Frog legs and gator tails

Frog legs and gator tails

One of the paddling MeetUp groups I belong to recently planned an outing to Lake Cara, a tiny little postage stamp of a lake in the Fort Drum Wildlife Management Area up east of Yehaw Junction off Route 60.  Nearly two hours north of me.

A long trip from my house for a very short paddle, was my first thought.  But I read on.  Perhaps, the organizer suggested, participants would like to afterwards head on up to nearby Fellsmere, FL, for the annual Fellsmere Frog Leg Festival

IMG_1092cThat rang a huge bell, all the way back to 2012, when I ran across this sign when I decided to detour off of I-95 near Fellsmere.  Unfortunately, the festival was a week AFTER I passed through the area, so I never saw it.

That was not going to happen this year.  I could combine a nice paddle with friendly folks with a visit to the Frog Festival.   And, because Lake Cara would only take about an hour to explore, I could also pop up the road a few miles and check out Blue Cypress Lake, a massive body of water surrounded by dense stands of cypress trees, and still have time for the Festival.

Time to organize a trip.  So, I rounded up a couple traveling partners, brother-in-law Michael and recent paddling buddy Leslie, and off we went at the crack of dawn last Sunday.  It was a chilly 47 when I got up in the morning and it wasn’t much warmer by the time we’d traveled a couple hours north to Lake Cara.

Fortunately, the sun was bright and the wind low, so with a few layers on we were fine.  We met up with the rest of the Meetup folks and spent a nice, sociable hour paddling around Lake Cara and viewing the wildlife.

From there, Leslie, Michael and I loaded up the trailer again and headed off to Blue Cypress Lake, a few miles west on Route 60 and five miles north on a two-laner.   The origin of the St. Johns River, this huge, 6,500-acre lake is 21 miles in circumference.  A lake this size is not normally a pleasant environment for human-powered craft, but this one has a nice feature.  It is surrounded by a shallow-water cypress forest, very extensive on the eastern and northern borders, but pleasantly wide too on the western side, where we launched from the lake’s only access point, Middleton’s Fish Camp

We spent an hour or more poking around a portion of the swamp along the lake’s western border, IMG_2319cpleasantly protected from the wind and surrounded by nesting osprey, roosting turkey vultures and lots of other bird life.   It was way more fun and interesting than Lake Cara had been.

From there it was on to the finale of the day: the 25th Anniversary Fellsmere Frog Leg Festival.  As events go, it isn’t the biggest, a small midway/carny games area and a couple rows of craft vendors don’t take a whole lot of time to see.  But it is one of those things you have to go to once in your life.  Not unexpectedly, the yard art booth was full of Mexican imports.  Read this to see what I think of that.

I had the frog leg/gator tail combo dinner (sorry, forgot to take any food pix), served efficiently through a window from the school building, where there was an assembly line of cookers and servers, all volunteers, filling the orders.

The meat came with a side of slaw and grits in a three-sectioned Styrofoam take out container.  The grits I ignored, the slaw was good, the frog legs, about five pair of them, were meaty, lightly breaded, and tasted slightly swampy…or fishy…or something.  At least they weren’t bland and didn’t taste like chicken.  The gator tail bits were heavily breaded and about as tasteless as those I have had elsewhere.

Washed down with a Mountain Dew, the food, eaten under a large tent at a wooden table while seated on a rickity plastic folding chair, capped off a terrific day of traveling and paddling with friends and finally getting to experience the Fellsmere Frog Festival.

And of course, adding to my T-shirt collection…and my photography collection:

These two guys were on Lake Cara:

And these were over at Blue Cypress Lake:

The fellow with the yellow kayak is the Lake Cara organizer, Corky.  Michael is in the blue kayak and Leslie in the white one.  I’m in the final photo:



About Ron Haines

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6 Responses to Frog legs and gator tails

  1. Leslie Dreier says:

    This is wonderful. Thank you. Where’s the post mortem from our Southern Blvd paddle?




  2. Roger says:

    Yes, Ron — great trip and a really fun day! Cool that Michael went too.
    Blue Cypress Lake was a great find. And your life is now enriched and more complete since you’ve attended the one-and-only, genuine, Fellsmere Frog legs Festival…the 25th anniversary no less!
    I am SO jealous, big brother!


  3. Denise Hurt says:

    Well now I know I can skip the frog legs and gator tails next time they are on the menu. There’s a song in there somewhere!


  4. Kim says:

    Actually Ron, I’m was the organizer of the Lake Cara trip and was really hoping that we would find a pathway through to Lake Horseshoe which is further back in the woods. I was also disappointed in how small the lake was but it was pretty with lots of birds and would probably make for a good full moon paddle, plus I really like exploring new areas. I didn’t realize how far you had traveled and I’m glad you checked out Blue Cypress – very pretty indeed.

    Connie and I also took in the Frog Leg Festival and I was rather surprised by the delicate flavor of the frog’s legs – like a delicate white fish and nothing like chicken. Maybe with a little white wine and a touch of shallots… The gator was chewy and too much spice and breading to really get any idea of what gator really tastes like – or that was my take on it anyway. But I’m glad I went – had a nice day exploring a new paddling place and trying some new food.



    • Ron Haines says:

      Kim, sorry I missed somehow that you had organized the Lake Cara trip. Thanks for doing so. Checking out two lakes and hitting the festival made the drive more than worth it for me. I’ve traveled further for less. On Cypress Lake, the trick to doing a trip on it for me would be to find someplace to beach and stretch ones legs amongst the cypress an hour and a half or so either direction from the fish camp. That way I could stop for a stretch and return and make it a three hour event. I for one cannot sit in the boat for any more than an hour and half without getting out and stretching. On Sunday we just went about an hour north of the camp and then returned. For people living closer that would be a fine trip, so you might want to consider it in the future. The launch at the fish camp is pleasant. Use the 2nd ramp you come to as you drive through, not the one closest to the shop.


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