Mexico. Each offers a different kind of challenge."
Nowadays, the Snells spend several months each winter in their 38-foot Country Coach motor home. Having purchased a lot at Outdoor Resorts on Chokoloskee Island, the couple can enjoy all the civilized amenities while enjoying the natural wonders of the Everglades.
"I've always been a naturalist and a fisherman," Dave, a member of Trout Unlimited, explains. "Of allthe places you can go in this country, this particular area of the Everglades is one of the last that is unspoiled and non-polluted."
The back country, as the interior area of the Everglades where Snell fishes is known, is composed of mangrove islands, winding creeks, shallow, secluded bays and deep-flowing rivers. This region offers not only some of the world's finest fishing, but also excellent opportunity for canoeing, bird-watching and primitive camping.
"One of the nicest aspects of this area," Dave Snell reveals, "is that you have both rivers and bays to fish, as well as the Gulf of Mexico. You can goout fishing, and if you wish, never even see another boat the entireday."
Snook -- considered by those who have eaten it to be the "lobster" of the fish world -- is the big trophy fish in the mangrove areas. Other species common to the area include mangrove snappers and redfish.
Several rivers that drain from the Everglades -- the Chatham, Huston, Lopez, Turner and Lostman's River -- provide deep channels that are home to trout -- taken on poppers in the grass flats of open bay water -- and flounder and sheepshead in deeper water.
Other sought-after species include pompano, sea trout, grouper and a vastvariety of other panfish. Access to the Gulf of Mexico also is convenient for those wishing to go after tarpon.
Dave Snell's boat, a 20-foot Robalo, can often be found out in the gulf, where he fishes the wrecks for mackerel and grouper.
"Last time we were out, there were thousands of mackerel. . . . We were pulling in something every cast," he says. "A 12-foot hammerhead shark kept circling the boat, but we were too busy pulling in mackerel to bother with him."
Oystering and crabbing are other ways in which the Snells and other residents of the area add to the variety of their menu. The blue crabs of the area respond to the same chicken-wing bait used by crabbers in theChesapeake Bay; the shallow; back-bay waters are home to easily accessible oyster bars.
Another seafood delicacy available in the areais the stone crab. These are captured using crab boxes with attachedfloats. Only the large claw of the crab is removed and the crustacean is released to grow a new one.
In addition to fishing, the Snells also find the area to be a bird-watching paradise. When boating, they frequently observe common egrets, snowy egrets, herons, osprey, limpkins, wood storks and a variety of smaller shore birds. An especially exciting find was a flock of rare white pelicans that inhabit the area.
While the local residents seem to navigate the winding waterways almost by instinct, those without good navigational skills wouldbe advised to use a guide. As even experienced boaters often discover to their dismay, one mangrove island looks deceptively like every other mangrove island.
Running aground also is commonplace in theseshallow waters. In fact, anyone who comes back with his boat's prop unscathed by oyster beds or sandbars hasn't really been fishing in the Glades.