I wrote this "Rough Waters" entry about a year ago but never published it; I thought if anyone was looking to get away somewhere warm, this might be an option. If you do decide to go, drop me a line.
The Myakka River is Florida's only federally designated Wild and Scenic River. It is a short, sluggish river lying between Tampa Bay and Port Charlotte on the Gulf Coast of southwest Florida. The Myakka is 68 miles long with the lowest 20 miles being brackish water with tidal influence. The watershed of the Myakka is fairly undeveloped, a rarity for this part of the state, so the riverine ecosystem is probably about as intact as can be found anywhere in the southern half of the state.
The Upper Myakka
The river starts as a small, swampy stream in the wild, untracked wilderness called Flatford Swamp, north of Myakka City. This 2,500 acre wetland complex is protected as the Flatford Swamp Preserve. This is a thickly forested, jungle-like area. The only water body of any size is Mud Lake, a dark and forboding, inaccessible pond about a quarter of a mile long on the western edge of the preserve. The whole area is dissected by creek channels, gator holes, wetland, and running sloughs. The river itself is shallow and sandy, very braided, with lots of off-channel pools and oxbows in low water. It's too shallow for boats so the only access is by foot, walking in from trails along Wachula Road to the east. This is a great Map of Flatford Swamp. Good luck finding the river and watch out for the cottonmouths and skunk apes. You should find really spectacular fishing if you manage to get in and out of there alive.
The first bridge crossing downstream from Flatford Swamp is the Wauchula Road bridge, northeast of Myakka City. The river is fairly defined here although still very shallow. There's some fishing for gar and bluegills, and invasive species like brown hoplo catfish, walking catfish, and Japanese weather loaches. But there's not really enough water for anything but juvenile fish. Mid-sized florida gar may drift in occasionally; they like cut bait. You can probably hook them best by fishing from the bridge, but good luck landing them!
Below that is a twisted section that winds down to the Highway 70 crossing near Myakka City. Here, you'll find Crane Park, a wonderful public use area with huge live oak trees, good river access, and decent fishing for spotted and redear sunfish, warmouth, and big blue tilapia. There are spotted tilapia as well. Look for the spotted sunfish (stumpknockers in local parlance) right in the woody debris, warmouth in the weeds, and redears in deeper water. If the tilapia are guarding nests, you can sometimes get the males to pick up a jig dropped in the cleaned-out area using the nest-invasion technique. American eels can swim at least this far upriver...
Middle Myakka - the Park Section
The river picks up some size below here, with several wide spots that are almost lake-like. One of these exists at the hancock road crossing near the north end of Myakka River State Park, although there's not really any access to the river there. The beautiful state park begins here, with the initial northern section upstream being more rugged, wet, and heavily forested than any other part of the river. Access by foot is difficult but you can paddle a mile and a half from Upper Myakka Lake to get here. It's another trackless, wild area unchanged from the primeval past. I'll bet you'll do well there.
The next segment is Upper Myakka Lake, an artificial impoundment, filled with gators, inside Mayakka River State park. The park offers camping with all the amenities. Wide, weedy margins around the whole lake make shore fishing pretty much impossible. Fortunately, they rent canoes and kayaks on the south end of the lake - although it's a bit pricey at $60 per 8-hour day. While there is a "no-wake" rule, airboats are still allowed so don't expect an entirely peaceful experience on the lake. There's some shore fishing right at the outlet, around the Upper Lake Dam and at the boat launch. You'll find channel catfish, largemouth bass, and black crappies in the lake, along with the inevitable gar, bluegills, and stumpknockers. You can also put in here, portage the dam, and float the river through the heart of the park; this scenic, peaceful, and popular run lets you hit some of the best fishing spots and leads you through wide lakes and oxbows filled with bass and gar. It also eliminates competition with airboats, as far as I can tell. Look for big, pugnacious channel cats and hefty stumpknockers around the logs. The take-out is at Myakka State Park road. There's some shore shore fishing access around the canoe take-out. Down from there, the river leaves the park, and dumps into Lower Myakka Lake. This Lake is known primarily for the huge gators that live there. No swimming!
Lower Myakka - the Brackish Water
Downstream from Lower Myakka Lake, the Myakka begins to get more and more saltwater species that are tolerant of fresh water - especially in winter. The colder the weather, the farther up the river they swim. From here to the mouth at Charlotte Harbor, snook are the stars of the show. Ten-pounders are not all that uncommon. The snook often trade attacks with beefy largemouth bass. Topwater fishing for snook and bass is very popular. White catfish are abundant and large for their species. Tarpon, including the ever-popular baby tarpon, are frequent visitors. You can still find gar, largemouth bass, tilapia, and a variety of panfish in the lower river - but fewer and fewer of them as you head downstream. On a good day you will see thousands of huge longnose gar rolling on the surface. Other saltwater fish that call the lower Myakka home are redfish, jacks, seatrout, ladyfish, striped mojarra, mullet, and flounder. I would expect to see some stingrays and gafftopsail in the lower river as well. It's a true mixed bag, with salt and fresh mixed together in a very unique combination.
To sample the fishing on the lower Myakka, locals can launch their boat at public access sites and run up or down. Travelling roughfishers might be better advised to rent a canoe from Snook Haven in Venice. The Deer Prairie Creek area south of I-75 offers a rather long walk to some heavily overgrown areas of the riverbank; 39 miles of trails lead to a variety of watery areas. Below highway 41, it's pretty much a saltwater fishery all the way to Charlotte Harbor. The Myakka State Forest area gives good access to the mouth area, with a dock and some shoreline trails. That would be a great place to launch a kayak for some backcountry shenanigans. It also offers camping farther inland.
Overall, after doing this research, I really wish I had had another day to fish the Myakka when I was down there - there's a lot more to see and do within a very small area. I look forward to seeing this river again in the future; although it gave up a couple of lifers last time I was there, it still has more to show me. What's more, it fishes well in the wintertime, which is a great time to enjoy the tropical climate!
I hope some of you find this useful.