For those many of us that fish the many forms of Florida coastal waterways, we are always searching to know more about life in the sea and all of those things that affect that life. In a recent column by Amanda Nalley, you may be happy to know that there is now another source to check or updated information. Nalley shares her news and story below:
It’s been a while, and we’ve missed you. After a long hiatus, Gone Coastal, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Division of Marine Fisheries Management column is back in action with some changes.
You may not be seeing us around quite as much as you used to though. Gone Coastal is going quarterly. Why? Because we have new friends for you to enjoy in the form of videos.
The Marine Fisheries Management Division now has a YouTube channel called FWC Saltwater Fishing. You can get there easily by going to MyFWC.com/SaltwaterFishing. Check out new updates weekly on various subjects from how-to videos to artificial reef deployments.
Have a burning question about marine fisheries regulations? Want to know more about catch-and-release? We are here for you. Send your questions, photos, and fishing tales to Saltwater@MyFWC.com. Make sure your photo meets our photo requirements by visiting MyFWC.com/Fishing, clicking on “Saltwater Fishing,” scrolling down to “Get Involved” and clicking on “Submit a photograph!.” Learn more about our Saltwater Angler Recognition Programs and how you can “Catch a Florida Memory” by visiting MyFWC.com/AnglerRecognition or contacting AnglerRecognition@MyFWC.com. And don’t forget to record all of your catches on the iAngler phone app or at www.snookfoundation.org.
Gone Coastal is one of many ways the FWC Division of Marine Fisheries Management is helping recreational anglers understand complex saltwater regulations and learn more about saltwater fishing opportunities and issues in Florida. We are available to answer questions by phone or email, and we would love the opportunity to share information through in-person presentations with recreational or commercial fishing organizations.
To contact the FWC’s Regulatory Outreach subsection, call 850-487-0554 or email Saltwater@MyFWC.com.
A little Florida sunshine is a perfect way to recharge your internal batteries. One of our favorite spots continues to be Southwest Florida, home to the Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel (www.fortmyers-sanibel.com).
Ever since we were exposed to this outdoor playground through the adventure antics of Dr. Marion Ford and the writings of Randy Wayne White, the area has always presented itself with a certain mystique. While there are plenty of the normal tourist-focused areas that seem to dominate with the snowbirds from January to April, the region never ceases to amaze us as we make that extra effort to see where the back roads will take us and what hidden treasures are available to be revealed for the first time.
The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island is always at or near the top of our list, the largest mangrove wilderness in the country. The bird life that inhabits the sanctuary is simply amazing. This time around, it was the Reddish Egret that was in the spotlight, part of a new telemetry study to learn more about the habits of these rare birds. As luck would have it, one of the special winged wonders took up residence in front of a group of camera clickers, also allowing birders to check off another feathered friend from a bird bucket list of sorts. The Darling NWR is also part of a larger complex (also named after Darling) that encompasses the Caloosahatchee, Matlacha Pass, Pine Island, and Island Bay National Wildlife Refuges – a large complex of nearly 8,000 acres. The majority of the lands (and waters) in these refuges are nesting and roosting islands for the plethora of bird life that either migrate through or call this important habitat home. Check out http://www.fws.gov/refuge/JN_Ding_Darling/About_the_Complex.html.
Adventure – Fishing
One morning we meet with local charter captain Ryan Kane of Southern Instinct (www.southerninstinct.com; 239-896-2341. No one can appreciate what he does more than me as a fellow sportfishing promoter and ambassador of the area’s natural resources. Kane really gets it and he’ll do whatever it takes to make each and every outing a memorable experience.
As we met at the Port Sanibel Marina, the outlook wasn’t the best. Strong winds from the southwest from one direction; freshwater being funneled down the Caloosahatchee River from Lake Okeechobee creating unsettled conditions near the mouth of the river, an estuary of sorts. This isn’t Kane’s first rodeo, though, he opted to stay in from the Gulf of Mexico waters because of the winds. Other local charters braved the winds to try and hit the Causeway Reef, an artificial structure that came from the old causeway that connected the mainland to Sanibel, before the winds peaked. It was holding some nice sheepshead in the four to five pound range – some excellent eaters for the frying pan. There was a question whether the tradeoff was worth it. While the captains might think so, the passengers might not. We went back to the basics and to Kane’s roots.
“This is Shell Creek where my grandfather took me and my brother to fish when we were little kids,” reflected Kane, who’s been guiding full time for six years now. This is his favorite sheepshead spot and he still fishes it regularly with customers when conditions limit the areas he can target. “It’s all about figuring out what people want and what would make the best experience overall. I specialize in families, especially families with children since I have three of my own. I’ll do just about anything to make each and every experience a memorable one.”
No sooner had we started fishing a cut when a large manatee floated alongside his 24-foot Pro-Line that he’s converted into a fishing machine. My wife Sandy was mesmerized and before it was all over she was petting the soft snout of the marine mammal that some people refer to as a sea cow. That was the experience that she will remember for the rest of her life … and will keep her coming back for more. It didn’t hurt that she also reeled in the biggest redfish for the day, allowing her to state: “I could get used to doing this.”
