There’s an off the beaten track, very special place in Florida that provides endless opportunities for every type of fishing imaginable: surfcasting; fly-fishing in salt water and freshwater; back-bay fishing; kayak fishing and of course, deep sea fishing.
This secret spot is Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands, on Florida’s Southwest Gulf Coast, one of the state’s premiere fishing destinations. The beaches and barrier islands of Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands have been attracting anglers since the Calusa Indians populated the salt marshes more than 1,500 years ago. Halfway between Sarasota and Fort Myers, this collection of former fishing villages has evolved into nine charming, low-rise coastal communities and four barrier islands clustered around the state’s second largest harbor.
Today, 84 percent of Charlotte Harbor’s 830-mile shoreline remains protected from development to preserve this haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
Freshwater and Saltwater Fishing
The Peace and Myakka Rivers, Charlotte Harbor, Lemon Bay and the Gulf of Mexico are fertile grounds for fresh- and saltwater catches. The waters fluctuate from fresh to brackish to salty, creating a system that supports more than 300 species of fish. In the 1800s, Tarpon fishing originated offshore as a pastime for the wealthy; vintage postcards proclaim it “Tarpon Capital of the World.” Teddy Roosevelt fished Charlotte Harbor in March 1917, where he caught a 16-foot manta ray. Gasparilla Island has been host to famous father/son or daughter fishing expeditions, including John F. Kennedy, J.P. Morgan and Presidents George H. and George W. Bush. Two of Charlotte Harbor’s best-known fishing guides have their fathers to thank for being in the business of showing guests their favorite fishing holes. Captain Ralph Allen inherited King Fisher Fleet in Punta Gorda from his dad in 1981 and never tires of fishing every day. “I’ve taken quite a few guided trips with families of two and three generations,” he said. “They’re some of my favorite trips.” Captain Ralph, who began fishing with his father when he was 2 ½ years old, knows the area as well as anyone – but there’s always more to explore. “There’s 200 square miles of water here: seagrass flats, brackish water creeks, surf fishing, inlet fishing, pass, ponds and lakes,” noted Captain Ralph. “It would take forever to fish it all, let alone become an expert at all of it.” King Fisher Fleet
takes groups deep sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico where guests have caught a 180-pound Tarpon and a 107-pound Amberjack. Captain Ralph and his team also offer guided back bay fishing trips in the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve, catching shallow water game fish including Snook, Redfish, Sea Trout, Cobia, Snapper, Shark and more on light tackle.
On one of her many fishing trips with her father, Captain Marian Schneider was 12 years old when she reeled in her first Tarpon off a public boat dock back in 1955, fighting the six-foot, eight-inch, 125-pound beast for 30 minutes. Her dad gave her a boat before she received her first bicycle. Today, her business, Grande Tours Kayak Center
, is located across the street from her former family homestead on Coral Creek. On the property, she’s saved several historic structures from the Old Florida days, including the family’s cistern and the old bridge attendant’s booth from the era when a manual swing bridge was used to allow taller craft to pass through Coral Creek to the Gulf of Mexico. Grande Tours specializes in the latest trend: ecologically-oriented kayak fishing and nature tours. “Kayaks are the ultimate low-impact vessel,” Captain Marian notes. They’re less expensive than gasoline-powered craft, require no fuel other than human-power and are so quiet that one can easily glide into fishing areas and wildlife habitats without disturbing finned or feathered inhabitants. Captain Marian assures first-timers that kayaking isn’t just for the physically fit. “We have several kayak fishermen and women who are well into their 70s, down to kids as young as seven.” If you love wildlife and archaeology as much as fishing, ask to tour through the islands of Cat Fish Creek for an unforgettable photo opportunity with rare and endangered waterfowl, manatees and bottlenose dolphin, and a view of one of 34 ancient Indian mounds, remnants of villages inhabited from 700 to 1300 A.D. Grande Tours guides can teach anyone the tips and tricks of kayak fly fishing in no time, enabling participants to easily dodge any more wayward fishing hooks or tangled lines. Just be sure to bring a camera or camcorder to capture the new memories of a lifetime. There are a variety of great fishing packages at area hotels that the people at the Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands Visitor's Bureau
can help you find, but here are two ideas that sound particularly great for guys on a fishing mancation.
Back Bay Fishing Package
The Fishermen’s Village Waterfront Mall Resort and Marina
features a Back Bay Fishing package that includes a Two-Night stay at Fishermen’s Village Resort, Two Sunset Cruise tickets, and Back Bay Saltwater Fishing Charter trip. Pricing starts at: $375 per person, plus tax, based on double occupancy Guests will enjoy a two-night stay in a 1,000 sq. ft. Vacation Villa overlooking gorgeous Charlotte Harbor in Punta Gorda, Florida. On your first evening, enjoy a Sunset Cruise on the calm waters of the harbor. The next day, shallow water fishing in the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve. Inshore gamefish include snook, redfish, seatrout, snapper, tarpon, shark and many other species. We fish with light spinning tackle for maximum fun on these sporty fish. After your excursion, shopping, dining and nightlife await you at Fishermen’s Village.
Boca Grand Tarpon Fishing
Gasparilla Island, also known as Boca Grande, is accessible by the Boca Grande Causeway, where fishing-folks and friendly local artsy types rub elbows with some of the world’s richest and most powerful, including, from time to time, members of the Presidential Bush family. Private homes and resorts are situated close to public beach access, and a rails-to-trails bike path runs the length of the island, surrounded by lush vegetation. While cars are allowed on the island, golf carts and bikes are more popular. The Island House Inn at Boca Grande Resort
hosts golf devotees, sport fishing parties and nature lovers alike. Fourteen lavishly renovated, island-style Tommy Bahama rooms. Enjoy a cocktail, a casual meal and live music at Harbor Light, or have a world-class dining experience at the Boca Bistro. A tropical medley of inventive and luxurious cuisine, as well as prime steaks and lamb chops and the freshest seafood. The Boca Grande Resort offers a variety of fishing and golf packages
including the Boca Grand Combo, which includes both mancation activities
Things to Do -