Guide to Fishing and Boating in the Areas from Charlotte Harbor to Estero Bay
Most people have no idea what they have stumbled upon when they ask about fishing in the local waters of the Florida Suncoast. When people ask what they can catch, the correct response should be “Well, how much time do you have?”
I have traveled as far north as Anchorage Alaska for salmon fishing alongside towering black bears, and have flown as far south as Costa Rica to tackle some of the world’s biggest game fish. With all of the experience I have garnered over a lifetime of fishing adventures starting from the days of catching bass off the family dock In Manitowoc Wisconsin, to winning many local inshore tournaments right here at home. With all the experiences I have been blessed with over the years on the water, I can say there’s a reason for the saying “there’s no place like home”. Undoubtedly, Southwest Florida offers the greatest variety of inshore saltwater species to catch, the most styles of fishing to experience, and has the potential to leave lasting impressions on you and your family’s memory.
Navigating the Florida Suncoast Inshore Waters
Before renting a boat and jumping right into things, you should strongly consider hiring a professional and licensed guide. Most people are unfamiliar with the shallow, back bay waters of the Florida gulf coast, and how easy it is to run your boat aground. Looking at the map of the area from Lemon Bay to Estero Bay, you’ll see just how complicated the inshore waters are to navigate if you are a freshman in the area. From the far left you can see the outer barrier islands (Sanibel Island, Captiva Island, and Cayo Costa), then the middle section of land (Pine Island), and lastly on the right, the mainland (Cape Coral).
Charlotte Harbor Nautical Chart
View and print this free nautical map of Charlotte Harbor courtesy of the NOAA.
When looking for a guide online, or by word of mouth, there’s just so many options to choose from. It’s important to understand aspect to pay attention to when looking for a fishing captain. A lot of these guys are old Florida boys that can take their job a little too seriously, and do a fine job of letting their customers know just how inexperienced they are. There are a lot of horror stories with different guides not acting like professionals around their customers, or some that simply don’t know how to fish. Let me save you some time by directing you to Captain John Conway. He’s affordable, friendly, knowledgeable and will put you on fish. I’ve known John for years, and am truly impressed by his etiquette and ability to catch fish. He will supply everything you’ll need, and is a great historian of our area. You will learn more in four hours than weeks of going out on your own. Kids, grandparents, and the ladies are welcome as John is a family man himself. He specializes in all of the saltwater gamefish that Southwest Florida proudly offers: Snook, Sea Trout, Redfish, Tarpon, Snapper, Ladyfish, Jacks, and even sharks! I promise you’ll have a great time with Captain John.
Chances are after a trip or two you will have fallen in love with the area enough to rent a boat and go out on your own. There’s plenty of places to rent a boat from, but the question to ask yourself is where you do you want to be?
If you want to be more in the “touristy” area and where there is a lot of boat traffic and other people, renting out of Tarpon Point Marina is a good choice, located on the southern tip of Cape Coral. This is a great spot if you’re trying to get out to Sanibel Island to do some shelling, or tanning at the beach. It’s only about a 20-minute boat ride to the Sanibel lighthouse. This is one of the biggest tourist destinations in Florida. Sanibel Island offers awesome wildlife, great fishing, and beautiful unaltered natural beaches. If you’re bringing the boat there, all you have to do is put your anchor in about 50ft off the beach, and wade in. The water will only be about waist or chest high; easy enough for you to carry all of your belongings to the beach.
If that’s not your style, and you’re looking to be a part of “Old Florida” that’s untouched by tourism, then northern Pine Island is the place to be. Four Winds Marina offers boat rentals, and plenty of local knowledge to help you in any way necessary. They are located at the northern tip of Pine Island, also referred to as Bokeelia. From this part of Southwest Florida, you are now in a different realm of boating. There is virtually no boat traffic, which always means more wildlife, and better fishing. People that visit and boat this area are, in my opinion, required to visit the restaurant on Cabbage Key. Famous singer and songwriter, Jimmy Buffet, wrote his song “Cheeseburger and Paradise” while sitting at the bar on a hot summer day. Ask the guys at Four Winds Marina how to get there. You’ll be close to Boca Grande Pass, which is the opening of water between land that leads to the Gulf of Mexico. This pass is known as the Tarpon fishing capital of the world. To see just how awesome this spot is, watch this short video from the Professional Tarpon tournament Series (PTTS). Until you’re actually there in person, one can not appreciate the beauty of the pass. You’ll see jumping fish, manatees coming up for breath, Dolphins blowing mist out their blowhole, and an array of seabirds. It’s truly a sight to see. If you want to head to the beach, just go out of the pass and go left or right, and you’ll see miles of beaches that are unpopulated and waiting for your private arrival.
Florida Gulf Coast Offshore Fishing
If you have already done the backwater fishing and boating thing, and are looking for something different, you can always book offshore charters. Southwest Florida isn’t as known for its offshore fishing as it is for its inshore fishing, just because of the topography of the ocean floor here. Deep water fish look for natural protection from predators, like natural shelves, rivets, rock piles, or shipwrecks on the bottom. Our water is only about 40-80ft deep off the shore for about 50 miles with virtually no protection for these fish. It makes for a very long boat ride to get to the areas that hold offshore fish, like Marlin, Dolphin (Mahi), Kingfish, Wahoo, etc. There is some pretty decent grouper fishing a little closer to land, and that can be a great time. Grouper is also some of the best fish to eat in my opinion, and you can keep quite a few when you head out. It’s not as easy to find guides for this, but if it’s something you have a strong interest in, you can contact me directly and I can offer some suggestions.
You cannot ask for a better area to spend a day on the water. It’s not an accident that Cape Coral has more miles of canals than Venice, Italy! We have something very special here, and people that visit for their first time truly can not believe what they’ve stumbled into. We truly have something for everyone, whether you want to go shelling (see our shelling article here), a boat ride to lunch, or spend a day slaying some backwater gamefish, we have you covered.
Stay in the Perfect Vacation Rental Home
Relax in a beautiful rental house made available by Douglas Realty the next time you visit or vacation in Florida.