Dale “Mr. D” Simmons, Wildlife Photographer
Location: Davenport, Florida
- Models paddled: AdvancedFrame Sport, AdvancedFrame DS-XL, AdvancedFrame Convertible, AdvancedFrame Expedition, Airvolution Kayak, Lagoon1, and the StraitEdge Kayak.
- Water that he paddles: Lakes, Bays and Estuaries, and Slow moving waterways.
- What he uses his yaks for: Adventure Travel, Wildlife Photography, Videography, Daily Paddling.
A retired professional photographer from California, and now residing in Florida, Dale, known as “Mr. D”, travels all over Florida finding and reviewing new locations to explore like state parks, National Reserves/Parks, and local waterways. During these explorations, he sets out to capture breathtaking wildlife and landscape imagery from his uniquely modified kayaks with up to 9 different cameras for his videography and still photography. “Every place that I paddle has its own beauty and it’s my goal to capture its true essence through the lens”.
In 2017 Mr. D founded and created Paddling Places Florida, a website providing viewers information on where one can paddle throughout Florida. He provides categorical information such as experience level required, location, fees, if the spot is family oriented, etc., and provides a firsthand look via a narrated video on each waterway. Each location reviewed is given a color-coded designation on an interactive map with Green for “totally safe”, Yellow for “use caution”, and finally Red for “not safe to paddle”. This provides Florida visitors and locals alike with a resource for planning their paddling adventures and learning what’s available to them. Visit paddlingplaces.com to learn more and sign up for the newsletter.
Additionally, Mr D. host his own globally popular YouTube channel where he reviews all kinds of photography equipment, kayaks, paddles and alike.
In the off-season, when not behind a lens, Dale maintains focus on staying in shape either walking a minimum of 4 miles daily in the morning and/or paddling in his AdvancedFrame Sport three to four times a week on his local lake.
“Without the discovery of Advanced Elements’ kayaks much of the above would never of happened.”
Favorite AE Story:
One of my best stories was when I received my monthly Photography Magazine and on the cover was this beautiful picture of a Blue Cypress tree all by itself on a lake. The title on the magazine was “Best Hidden Places in Florida”. Well this got my attention and my quest started. I had to find this tree and photograph it myself. Knowing this would require my StraitEdge fully rigged, my research started. Well I found the information and it’s called “Blue Cypress Lake” in Yeehaw Junction, Florida…I can’t make this stuff up! I made several phone calls and found out there was only one access to this place and that’s at Middleton’s Fish Camp. I placed a call to Middleton’s Fish Camp and a very nice lady answered. I inquired for accommodations, not knowing what kind they were, and made the reservation. Now, with that done, I’m going to turn this into one of my impromptu road trips.
The November morning had finally come and I was excited about this trip. Three DSLR cameras 4 different lenses, 5 video cameras and my StraitEdge was all serviced and ready to go. I’m driving, and driving out in the middle of know where. I hadn’t seen any homes, towns, or population for a while now. I’m checking my NAV system when I hear “2 miles turn left”. I’m looking at the map and I can’t see any road. As these 2 miles click off I see a small sign stating “Middleton’s Fish Camp 4 miles”. Well okay, I make the turn on this dirt road and yes, 4 miles in, here’s this very small like bait shop. I stop and see this elderly lady sitting in a rocking chair and she asks “may I help you?” I told her who I was and she said “oh, okay”, we walk to the edge of the lake and she points and states “see the boat on the bent trailer over there? That’s your trailer right next to it.” So, I’m waiting to fill out registration papers and waiting for a key. She looks puzzled so I ask about this and she just tells me we will square up when I leave and that there is no key as they are not needed here.
I find my trailer where I’m staying and my front yard is the lake. The lake is huge and, while I was planning to do a paddle that day, the winds were blowing big time and swells were 2 and 3 feet! The lady told me this was a daily event and if I wanted to kayak I would have to be ready at the crack of dawn. I was disappointed that it was not safe to paddle that day so I grabbed one of my cameras and went on a hike. I spotted a bald eagle in flight almost immediately, and many other species of birds, but I was eagerly awaiting the morning dawn to find that tree.
The next morning I’ve got my StraitEdge all inflated and rigged with 4 cameras and one DSLR in my dry bag. I’m taking a short coffee break when a blue heron decides to take up residence on my kayak. Snapped a couple of pics just before it took flight. I’m ready to launch, the morning sun is just starting to rise and the lake is like glass. The sky is purple, pink and orange and I’m the only one adding ripples to this massive lake as a good size gator raises his head to say hello. Fortunately, a local gave me general directions of where she thought I needed to paddle to find that tree so I keep an eye on him as I make my way out towards the main lake. There’s not a breath of wind on the lake and I can hear birds making their morning calls as well as the sound of my paddle breaking water. I paddle about a mile around this point and then there they are, Blue Cypress trees out on the lake all by themselves but, of course, not my tree. The sun is just breaking the horizon turning these trees the color of fire and the shaded side a rich blue. I’m in awe as I’m wearing a blister on my shutter finger. Setting up for all angles to shoot these magnificent trees I must be aware to ensure I don’t get too close to the bank reeds. I really don’t want to turn my back to the reeds but have to in order to get these shots. So I look for bubbles and observe very closely to determine if a gator or two are lurking about before I paddle into position to get my shot. I saw a few during the first part of my trek but they stayed where they were and I gave them a wide birth. After all that, I’m still unable to locate that specific tree. I continue paddling and then all of a sudden, there it is. I’m blown away as it totally by its self and it’s as beautiful as the magazine cover pic. A special bonus was I was still in the “Golden Hour” to achieve this shot. I was so excited that I was able to get this same shot.
Now that I’ve got this shot, the rest of my time can be spent photographing several other Blue Cypress trees and of course the wildlife. An Osprey took exception of a buzzard infringing on his home so the fight was on. A few snaps of that and several of inflight birds. I notice a few hours into this paddle I’m really far away from the launch site so I decide to head back before the predicable winds return. I get back after a 5-hour paddle and feel great. I achieved my goal, had fun, got many great images and most importantly got there safe and sound.
What a fabulous place. Hidden? Yes. Worth the hunt? Absolutely.