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FEBRUARY/MARCH 2021 – GULF HAMMOCK FISHING CLUB

FLORIDA EXCURSIONS

Gulf Hammock Fishing Club

The Place to Go to Hear Stories and Create Some New Ones

 

Written by: Dave Kelly

Gulf Hammock is not a city. It’s not even a town. It’s a state of mind. And it’s in our backyard.

Tucked in between Cedar Key to the west and Yankeetown to the south, the Gulf Hammock area includes Waccasassa Bay, Waccasassa Bay State Preserve and much of the southwest corner of Florida’s Levy County. Points on a map do not do justice to the feel, attitude and history that make Gulf Hammock a unique community anyway. But some things do …

Such as Gulf Hammock Fishing Club. Nestled up to the slow-moving Waccasassa River, and with its own private boat launch, this members-only throwback club harkens to a time when the world moved more slowly. Tales abound of the huge, hungry redfish population; shallow still backwaters that welcome airboats above other marine vessels; the “Old Florida” feel of its accommodations. We knew it was the place to go to hear stories and create some new ones.

Gulf Hammock Fishing Club has all the amenities you would expect for a weekend or weeklong excursion. Club owner Dale McClellan has packed the on-site store with tackle, bait, ice, fuel and snacks for your fishing trip, and it is conveniently located right at the boat ramp.         Each available motel room features a private bath and a kitchenette for cooking up the day’s catch, and two additional interconnecting apartments above the lodge can be rented to accommodate larger parties. There is a spacious newly remodeled pavilion—complete with full kitchen for family or company gatherings—that is free to use during your stay.

Driftwood is abundant in Waccasassa Bay State Preserve
Fishermen meet up at the "Liar's Circle" at days end to swap tall tales
The Gulf Hammock Fishing Club lodge
Guided fishing with Capt. Gene Babbitt
Fresh catch of the day

The property has covered RV sites with full hookups available as well. All the room spaces and RV sites are just steps from the central “Liars Circle” area, where weary anglers congregate at the end of the day to see who can tell the taller tale of the day’s success.

Folks are welcomed to Gulf Hammock Fishing Club by joining as a member in one of four tiers: Family, Group, Small Corporate, and Large Corporate. Additionally, all membership packages allow for guests, which is a great way to expose new people to the club’s laid-back atmosphere.

Annual membership dues start as low as $900 for an entire family. Given the gated privacy of the property, access to the private boat launch and docks, and the unhurried and unspoiled nature of the area, it is an investment in your mental health and well-being, for sure.

We arrived at Gulf Hammock Fishing Club in the late afternoon, just in time for Capt. Pat Babbitt of Waccasassa Fishing Charters to prepare us a special “Old Florida” dinner. Her family has been in the Gulf Hammock area since the late 1800s, and everything she does—reduce, reuse and recycle—reflects her family’s commitment to keeping the area pristine.

In addition to providing slow-cooked BBQ ribs and twice-baked potatoes, Pat showed us how to make swamp cabbage, a classic “Old Florida” favorite. Starting with a hatchet and a cabbage palm tree, she cut the heart of palm out of the trunk, then slowly whittled off the exterior bark until she exposed the sweet moist center of the tree.

After chopping it fine, Pat added bacon, sugar and a little seasoning, boiled it right up and served it along with dinner. We ate our fill, topped it off with a few brews and hit the sack early, ready to greet the sunrise and chase those redfish.

At 7 a.m., we were met at the boat launch by Pat’s husband, Capt. Gene Babbitt, and his airboat. Gene has decades of experience in rural Florida, including owning the Ocala Livestock Auction, as well as years on Florida waters and on Waccasassa Bay.

Capt. Pat Babbitt squeezes out her homemade hush puppies
Capt. Pat whittles down to the heart of the palm for her swamp cabbage
Babbitts' airboat
Dave Kelly shows off his morning catch

We set out from the launch and headed to the bay, all the while watching the mist rise from the warm river water into the cool morning air. As the sun rose and we made our way into the backwaters and to Gene’s secret fishing holes, we noticed that the few other boats on the water were also airboats. We tossed out anchor and asked Gene about this.

He told us that in the Waccasassa Bay area from Gulf Hammock to Cedar Key, the Florida coastline runs east to west. Currents in the Gulf of Mexico that have flowed north for thousands of years have pushed silt and sand up into the estuary, making the bay extremely shallow, especially at low tide.

But for all the dangers that might afford a boat with a deeper draft, the airboats avoid any issues by running virtually on top of the water. In fact, many boaters simply run their airboats onto the marsh grasses to traverse the area.

The shallow silty bottom in the area might be tough on boats and swimmers, but it’s great for two things—oysters and fish. Within a couple hours, our boat had caught its limit of redfish and we were on to sea trout.

No problem for Gene. He took us to a different place every half hour or so, where we tossed in lines and dragged out more fish. At noon we headed back to Gulf Hammock Fishing Club with a full cooler of fish to prepare for another delicious dinner—this one with fresh catch of the day. We filleted our catch at the screened-in fish cleaning station, then met up with Pat, who whipped us up some fried redfish and sea trout, and homemade hush puppies and greens.

If you are someone who likes your outdoor Florida lifestyle with friends and family close to the water, safe and secure, and all in a private and serene setting, treat yourself by checking out Gulf Hammock Fishing Club.

ROUNDUP

Gulf Hammock Fishing Club

P.O. Box 242

Gulf Hammock, Florida

352-486-6380, gulfhammockfishingclub.com

gulfhammockfishingclub@gmail.com

 

Waccasassa Fishing Charters

P.O. Box 208

Gulf Hammock, Florida

352-342-0313, waccasassafishingcharters.com