July 19, 2020. The following guest column was published in today’s Citrus County Chronicle
Plentiful Paddling and Put-in Possibilities to Pursue
Gary L Rankel
I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it! I take it all back! I apologize for the columns I’ve written encouraging y’all to buy a plastic vessel and take up paddling and kayak fishing along the Nature Coast.
Kayaks are hard to paddle. They’re cramped and uncomfortable. They’re tippy: you can roll over into shark infested water. You could get lost and forget how to get back to your launch site. It’s buggy out there – the no-see-ums will eat you alive. You can get sunburned.
Please leave your plastic vessels at home, or, better yet, sell them. Take up hiking or biking instead. Leave us stressed out kayak anglers alone to fish in our usual spots without 10 or 20 of you paddling over to ask us how we’re doing while scarring all the fish away.
Seriously, it has become increasingly impossible for paddlers to maintain social distancing on Kings Bay. Hunter Springs Park has become a zoo. Kudos to the City of Crystal River for proposing to move kayak rental operations to Kings Bay Park. Still, paddlers should recognize that scores of other great put in points exist along the Nature Coast.
West of Yankeetown are two nice launch areas: Bird Creek Park on the north side of County Road 40 has a large sandy beach, ample parking and a nice rest area. Another beach (known as Redneck Beach by the locals) is located across the road along the Withlacoochee River.
For those who really want to get away from it all, a kayak launch site is located at the western end of scenic Withlacoochee Bay Trail that parallels the southern side of the barge canal.
Two kayak-only launch sites are located near the Archeological Park on the north side of the Crystal River, just west of Kings Bay. One at Mullet Hole and another across from the State Preserve Visitors Center provide easy access to the Crystal and Salt rivers.
At the west end of Fort Island Trail, I often drag my yak over the grass at the southeast end of the the swimming beach, or put in at a small sandy area next to the boat ramp. Crystal River should really consider dedicating a portion of the beach / grass area for kayak use.
Several places along Ozello Trail have put in spots including the popular Pirates Point Park at end of the road and the launch site off John Brown Road. I’ve long pitched the idea of having the county acquire and develop the four acre piece of private property adjacent to Pirates Point Park into an outstanding paddling and outdoor recreation destination, which would greatly alleviate crowding at other put in locations.
For you nature lovers, it’s hard to beat the Chassahowtzka River: just know that it can get almost as crowded as Kings Bay.
To the north, Cedar Key and the Waccasassa River are great paddling destinations, albeit, a bit of a drive.
To the south, Alfred McKethan Park, located at the end of Pine Island Drive north of Bayport, offers a swimming beach, kids play areas, a food stand and more. Nearby Bayport Park west of Weeki Wachee offers another nice launch and rest area. And, of course, Weeki Wachee Springs Park, with its mermaid attraction and kayak rentals, is also available.
I don’t fish freshwater all that much, so please, gather all your friends and head over to the east side of the county. There are several put in sites on the Tsala Apopka Chain of Lakes including nice ones on Hernando, Henderson and Floral City pools. Scenic paddles along the beautiful upper Withlacoochee River await the more adventurous paddler with access points at Lake Townsen Regional Park, Wynnhaven Riverside Park, Wysong Dam, Marsh Bend Outlet Park, Rutland on Highway 44, Turner Camp Road and Spruce Ramp. Just keep an eye out for those pesky gators; they’re usually more interested in smaller, bite-size morsels. When you’re ready to put down your paddle for the day, there’s plenty of places to stop for a cold one and bite to eat before heading home.
Kayak rental operations at Wallace Brooks Park and other freshwater locations should be explored by the local jurisdictions.
Of course, numerous boat ramps along the Homosassa River and elsewhere throughout our area can be used as well. Just don’t dilly dally unloading or you’ll hear about it from the boaters lined up behind you waiting to launch.
Stuff happens out there, so stay safe. Dressing to swim, and rigging to flip is good advice. File a float plan with someone, especially if you’re going to be out in the boonies. Pay attention to the weather. Stay hydrated. Stay sober. Wear that life vest. Don’t forget the bug spray and sunscreen. And, remember that the most frightening creatures you’ll encounter on the water are of the two-legged variety, joyfully speeding along in their power boats, often not paying much attention to where they’re going.
More information on these and other sites and paddles including maps, directions and photos can be found on my website (www.fishingkayaks.us/launch-sites/). Please give them a try: the manatees will thank you, not to mention the property owners around Kings Bay.