Great Fun Kayaking and Snorkeling in Crystal River
By Rachelle Siegrist
Wes and I recently enjoyed an amazing day of kayaking and snorkeling in Crystal River, FL, before heading down to St. Pete for the Society of Animal Artists exhibition at the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art. We arrived in time to enjoy a delicious supper at Charlie’s Fish House, before heading to the beach for a swim. It was heavenly stepping into the gulf, which felt like bath water and was truly divine, after swimming in the icy water here in the Smokies all summer! I blissfully floated about and swam for a long time while watching massive flocks of shorebirds fly in, and the skies above bathed in an array of oranges from the setting sun.
We arose early Monday morning and met dear artist friend Terry Smith at Captain Mike’s Kayak Rental, where friendly staff had us in our kayaks and happily on our way in no time! Within minutes we spotted an alligator, along with numerous birds, and then a Bald Eagle flew directly above . . . our adventure was indeed starting off great!
Big mullet were jumping out of the water all around us, coming quite close to us at times, and I was just waiting for one to jump over the front of my kayak! People often ask why do the mullet jump, and although there’s several different scientific theories, I say “Because they can!” I certainly would if I could . . . wouldn’t you?
We kayaked around islands including Banana Island and into a couple of small alcoves nestled amongst cypress and cabbage trees. This particular one showcased a large group of beautiful red flowers blooming, very much like the Cardinal Flowers in the Smokies.
After paddling some distance through a quaint neighborhood, we came to a sign for one of the springs and carefully paddled between cement posts separated just far enough apart to allow a kayak or paddle board to slip through. A few strokes later and we came into the spring, and the sheer beauty of it took my breath away!
There were actually three springs in all, in this one large heavenly pool, and within seconds I was in the water blissfully snorkeling and feeling as if I had indeed died and gone to heaven!
I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was, as I watched several large mullet slowly swim below as well as numerous huge Sheepshead! There were also big bass, bluegills and an assortment of other fish swimming in this heavenly hole!
The water was so amazingly clear, that it made me feel like I was soaring over white sandy canyons below, while swimming over each deep spring. I did this many times over, and for over an hour it was just me and the fish inhabiting this glorious place! I was thrilled when I spotted a baby flounder only a couple of inches long! It was so cute and instantly mesmerized me looking up at me with it’s side by side eyes! Fluctuating up and down, it gracefully swam horizontally, growing nearer to me each time it landed on the sandy white bottom. I floated there suspended in water while watching this adorable fish and for a brief period time stood still, and it was one of those amazing encounters I’ll never forget! Suddenly I remembered that Wes and Terry were still there and probably laughing at the weird noises coming from my snorkel as I “Oooooed” and talked to the precious little friend I had just met.
I could’ve happily stayed there forever and longed for this to be my backyard and obviously the best pool ever!!! Nonetheless, it was time to leave, as there were more adventures to be had.
So I told the stunning set of springs and it’s happy underwater residents goodbye as I climbed back into my kayak. We paddled quite a distance passing a four foot Tarpon just before reaching our lunch destination! We were happy to sit on the picturesque deck of Charlie’s Fish House, while enjoying the laid back friendly atmosphere and delicious food once again! While eating we swapped stories and even a gentleman from a nearby table joined in on the session of telling tall tales!
Climbing back into our kayaks, we started our journey back, passing picturesque scenes and a few sections of wild Florida, appearing like I remember much of it looking when I grew up and lived there over 30 years.
Then I couldn’t believe it when three manatees including a young one, swam right up to us and stayed with us for a short time before gracefully swimming on! “Wow . . . This day just keeps getting better!” I thought to myself.
The three of us returned to the kayak rental place by mid-afternoon, and after saying goodbye to friend Terry, Wes and I headed to Hunter Springs. Located by a small city park, we walked down the short, sandy beach and into the water and enjoyed snorkeling over the spring and surrounding area of crystal clear water. At one point one of the largest bass I’ve ever seen swam directly below me, which thrilled me! Later that afternoon we headed back to the beach, and the water was even warmer than the day before!
I immediately slipped in and floated blissfully about while enjoying the amazingly warm water! As evening approached the setting sun bathed the vast skies above in an array of pinks, oranges and lavenders, and the more time passed, the more stunning it became! Hundreds of shorebirds constantly flew in, causing the flock nestled on the beach to join in a chattering chorus while talking of the day’s happenings. The chatting would eventually die down and then spring to life again each time more birds flew in. While relaxingly floating about, numerous fish nibbled on my legs and toes. When I felt a bigger nibble followed by the feeling of a fish’s soft side rubbing on my leg, I looked down and realized it was a big Pompano and thought this was another amazing encounter indeed! I thought to myself, surely this is as good as it gets, and then suddenly two dolphins swam nearby, silhouetted against the backdrop of the glorious sunset each time they came out of the water. I had experienced yet another amazingly magical encounter and thought myself very blessed indeed!
~ () ~
Until next time . . .