Watch Out for the Hound Fish: kayaking in the keys

I recently wrote about my Flying Floridian Fiascos – which included my experiences flying home from my honeymoon in Key West.  I got to thinking about that trip and how I had originally thought of Key West as too touristy for me – but after many months of wedding planning, it was great to just relax a bit, and not have to worry about what would happen if we drank the water.  One of the major highlights of the trip was our sunset kayaking excursion with Blue Planet Kayak.sunset

We booked the “romantic sunset tour” more for the fact that we’d be out on the water at night kayaking by headlamps, than any expectation of romance.  It was good too, because the trip wasn’t exactly “romantic,” aside from the beautiful sunset and a few critters showing us their reproductive organs.  Blue Planet picked us up from our hotel, and shuttled us to the marina that we’d be launching from.  After a quick debrief of our journey and signing our lives away on the standard “it’s not our fault if you die” waiver, we were on the water headed out to sea.

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OK, we weren’t exactly out at sea, but when you’re used to river and lake kayaking, like my wife and I are, being in a channel between two of the Florida keys is as good as being out at sea.  We departed from the East side of Stock Island and ventured out into the open water between that and Boca Chica Key.  The first stop was a place called “Bird Island” – aptly named for the hundreds of airborne inhabitants.

After reaching the island, James (our brave and knowledgeable guide) pointed out several different species of pelicans and other birds that I’ve since forgotten the names of.  Having visited several Coastal bay areas on both coasts – I was used to seeing pelicans on docks and piers, and so, seeing them in trees (like normal birds) was quite an awesome sight!  We then kayaked around the island, while James scoured the shallow water for interesting wild life to share with us (he was like the human version of Mr. Ray from Finding Nemo). He would spot something, stick his hand in the water, and pull out a creature.  The first was a Lobatus Gigas – more commonly known as a Queen Conch.  I wasn’t too keen on handling the giant sea snail, but my wife gladly held the shell upside down until the slimy critter showed 3

We then headed back out towards the mangroves where the headlamps were distributed – it was starting to get dark.  Shortly after entering the mangroves – we were passing around starfish, sea cucumbers, and amoebas.  We kayaked over anemones, schools of shrimp, and passed around giant crabs – one almost ended up in someone’s kayak.  We ventured out further into open water, where our guide reached into the water and pull out a yellow and black (yellow-jacket looking) lobster.  We had all parked our kayaks on a sand bar as our guide got out to walk around the ocean looking for more creatures to show 4

We had started to head back to the marina and seemed a bit spread out on the water, but counting the nearby headlamps assured me that we hadn’t lost anyone in our group.  I was trying to keep pace with James and keep an eye on my new wife when out of no where, I felt something hit the side of my kayak.  the water was pretty shallow so I thought I may have hit a small rock, or a conch or something – I kept on going.  As I paddled on, I heard a splash on my side, I turned my head to the right to investigate, when I heard a splash on my left, I turned again and saw something out of the corner of my eye. I heard our guide James laugh at my obvious confusion and yell out: “watch out for the hound fish.”  Tylosurus_crocodilus

The super fast fish can be up to a couple feet long, and skips in and out of the water – when I finally saw one a few yards ahead of me it looked like someone was skipping a stone.  I enjoyed watching the hound fish skipping along the warm water – until I paddled into the middle of their flight path.  One leaped from the water and hit me right in my side, almost knocking me out of my kayak.  It was only due to my expert kayaking skills (flailing around) that I was able to keep the boat from capsizing.

Overall, the experience was a lot cooler than I had anticipated, and I got a cool hound fish story out of it.  As we headed back into town, we asked our bus driver where he liked to eat (our way of finding cool local spots while in the keys) and celebrated our sea journey with a few beers and amazing pub burgers.