Boosting Tourism

Recent surveys conducted by kayak fishing magazines indicate that yak fishing may be the fastest growing outdoor sport in the country with roughly 2 million participants and a double digit annual growth rate.  One in 5 of these anglers cast their lines in Florida.  Approximately 85% of these folks took up the sport within the last 10 years.  With over 7,000 members, the Jacksonville Kayak Fishing Club may be the world’s largest.  Hundreds of paddlers belong to similar clubs in Orlando, Tampa Bay and throughout the State.  One yakfishing magazine listed Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and the Mosquito Lagoon on the Space Coast as 3 of the top 10 kayak fishing destinations in the country.

These and other kayak fishing destinations offer great year-round fishing, numerous places to camp and launch, outstanding scenery, and many wildlife encounter opportunities.  Established no-motor zones ensure quiet, relaxing days on the water.  They also serve as regular destinations to host the popular annual kayak fishing catch-photo-release tournaments.

With the exception of the spring tarpon and shallow water grouper seasons, Citrus County is known not so much for its fishing as it is a tourist destination that also has good fishing.  Yakers are not nearly as widespread and important to the economy as anglers requiring something more than paddle power to reach desired fishing locations.  That said,  enhancing and diversifying kayak fishing in the area would appeal to that fast growing segment of society pursuing this activity, and add to the county’s overall outdoor recreation and tourism experience.  Furthermore, such enhancement can be achieved at relatively low cost.

 Here are a few thoughts on how to do that.

Better Marketing.  Most of the tourism-related brochures and pamphlets informing the public about Citrus County give short shrift to kayak fishing.  Expanded coverage is called for.

More Guided Trips.  While many fishing guides are available to take anglers out on the flats, very few offer kayak fishing experiences, which could be coupled with backwater eco-tourism trips.

Development of a Premier Paddling Destination.  Ideally, a premier paddling and kayak fishing destination should be developed along  the Nature Coast centered somewhere between Cedar Key and Bayport, with designated launch and meet-up sites comparable to those that exist in the Indian River Lagoon area (Indian and Banana rivers and Mosquito Lagoon) and elsewhere in the State.

The creation of one or more such sites in Citrus County would add an “Old Florida” feel to the eco-tourism experience, and offer a perfect complement to existing opportunities involving manatee interactions, scalloping and offshore fishing,   The best place for such a site is Ozello Community Park at the end of Ozello Trail, and adjacent vacant acreage, which would have to be acquired by the county and then suitably developed.  Improvements might include an expanded picnic area, lighting, portable restrooms, a fish cleaning station, and, perhaps, a small food service and kayak rental caretaker operation.  Small charges for parking, launching or overnight camping might be considered to cover maintenance.  Properly developed, this site should have no problem becoming one of the popular destinations on the annual kayak fishing tournament circuit.

In recent years, the Citrus County Commissioners rejected  proposals by the owner of this property to construct a recreational condominium complex on this ecologically sensitive site because of zoning and environmental concerns.  He may now be willing to sell the property or, perhaps, partner with the county in developing it.

No Motor Zones.  Establishing one or more no-motor zones in Citrus County (such as those that exist in the Indian River Lagoon area) will be difficult because of the widespread use of motorized vessels at the established boat ramps and even at the more primitive yak-friendly sites.  Perhaps the best place to designate such an area would be adjacent to Pirates Cove at the west end of Ozello Trail.  Such a zone would mesh perfectly with an established paddling and kayak fishing destination.  Should a no-motor zone at this site be considered impractical, an alternative would involve removing the ramp, thereby making the site more yak and small boat friendly.

Earlier Gate Openings.  Locked gates on roads to several launch sites (e.g., the barge canal road, the park at the mouth of the Withlachoochee River, city parks in Crystal River, the Crystal River Preserve State Park) do not open until 8 a.m., thereby rendering them far less suitable for launching during the summer months, when I like launching before first light to avoid the heat.  Earlier openings would be great for us early risers.

Other Launch Site Development.  Several kayak launch areas along the Nature Coast could be created or developed to improve yak access to fishable waters.  The areas noted below are included for their kayak fishing potential only, not taking into account other factors which may complicate development (e.g., property ownership, zoning, etc.).  Some might also be considered as alternative kayak fishing destinations.

1.  Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.  The most notable site capable of being developed at minimal cost is the 15 mile long Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area extending south from the Chassahowitzka River. This area is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to protect wildlife and minimize public access (although the Hernando Sportsman’s Club has several structures and active shooting ranges located there).  The area contains several creeks along Zebra Finch Road which look like they could be accessed by kayak with minimal development.  While I have not fished this area (it’s much too long a paddle), it looks really “fishy”, and it’s outer area is often visited by sport fishing guides.  Being a little farther south, it should offer better snook fishing than the Crystal River /  Yankeetown area which is nearer the northern boundary of their range.  Further development of this area, through the creation of parking areas or roads, might be objected to by the FWS.

 2.  Bonita Fishing Club Area.  This area includes the launch site at the end of Allan Park Road described in the Fish Finder section, as well as three additional launch sites, also located off of Allan Park Road, on private property.   The three sites, located at the end of gated roads, are part of a private fishing club and are not accessible to the general public.  Buildings located at the end of these roads may include sleeping and eating accommodations.  It these sites could be obtained for public use, they would provide great access to the adjacent Redfish Island area.

3.  Barge Canal Trail.  The parking area at the end of the barge canal road might be developed as a gathering place for yak anglers, however, gate closings to the road at night would be a problem.

4.  Duke Energy Power Plant Property.  The power plant is located adjacent to a prime fishing area, however, security concerns probably restrict access to it, even though the nuclear part of the plant has been decommissioned.  Duke Energy might be contacted to explore any opportunity.

5.  Fort Island Beach Area.  With little effort, the grassy area just east of the Fort Island Swimming Beach could be developed to accommodate kayak anglers.  Parking is available and beach facilities are already in place.

6.  Lake Henderson in Inverness.  The City of Inverness has two beautiful parks (Liberty and Wallace Brooks) that border scenic Lake Henderson within walking distance of shops and restaurants in the historic downtown area.  It would be a relatively easy matter to develop kayak launching sites along the lake shoreline.  Development of another site off East Gospel Island Road or State Road 44 near Cabbage Island would provide access to the less developed northeastern portion of the lake, which is more protected from the wind and power boats and has good fishing.

Copyright © Gary Rankel