Paddle Steinhatchee, on Florida’s Big Bend Coast
We’ve come full circle. Now, modern interpretations of eons-old paddle craft are the latest rage when it comes to fishing. Many are as simple as rafts and others, like Hobie’s Master Angler 12, are fitted with modern conveniences like cozy seats, pedal or electric drives, depth sounders, and even live wells. But no matter your choice of paddle or pedal-craft, you’ll find yourself in the catbird seat when it comes to sneaking up on your inshore quarry. And if you’re looking for a good variety of places to fish, come up to Steinhatchee, on the Big Bend.
The Dixie County shoreline between the mouth of the Steinhatchee River and the end of CR361 (the “road to nowhere”) offers paddlers four choices for launching and fishing. On cool windy days, the best option is the primitive ramp at the end of Sand Ridge Road, on Pine Log Creek. Not only does it offer protection from the elements, it’s just a quick paddle to the Gulf, Howard Creek, or Porpoise Creek. The maze of creeks here can produce some nice fall reds and seatrout, especially from atop sun-warmed bars during afternoon high tides. The Sand Ridge ramp is about 3 miles from the intersection of CR362 and Rocky Creek Cutoff Road, within the Jena WMA. If you drive about 5 miles south of Casey’s Corner Store on CR361 you’ll find yourself at the settlement at Rocky Creek. Travel west on SW 459th Avenue to the primitive ramp and parking area. From there, it’s just a short paddle to the mouth of the creek, and some untouched Gulf shoreline and excellent inshore angling. Go another mile south of Rocky Creek and you’ll see a sign for Sink Creek Road. Follow that road to the headwaters of shallow Sink Creek and the launch site. There’s plenty of parking here, and the ramp is within easy reach of a lonely stretch of Gulf shoreline. Remember that “lonely stretch” means less pressure on game fish. That’s a good thing. If you travel almost to “nowhere” at the end of CR361, and don’t mind parking along the roadside, there’s good access to the water behind the Pepperfish Keys from shallow Cow Creek. Here, launch beside the small bridge and make the short paddle westward to the edges of the rocky islands, keeping your eye peeled for mullet schools and predators.
To Steinhatchee’s north, in Taylor County, the coastline is equally accessible to paddling anglers. On cold days, try Dallus Creek’s deeper holes for gator seatrout. Or venture out of the creek and fish the shoreline northwards to Clay Creek for reds. CR361 actually goes “somewhere” (to Keaton Beach) in this part of the county, and getting to Dallus Creek Landing Road is about a 5-mile trip. Travel north a few more miles and you’ll see signs for Hagens Cove Park, a primitive ramp, and easy paddling to Sponge or Piney Points. Toss D.O.A. shallow-running Bait Busters towards either point for reds or drift D.O.A. 3-inch shrimp under corks over the shallow flats between the points for slot-sized seatrout.
Paddle-fishermen also have the option of departing the Steinhatchee River to fish the immediate Deadmans Bay shoreline or heading upriver to fish for freshwater species. The Taylor County Ramp, just west of the Sea Hag Marina, is the most convenient to the Gulf, while the ramp just downstream from the Steinhatchee Landing makes the upper river easy to reach. In either case, you’ll find easy paddling close to the amenities at fishermen-friendly Steinhatchee.
If you haven’t experienced the peace and quiet (or the stealth) of fishing from a kayak or paddlecraft, you might want to rent a boat before you make an investment. Steinhatchee’s River Haven Marina (www.riverhavenmarinaandmotel.com) has a fleet of kayaks and also offers some portage options to both fresh and saltwater locations.
Paddling, even pedaling, is work and not suited for some folks. But it’s an excellent way to fish at your own pace in waters that are largely inaccessible to noisy or deeper draft powerboats. And besides those reasons, it’s good heart-healthy exercise!