With our heavy summer rainy season, and its heat now behind us, its time to get in the boat for day trips, fun and spectacular fishing. Our fall temperatures and dry afternoons are ideal for all types of boating in the tranquil aqua waters, of SW Florida. I am not ranking these from best to least liked, there are to many reasons why people pick places to boat. These are by far some of the very best for a variety of reasons.
BOCA GRANDE/CAPTIVA PASS.
Boca Grande has something to offer for everyone, and that’s why I picked it first to discuss. Situated on Gasparilla Island in the NW corner of our county, and only about 6 miles long and at the widest about 1 mile. For the fisherman, Boca Grande pass is home of the world-class Tarpon tournaments held every year. Sport fisherman from all over the world flock to the 70 ft deep pass for these trophy catch and release fish. Modest sizes range from 100 -170 lbs. These silver beasts will offer some of the toughest but yet rewarding sport fishing in the world. There are only 2 rules when fishing for these hard fighting fish….no anchoring in the pass, and leave the motor running….its a 7 mph current, when the tide runs.
If your not into fishing, tour the island by the recommended method…..a rented golf cart. Park downtown and enjoy a 3 hour self guided tour of this famous island. The Duponts and many Presidents have stayed at the 1940’s built Gasparilla Inn. Be sure you see Banyan Street…the old catholic church…the park at Boca Grande Pass…several quaint local restaurants…the old train station…and much more.
For walking and shopping the downtown itself is both fun and interesting, with lots of local apparel and fun stuff as souvenirs. Let the guys go fish and you run around in your golf cart! Several fine marina’s with tons of dock space can accommodate all of your boating your needs.
FORT MYERS BEACH.
Just 2 miles off shore, during Tarpon season, some of the smaller trophy fish teem in these water. You will need to watch the tide and the moon for the best fishing periods, but these smaller Tarpon offer a ferocious fight for their size.
BACK BAY FISHING.
Our area is one of the best spots for this type of fishing. Our 5 barrier islands along the SW Florida coast line offer the protection from both wind and weather for the boater. Back behind these islands are some of the best shallow water fishing around. There are many charter boats available for half day to a full 8 hours. Don’t know how to fish or use light tackle…..no worry, they come with the boat charter. If you have your own boat, the newly renovated Punta Rassa launch ramp [just before the toll booth to enter Sanibel Island] is the quickest way to get to the back bay fishing grounds behind Sanibel…Ft. Myers Beach….Captiva….Upper Captiva, and Pine Island. If you bring your own boat, be careful…….the sounds are shallow with between 16 inch’s – 3 feet of draft, depending on the tide. Flats boats are ideal for this fun day on the water.
This island was made famous by Jimmy Buffett and his “Cheese Burger in Paradise” song. It is a great day trip and only accessible by boat. Rob Well’s has owned the restaurant and a few cottages for overnight stay since the early 1980’s. Visitors for years have stapled $1 bills to the ceiling with their names on them. Every few years, they are taken down and the ones with no writing, are donated to charity. The home….now restaurant was once owned by a famous auther…….more on that another time. Whether you come for the burger or just sip a beer at the 70-year-old bar, you will have fun. Several Adirondack chairs are under the shade trees, for watching boats go up and down the Intercoastal waterway. If you don’t feel like sitting, take the walking tour of the ancient indian burial mounds……Cabbage Key is only 10 ft. above sea level……but still the highest point on our area. Watch for the dock-master on your approach…..small boats docked in large slips is a no, no, and the helpful docking assistance is appreciated by boaters. 3-4 foot draft boats need to be sure to stay in the privately marked channel. If you miss its going to be ok…….the bottom is mud and not rock. For a great view of the water around the island climb the water tower….it puts you another 26 feet above the island.
Another old 1950’s house that is now a waterfront lunch destination is the aptly named “The Waterfront Restaurant” at the south end of Pine Island in St. James city. Dockage is free at the restaurant and outside seating is available. It’s another great day trip by boat, and the portions are large. It’s also kid friendly with butcher paper table cloth’s and crayons. Back bay fishing along the old U.S. Postal mail route of the 1950′ to 1970’s is especially good, and netting for bait fish is abundant along the overhead power lines crossing over the sound.
CAYO COSTA ISLAND.
This place offers some really great fun! Dock on the bay side at the large wooden docks and take the tractor driven passenger cart over the 1 mile sand road to the Gulf of Mexico. This no car access island is a Florida State Park with overnight camp grounds complete with freshwater showers, campfire pits,nature trails, and shelling on some of the cleanest white sugar sand beach’s with clear aqua blue water in the entire SW Florida area. If you’re boating there overnight, the crescent-shaped “Pelican Bay” area of the island, offers great anchorage and is very weather protected. Pull the bow right up to the sandy shoreline. Bonfires are allowed if you bring your own wood. “Pelican Bay” is top on the transient boaters list of overnight anchorages.
For a great day trip and to boat around the blue waters of the island is “Grandma Dots” waterfront restaurant. It’s easy to spot just to the east of the famous Sanibel Causeway. If you have the good fortune to able to sit at the bar, you will see the small brass name plates of seasoned boaters that have visited the restaurant on a regular basis, for many years. Its kind of club of old boaters that stop by for a meal and a beer, or refuel the boat. Its kinda like having your own personal table at a restaurant.
For the fisherman with no boat, the light house pier will be your pick. The fishing on this pier is great for 2 reasons. First it’s at the eastern tip of the island where the tidal currents are swift, and just off the pier is a 30 ft. deep trench, that cuts thru the normal 8-12 ft deep waters around the causeway and the back bay part of the island. This deep underwater trench forms a funnel for the fish, and a savvy angler will enjoy the catch. Medium tackle and line required here.
For the boating angler, Woodrings Point and Tarpon Bay are a favorite place for light tackle fishing. Boat west of the Sanibel Causeway in the marked channel for about 4 minutes till you come to the overhead power lines. Stay close to the power lines and navigate back toward Sanibel…..its skinny water here, so stay close to the concrete pilings, where they dredged when placing the pilings. Fishing around Woodrings Point has always been good, but if you’re good at casting, you will want to be inside Tarpon Bay, for the big catch. Here’s why, the redfish, yellow tail, and snook like to hide under the extensive mangrove overgrowth around the bay, so accuracy is needed when casting. Be sure to get under and not into the mangroves…….you will keep your line and lures longer. Again, be aware of your draft, and watch the tides for bottom depths.
Certainly there are other great spots for boating and fishing like Redfish Pass….Lemon Bay….Galt Island…Matlacha and the Bokeelia area….Lovers Key….Charlotte Harbor and Fisherman’s Village….Tween Waters and the Roosevelt Cut….and South Seas Plantation. Check back later for stories about these and many more great spots to explore in SW Florida..