Thursday, October 27, 2011

RV Florida! Historic Forts and Fishing!

© 2011 Albert A Rasch, Joe Laing, and
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles

Fishing Florida's Historic Forts: An RV Itinerary

Try as we may, we can't all raise families who share our obsessions. Fortunately, for the fisherman who can't bear a day away from the water (but whose spouse or kids might favor other pursuits), Florida doesn't require much of a compromise for anglers. Down here, it's easy to balance a vacation between water time and family fun.

For a road trip that will please every member along for the ride, it's hard to beat a tour of Florida's historic forts. Beyond the obvious historical draw, many of the state's military landmarks are now protected within the State and National Park system. That means plenty of hiking, camping, and just-plain-relaxing along the way. And best of all? Florida's strategic forts also happen to harbor some of the state's best fishing spots, from land and boat.

For a taste of the entire state, start in Pensacola and slowly make your way to Key West. On Pensacola Beach, make your first stop at Fort Pickens, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore ( In addition to this well-preserved landmark's importance during the Civil War, it's also home to a short but deep-water fishing pier. It's a great place to keep your line singing -- use cut mullet for bait, and you'll likely be helping the kids pull in small sharks and even Spanish mackerel. The grass flats to the east of the Pickens pier are a great place to stalk tailing redfish.

Fort Pickens includes a National Park campground, with plenty of amenities offered at just $20/night ( And, of course, there's all the fun to be had on Pensacola Beach as well, where the 'whitest sands on earth' have (luckily) survived serious damage from last year's oil spill. It's such a nice spot to park your RV that you'll be tempted to stay, but there's a whole state left to explore.

Head east down I-10 toward Jacksonville, to Fort Clinch State Park, one of the best-preserved 19th century forts in the nation ( Six miles of nature trails wind through the beautiful peninsula, bordered by the Amelia River to the west, Cumberland Sound (and Georgia) to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean on the east. 53 campsites offer both privacy and proximity to the entire park, which includes a half-mile long pier on the ocean side, making deep water fishing possible without a boat. With Egans Creek curving through the park's marsh, jetties to the north, the pier, and the option of surf casting on the beach a short walk from your RV, it's hard to beat Fort Clinch as an all-around saltwater fishing destination.

Next, head southwest toward Inverness, home of Fort Cooper State Park. Take the scenic route through beautiful Ocala National Forest, a part of Florida most visitors never experience ( The dense forests of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings classic book, The Yearling, are still alive and thriving here in the north-central swampy woodlands.

Arriving at spring-fed Lake Holathlikaha, the azure water looks much as it did in the 1830s, when U.S. soldiers rested here at Fort Cooper, between skirmishes with the Seminole Indians. Due to low water levels, fishing and swimming were temporarily restricted during early summer 2011, but with rain, that could change at any time. Paddleboats and canoes are available at the park. This is the spot to paddle out with your toddler and drop worms for bream and largemouth bass.

Although Fort Cooper offers primitive camping, to park your RV, try nearby Riverside Lodge along the Withlacoochee River ( The campground includes free canoe rentals, so after a day at Fort Cooper you can still get in an evening session along the river.

From here, head down the coast to Fort De Soto Park, situated on a truly stunning spit of land south of Tampa ( Five interconnected keys make up De Soto, the largest park within the Pinellas County park system. Despite boasting 238 camping sites, it's a good idea to make reservations here -- this beach won Trip Advisor's Top Beach in America prize in 2009, and over 2.7 million visitors flock here each year. Still, with 1,136 acres, it's easy to find some alone time.

De Soto has two fishing piers, on both the Gulf and the bay sides, and each sells bait. There's a two-mile canoe trail, and a ferry to remote Egmont Key. Whatever your target species is, it's easy to find a superb fishing spot among these crystalline waters, where the Tocobaga Indians once harvested their own seafood bounties.

If time allows for a full tour of Florida, you'd be missing out not to journey through the Keys, arguably one of the prettiest drives in America. Fort Zachary Taylor allowed the Union to control the sea at Florida's southern tip, and has been impressively preserved as a state park (Try to visit near Halloween, when the fort is transformed into a Civil War-themed haunted house;

It's hard to beat the view when fishing from the fort, at the entrance to Key West Harbor. It's the finest place to watch a sunset in town, and you might just bring home dinner to an RV full happy, sun-kissed campers.

About the Author
Joe Laing is the Marketing Director for El Monte RV Rentals. Be sure to check out their new Professional Football (NFL) Tailgating and RV Tailgating to College Football Games pages in preparation for the upcoming seasons.