Mack’s Fish Camp
It was a clear night and the sun was just starting to set. The area looked unfamiliar and we really didn’t know what to expect. We were on the edge of the Everglades, somewhere on the Miami/Broward county line and really hoping our GPS would get us to the camp site.
Then I saw an old-fashioned wooden sign pointing to the camp; I turned onto the dirt road from Krome Avenue and drove a mile or two down a dusty lane lined with saw grass. The setting sun cast a pinkish glow over endless vistas of the Everglades. We thought: Amazing that something so untamed is so close to where we live.
Finally we saw a rustic sign that read “Mack’s Fish Camp.” The rough path led past stealthy airboats and funky swamp buggies until finally reaching the cabins. We parked.
We were greeted by Marshall Jones, along with his wife Nicole, their kids, and some family friends. The group was gathered around a bonfire in front of large Chickee hut pavilion; Johnny Cash played in the background. Beyond the light were dark, swampy waters. The grown-ups were entertaining the kids with firecrackers and bottle rockets. We were offered a drink and a handful of fireworks, and in no time felt right at home.
“This is what we do on Friday nights,” said Marshall. “There’s no other place I’d rather be. Just look at my backyard.” He gestured towards the Glades. It started to drizzle and one of Marshall’s friends suggested it was a perfect time to go “frogging.” A true Gladesman, Marshall’s eyes lit up. Then he decided it had been a long day and called it a night.
Marshall Jones and his twin brother Keith were raised here, and are now proprietors of one of the last standing fish camps in South Florida. They and their families are among the few descendants of pioneer South Florida gladesmen. Mack Senior, their great grandfather, purchased the land in 1938.
“Back then, the Everglades was a new territory and largely unconquered,” says Marshall. “My great grandfather was drawn here because of the vast unexplored land.”
We retired for the night tp our cabin. It wasn’t the Ritz, but this wasn’t Paris, either. It was air-conditioned, had a queen bed and loft-style space for the kids, and came with a mini-frdge, microwave and a coffee machine.
The next morning I rose early, poured myself a cup of coffee, and walked outside to look over the water. One of the few permanent residents of the camp was shooing her dogs from the water’s edge; she smiled and told me good naturedly how a gator had gotten one of her dogs a few weeks back. Good to know.
We decided to try our luck at some bass fishing. The cabin rentals include use of a canoe but we wanted more muscle so shelled out $50 to rent one of the motorized ‘jon’ boats. As we zipped around, we saw turtles, alligators, and sunbathing water birds. A couple of hours later, after a couple of good catches, we buzzed back.
As we returned to the dock we noticed a huge gator lurking in the water near where the Jones kids were playing. We ran to warn Keith. He laughed and said, “Oh that’s our water dog, Pete.” He asked if we wanted him to call Pete over. Skeptically, we complied. Keith ululated and tapped on the water; Pete started swimming toward us. Keith walked over and knelt almost eye level to the beast and petted him. “See?” he said. “Just like a dog.”
It turns out the Jones family has a unique relationship with the local wildlife. “Pete (the alligator) watches after the kids when they go swimming. He swims out around us in a perimeter and wards off rogue gators,” says Marshall.
If you are looking for some serious bass fishing, Mack’s is the place. You can go solo or on guided fishing trips by airboat or bass boat; the airboat covers a 40-mile circuit and can access hidden fishing holes regular boats can’t reach. “The water is as pristine as it gets, very clean. And the fishing is phenomenal,” says Marshall.
Mack’s family-friendly activities include a playground, picnic tables, barbecues, fire pits and airboat tours. It’s always a warm welcome; you’re treated like family from the second you arrive. And from that moment on you realize: Driving down that dirt road was like passing through a time warp.
Mack’s Fish Camp
Danell Ln., Miami