The Chaz, Nature Coasts Hidden Jewel will take you back to a time forgotten in most other places in Florida. Let us carry you down the Chassahowitzka river and float you through kayak fishing heaven.
The Chaz, Nature Coasts Hidden Jewel (Part 1 of 2)
After getting off of US 19 four miles south of Homosassa Springs we headed west into the forest. The charm immediately begins to set in. The anticipation builds as we pass older homes and over hanging trees ladened with Spanish moss swinging in the morning breeze. The passageway to the river carried me back to my early youth of exploring the Nature Coast of Florida. In 1968 this far north of Clearwater where I grew up US 19 was a two lane highway. We traveled up here on our way to the Withlacoochee River for fishing and camping. Once you got north of Hudson your land marks were Weeki Wachee, Homosassa, and then Crystal River where we would turn to head over to Dunnellon. Back in those days Weeki Wachee had the park and a hotel across the street. Homosassa was the same and Crystal River actually had stop lights. There was nothing but forest in between the rest of it. Now you have very little forest left along US 19. Once you get north of Yankee Town it looks like its name sake the Nature Coast.
This past week my wife and I were looking for a place to do some exploring with a little fishing thrown in. This is when she found the Chassahowitzka River Campground which I had not heard of before. For the past few months I have been focused on returning to waters I was familiar with from Homosassa to Yankee Town where so much has changed. But tucked away on the northern edge of the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Refuge is a magnificent blue jewel known by the locals as simply the “Chaz”.
When you arrive at the waters edge you are treated to an incredible spring blue river at the immaculate and meticulously maintained ramp and facilities. Launching the kayaks is 5.00 per vehicle for parking and 7.00 for boats or if you trailer your kayaks. You pay at the office to the right of the launch. If you get there before the office opens at 8 AM you can still pay using the drop box on the side of the building by the launch. The office contains a small store and gift shop inside. The restrooms are on the outside of the building and we were very pleasantly pleased to find them air conditioned. They do kayak and boat rentals as well. If you would like to store your kayak close to the launch they have a unique system. It looks like an over sized safety deposit box called the Kayak Kondo.
For the launch there is a sand beach next to the boat ramp. You can pull your vehicle right next to it to offload, super convenient. There is a decent amount of parking but I could see it being an issue on busy weekends. Over flow goes to the road leading to the ramp. I recommend you bring cash for the parking as they a have a 10.00 minimum for using a card or if you plan to use the drop box. Make sure you place your parking pass in a visible area or you will get towed. I laid ours on the dash board.
Offload of our Wilderness Systems Tarpons complete and time to hit the water. At first glance it appears as most spring fed rivers in Florida, crystal clear waters at 72 degrees year round. I have been on all the most popular spring rivers in the area and this is hands down the prettiest. My first thought as we paddled west down river is that it reminds me of the Rainbow River when there were only a few houses on it and it wasn’t so commercialized 40+ years ago.
Next thing we noticed was the amount of fish we saw. Mullet were everywhere and it is not even the season. Small schools of black drum, sheepshead, and mangrove snapper were scattered through out our travels. At the first spring we came to known as the Snapper Hole, we found mangrove snapper, a couple of bass, and the holy grail of the flats a 20 lb snook. The big girl was laying right in the middle of the spring and not interested in eating. We did try like hell you can be assured.
Right next door is Baird Creek with Blue spring at the head of it. This creek is about ¾ of a mile long and can only be reached by kayak or canoe. I highly recommend the paddle back into the spring as it is absolutely gorgeous. We saw wild boar on the bank who were not bothered by our passing. A brief visit and we paddled back out to the main river. Manatee were next up to bat to put in a showing. Followed by a family of four otters that were busy catching crabs and crayfish. Jodi spent a solid 15 minutes getting video of the water weasels. We made it as far as the sailboat marked on the map fighting a stiff 15+ mph head wind. At this point late in the day we decided to let the wind push us back working the northern shore line loaded with downed trees. While under wind power I noticed one of the trees had eyeballs attached to a 9 ft gator which was our last big critter for the day. Thankfully I wasn’t to close to the shore at the time or that could have gone badly as I didn’t see him until I was right in front of him.
As our assisted drift carried us into Salt Creek I got my first good hit of the day. A small snook 18-20 inches grabbed my Live Target Sardine Swimbait 20 feet away from the boat. I stuck him and two seconds later he said “CYA”. Jodi was slightly ahead of me and to my right. Maybe a minute after my hit she calls out a nice snook on the move headed towards me before she lost sight of it. I was retrieving the same bait from the left side at the time. I told her to cast towards me in hopes of getting her first hookup. As the words left my mouth Mr. Lineside rose up ten feet away on my port side intercepting and inhaling the sardine. He then casually sank straight down. Having all the confidence in the Pro Cure Sardine scented lure I let him sink out of site before swinging for the fences. He immediately smoked 30 yards of Power Pro off of my ABU Garcia Orra reel. Because of all the downed timber my first priority was to get staked out and hopefully keep him out in the open water where the battle started. With the stick stuck I kept my luck. A couple of jumps and five minutes later I got rich on saltwater silver sliding into my net.
At 27 inches he was one inch short of the fry pan earning a couple grip and grin shots before the revive and release. He did however make me pay the fish gods with some fresh human blood. While getting my measurements he started thrashing around and barbed me with his rear spine. Punched right through the side of my thumb coming out next to my finger nail. YEOUCH and kept right on fishing.
We continued to work our way back into Salt Creek where I had one more hook up but hung me on a tree. As we came back out of the creeks mouth a school of jacks were crushing bait. We quickly got within striking distance and Jodi had her first drag screams of the day. She staked herself out just in time to stop the jack inches away from submerged lumber. I love watching her fight a fish that test her metal. Mr. Crevelle circled the kayak twice and she kept the rod up high over her head and back to clear the other rods, such a pro. Five pounds of grunting greenback was quickly returned to its environment.
That was the last of our battles for the day. We let the wind and incoming tide push us most of the way back enjoying the scenery and wildlife. We did consider a dip in the springs before heading home. This is another fantastic option here being able to cool down in the springs for a nice mid-day break. But we decided we wanted to catch the sunset at Ft. Island beach instead. Loading up was just as easy as the launch even with a bit of ramp traffic we all had plenty of room. We know we only scratched the surface on the Chaz’s potential and cant wait to get back to continue making more memories. Stay tuned for part two where we make it out to the marsh and my wife catches a fish she has chased for 17 years.