The Chassahowitzka River's main entry point presents as an expertly engineered newer boat ramp plunging the depths of an expansive
lagoon which greets you with greens and blues within its deeper spring fed holes. Across the wide parking lot from the boat ramp, the tree
tunnel you just emerged through; all around its edges, resilient hardwood hammock jungles and wetlands threaten encroachment, indeed
stretching and waving their long leafy tendrils as if to say "have a great day on the Chaz today, old friend" for surely here old Florida
intimates its secrets, jeweled springs and hidden places and creatures.
The word "chassahowitzka" means place of hanging pumpkins"
Right away, you notice the amphitheater acoustics and swirling afternoon breezes about the lagoon. Except for the docking and grassy
areas surrounding the Nature Coast Outpost kayak rental and campground store, banks bristle and sweep with dense jungle foliage, old
cypress trees keep company with large oaks and crowding wetland trees clamoring at their knees. From heavy under-story to lofty
canopy, this is every bit of a rain forest. Vines, thick as an alligator's tail snake up trunks and tug limbs earthward. As palms trees slowly
fall and rotate into the primordial tannic tea of the Chaz, a sense of renewal pervades the timeless jungle.
Paddle downriver a hundred yards or so, around the bend and the river begins to direct you toward miles of unknown country, opening
toward expansive skies and distant western horizons.
Most kayakers glide furtively along the overgrown banks, through tree root arcs, mazes of cypress knees, half-digested logs, and giant
ferns poking out from the shoreline. Every once in a while you'll get to explore a mat of water lilies or find a secret little sandy spot, a
bubbling spring where your hand slips into the loose sand up to your elbow. As shallow tides tug and push, river grass beds lay down to
the flow. Here and there trails lead back into the deep dark jungle. Only the hardiest follow them, most prefer to experience the glory of
the "Chaz" by water. Here you have to time the tides so you don't get stuck on the springs side of a fallen tree, having floated over it
easily on the way in.
Then there's the animals. Manatee roll and dolphins hunt fish; you can see it just about anywhere. These plus size mammals and fish
even like to frequent the lagoon in front of the campground's store, along with otters, all slightly playful around humans. Birders love the
"Chaz" too. From the constant interloping buzzards which often greet the day hoping to catch a morsel from a careless fisherman to the
Red Shouldered Hawks and Hummingbirds and Herons, the skies and canopies are full of foul just as curious about you as you will be
about them. Maybe you'll spy a ruckus in the underbrush of pigs only to realize it's a Gopher Tortoise bulldozing, trailblazing through
palmettos and sand. Maybe you'll hear the unmistakable rat-a-tat-tat of a Giant Red Cockaded Woodpecker with his mate. Maybe a ten
foot long reptile will unnerve you just a bit.
As you paddle toward the Gulf of Mexico, a couple miles out the environment starts to change dramatically. Views open expansively,
dominated by Sawgrass, punctuated sparsely by hardwood hammocks, creating an ever changing visual scene where distant forests are
passed in perspective by those in the foreground. It may all look similar when you're lost but I assure you, a little change in perspective or
speed or tide can be deceptive. Oyster bars and Mudflats and knobby Limestone earth hide a million little creatures hurrying out of sight
as you approach. If you're very sneaky, you might catch a crab; if you're very observant you might find a Crab Spider with the trademark
smiling face on its back nesting smack dab in the middle of an exquisitely crafted web.
Sometime a few years back the State of Florida installed a dock and boardwalk and solar powered bathroom on an island about three
miles out called Dog Island. They maintain it well and it mays a welcome afternoon layover for the kayaker pacing him or herself.
Out here, you might stumble across a fisherman angling for Bass on a tributary, then round a corner and spot find someone hooking up
with a Redfish or Seatrout. Salt and Freshwater environments mingle according to tides.
Six miles away from the launch point, You'll find yourself on the flats where the depth of the Gulf of Mexico drops one foot for every mile
traveled to the west, as a general rule. It's not good for cruise ships but one of the richest fisheries in the world. The flyfishing world
record for Tarpon has been set at least twice just off Chassahowitzka Point in four feet of water. If you've never hooked one of these
behemoths, you may want to try it. It's like hooking a living 57 Chevy's chrome bumper!
The Chaz is just one of many beautiful rivers to explore in this area. It has to be experienced to be understood. So come on over and gain
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