Exploring Florida’s Hidden Treasures
rusty chinnis | submitted
AMI Outfitters owner and avid kayaker
Steve Traves goes through the mangrove
entrance to Moses Hole.
Boaters and anglers living on Anna Maria Island and in the West Central Florida region have a wonderful variety of natural habitats to explore. Whether by foot, power boat or paddle, the Gulf, bays and backwaters provide an almost limitless variety of opportunities.
Recently, I was invited by AMI Outfitters owner Steve Traves to explore a remote and mysterious body of water in Tampa Bay called Moses Hole. The 31-acre destination is located in lower Tampa Bay about two miles northeast of the Skyway Bridge.
Although I’ve lived and fished the waters of Tampa Bay for three decades, this would be my first trip into Moses Hole, which is only accessible by canoe or kayak.
Traves is an avid kayaker and president of the Kayak Anglers of West Florida. He sells kayaks at his shop on Pine Avenue in Anna Maria and was the perfect person to lead this exploration.
We began our adventure early on a Sunday morning at a convenient launch site on Williams Bayou, part of a recent wetlands restoration in the Terra Ceia Preserve State Park. The access is reached from Stoltz Road just off the approach to the Skyway Bridge.
Traves provided the kayaks and set me up with a new Current Designs, Solara135 Recreational Kayak. At 13 feet, 6 inches, and weighing in at 47 pounds, the hybrid Kevlar and fiberglass kayak was light, responsive and had a very comfortable, adjustable seat that was perfect for this novice paddler.
Traves rowed a Current Designs, Gulfstream Performance Kayak and filmed the adventure with an innovative tripod that attached to the front of his boat. We had checked the tides and began the trip on what we thought would be an incoming tide.
As it turned out, the water was extremely low and a very shallow and soft mud flat in Williams Bayou had turned back another couple that was attempting to make their way to the fringes of Tampa Bay. Traves knew that our kayaks had a much shallower draft and determined that we should forge on as the tide would be starting to come in soon, even in this far corner of the bay.
We reached the upper part of Williams Bayou and were able to cross the shallow mud flat and access Tampa Bay, only having to walk the kayaks a few yards. We exited Williams Bayou into Joe Bay with the spans of the Skyway Bridge clearly in view.
The tide was now coming in strong, and although the water was still shallow, we knew we had made the right decision to proceed. The paddle through Joe Bay was smooth with only a slight headwind to contend with. I was happy to be able to adjust my seat and foot rests, as it allowed me to experiment until I found the best combination of adjustments for a comfortable paddle.
In the distance, the headland where the entrance to Moses Hole lay eased closer and closer and I enjoyed the closeness to the water, which was clear, shallow and filled with lush grass. It was like a trip in a glass bottom boat affording a clear view of mullet, horseshoe crabs and a plethora of other creatures that called the grass flats home.
A half hour later, we were approaching the mangrove shoreline looking for the entrance to Moses Hole. Our first attempt lead to a dead end of sorts as the narrow channel became close and impassable without contacting the oyster studded mangrove roots that hung over head like stalactites dangling from a subterranean cave.
A few more minutes of exploration lead us to a natural tidal tunnel that disappeared into the mangroves. This channel was also extremely tight but was navigable. On all sides and overhead the red mangroves arched into a canopy of green and brown, and the channel was sandy and lined with oysters and shells.
It felt otherworldly and enveloped us as we made the twists and turns that we hoped would lead us to our destination. It was a short, but magical paddle to a shallow oyster bar that guarded the entrance to our destination. After a brief portage, we finally reached our target and were surprised at the size of the body of water.
For the next hour, we explored the perimeter of Moses Hols and worked the mangrove edges and deeper center with jigs and top water plugs. Traves caught a trout on his first cast and managed another ladyfish for his efforts. And while I didn’t manage to catch any fish in the half hour or so that I fished, I did see a couple of small tarpon roll on the surface. We didn’t fish long, but there was enough promise to make us look forward to another day here.
After a shore lunch, we paddled back to Williams Bayou with a tail wind enjoying the warm afternoon sun and the scenery as we made our way back to the launch site.
I will definitely look forward to exploring local waters from a kayak in the future. It’s a quiet and relaxing way to experience some of Florida’s hidden treasures and an entree into a world that can only be experienced by paddle or foot.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of kayaking I highly recommend it. Traves and his wife Yetta have a great selection of kayas at their shop on Anna Maria and are excellent guides into this special world. Visit their shop at 505 Pine Avenue or call 941-254-4996. The shop is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.