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Rookery Bay Shell Island Paddle Trail

Rookery Bay is a part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System that receives less attention than its neighbors to the north, Dollar Bay and the very heavily traveled Naples Bay. The lack of civilization for miles in every direction provides a welcome buffer. 

Shell Island Road, accessible from CR951 acts like a syringe injecting you into nearly the middle of Rookery Bay with the next closest access Rookery Bay Shell Island Paddle</a> in a larger map</small>being several miles away. Shell Island Rd acts like a veritable syringe, injecting the intrepid paddler into the heart of Rookery Bay. Rookery Bay, like so many other Southwest Florida bays and waterways, is a tangled maze of deeper channels, shallow flats, oyster beds, and winding mangrove islands. This only adds to the enjoyment of paddling through some of the areas on the well marked Shell Island paddling trail.

Impassable to most any craft other than a canoe or kayak, this trail starts you in a protected cove, then it’s across the open waters of the main channel flowing from Henderson Creek. We began fishing from the start using only artificial bait (Gulp! Shrimp in New Penny on a ¼ white jig head and DOA Shrimp #382), and as soon as we crossed the main channel we were into a school of ladyfish. That school of ladyfish followed us around the entire length of the trail with us catching around 15 a piece. The first narrow opening denoted by a marker brought along more ladyfish and some juvenile snook. We followed the trail along catching ladyfish the whole way until we reached the first mangrove tunnel. This narrow passageway funneled water into a deeper channel, so we made sure to fish it from a few angles which proved to be a good move. We caught several more ladyfish, but the surprise of the day came as a juvenile goliath grouper and a dinner sized mangrove snapper both took the gulp shrimp near the marker. We also located the papa snook, but were unable to get him boatside.

After going through the second mangrove tunnel, the trail opens up into the main expanse of Rookery Bay. Here, we diverted from the trail a bit, but it proved a wise move as it netted a 14 and 15/16th inch trout. After paddling around to the main channel, we cut up one of the ladyfish we decided to keep to see if we could entice some redfish around the large oyster island, but we were ultimately unsuccessful.

The 2.5 mile paddle seemed shorter than most due to the moving current and peaceful serenity that we encountered for the vast majority of the trail. 

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