Ok,back from the Keys.
Big Pine key and the rest of the middle and lower keys were certainly still very much affected by Irma. Big Pine,the Torch keys,Cudjoe...just a step above disaster area but many businesses were open...Some homes were only marginally affected and some were washed away. Most somewhere in the middle.
I had several people thank me for coming down and spending my money....and I had a great time.
To say that the lower keys was a "war zone" was a gross exaggeration but it will take at least two years to recover from Irma...Most Conchs are pretty damn resilient but there's some folks who will never recover.
Fishing - even though I was limited to the kayak - was great. Usually. Wind was a huge factor. I was able to get to the edge of Hawks channel - about 1.4 miles offshore where I was - 4 times. Probably should have only done that once but 3' to 4' seas are doable in the yak. With care...It's that "one wave out of 7" that's half again as big as average and the statistical "3 waves per day" that's 2x. Not such a big deal in a boat but in a yak it means if it ain't tied down it's gone....Became competent with a 6' cast net. And a 5',and a 4'. Wind and how deep I'm standing in the water decided which I used...Fished Bahia Honda channel several times too. There were times that fishing was almost boringly easy. Other times not... .. By the time I had my morning shark fishing tactics (and equipment) down most large sharks in Spanish Harbor channel had become leader shy. They weren't at first. Biggest that I touched was about 22" across the top of the head. Fought that one for almost 3 hours - really wanted to get it into shallow water for a pic - but it just wasn't going to happen. Roughly 10' nurse shark from an 11' kayak. Had a 6' tarpon on for an hour. Caught tons of smaller fish and ate 6 different species and one meal of iguana. Never caught a legal lobster but caught dozens of shorts. Had a manatee bump me with it's tail fluke as I snorkeled...
I learned a ton of new stuff - and not all fishing related. Got some insight about my own life and resolve to change some things...and I'll be back down there for another extended stay...
I hung more with locals than others staying at the campground. I didn't really fit in there. Some of that was because I don't drink or smoke weed...although weed's damn-near legal there. At one point I passed a pipe from an 80-year-old to his 76 year old wife..
Oh - the rest of the state...The Pensacola naval air museum was worth the two full days I spent there. Sucked that the Gov't shutdown happened on the day I planned on moving camp to the everglades but I adapted. Besides,those days were really windy so I would have been limited but found places...If I were a bass fisherman my PB would come off the kayak launched from Loop Rd in Big Cypress,probably at night.
Forced to stay at the "swamp ape headquarters" campground on 41 one night. It really wasn't as bad as I'd thought. I'll probably skip Picayune Strand SF in the future but the canals there are big bass sleepers - they get no pressure...and I have no interest in bass fishing there....Collier Seminole SP. Far enough out but also close enough in to the Naples area...