Ryan looked at me with a big smile. “I think that’s what every guy wants to hear from his wife!” After catching four or five species of fish, we headed out into San Carlos Bay where we found a shoreline island with mangroves and a weed bed. “This looks perfect for redfish – it has everything they would be looking for in this kind of a wind,” said Kane.
Tossing a red jig tipped with a shrimp for bait, he almost immediately hit a fish. However, it wasn’t a redfish. It turned out to be our biggest sheepshead for the day. The next 10 fish were redfish and we had a blast reeling in the magnificent fighters. We ended up with seven different species for the day including a pile of mangrove snappers, ladyfish, pufferfish, catfish and even a sting ray reeled in by the novice Sandy. All around us was incredible bird life and the picturesque scenery of places like Sanibel and Captiva islands. Life is good.
Kane is expanding his business to include a bigger 36 foot boat, a Contender that he will be able to use off-shore as well as inshore when the conditions allow for it. Families will be more comfortable and the added advantage of having a head on the boat will be worth its weight in gold.
In keeping with the dolphin theme of Florida (even if you are a Buffalo Bills fan), the Wicked Dolphin Rum Distillery in Cape Coral is a new attraction that is really picking up a head of steam (www.wickeddolphinrum.com) not just in Southwest Florida and around the state but around the country. Billed as Florida’s only true rum distillery made with all local products, this relatively new business that started up in 2012 from a Long Island family (yes, a New York connection) is already award-winning. We received a private tour from head distiller Dan Termini and he gave us the complete low-down on the sourcing of all the ingredients, the cooking process, the fermentation and the distillation that takes place. The end result is one great tasting product. At the top of the list for us was a Coconut Rum that’s become a local favorite. Don’t rule out the Florida Spiced Rum or the Rumshine. They make a total of 11 different products currently. They estimate that some 22,000 people will tour the facility in 2016. And it’s all natural.
Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, Fort Myers – If you’ve never been to a classy dinner theatre before (or even if you have), the Broadway Palm does it right night after night with top quality performances (we saw Show Boat), tasty buffet dinner and more. Check out www.broadwaypalm.com for a list of what’s coming up and what options are available should you be in the area. You won’t be disappointed.
Tip Top Isles Resort and Marina – This is a nice place we stumbled across with some assistance from the tourism office. Resident manager Mark Sturgeon was extremely accommodating and there were quite a few positives that jumped out at us. One was the fact that they offered pontoon boat rentals at a reasonable price. They had a fleet of seven when we were there. Room rates were also very reasonable considering it was peak tourist season. Sturgeon was really high on an off-season special that included a single room for three nights and two half-day boat rentals for two people for less than $300. Check out www.tiptopisles.com. It’s conveniently located to Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island, as well as many other local attractions.
Outrigger Motel – Located on Estero Blvd. on Fort Myers Beach, this accommodation has a little bit of everything. It’s also a great place to witness a sunset, Southwest Florida style! Sunsets are a tradition there, with the main gathering place at the Tiki Bar located just off the beach. If you like shells or shell collecting, this is a prime destination and we haven’t found any place better in the continental U.S. The shells at the Outrigger this year were the best we’ve ever seen there! And if there’s a critter inside the shell, you must toss it back! The rooms are spacious, comfortable and they even have a built-in kitchen if you want to cook up your catch after fishing. Check out www.outriggerfmb.com for all of the details and seasonal rates.
When you book with a professional guide, time of day, air and water temperature, as well as, moon phase, tide, and feeding patterns of the fish all come into play. When you are discussing your trip, your captain is looking at all of these factors, as well as any historical data he may keep in the form of logs for the specific time of the year you are fishing. Fish move from location to location throughout the year following their food source. Your captain will know these patterns and tailor your trip to all the aforementioned factors.
By far the most common question I get is as a Captain is, “Why is it I never seem to catch any fish when I go out? I use the same bait, the same gear, and fish similar areas, but the fish just are not there.” Well actually, they probably are. There are many factors involved in a memorable day of catching fish.
Most recreational anglers fish when they can. Day to day life makes it difficult for most to just drop what they are doing and run to the ramp when a major solunar event is occurring, or a strong tide is about to happen and the fish are going to go into a strong feeding mode. A professional guide will use this information when booking with you to ensure a successful day on the water. The ability to preplan your trip and pick the right day with the right set of circumstances is a major advantage to you when heading out to catch that trophy snook or tarpon you’ve always dreamed of landing.
Another advantage is that your captain will have local knowledge of the areas you would like to fish. This, combined with time on the water, is a winning combination to locate and land the big ones. Let’s face it, most recreational anglers don’t have an average of 200 days a year on the water to study migratory and feeding habits of the local stocks of fish, nor do they usually spend more than a few hours a week fishing a specific area.
Most saltwater fish switch between food sources and will forage throughout the year searching different locations for different food sources. Knowing when and what the fish are feeding on is key. Most people in the area I fish, use live-scaled sardines throughout the year. Neither time, tide, nor temperature matter; only the pursuit of sardines. When and if they fill their bait wells, they will then pull up to a random mangrove, fill a chum bat with 30-40 sardines that they have wounded, and chum the mangrove. Success is random and requires a good amount of time looking for and catching bait and then time even more time searching for fish that are willing to eat a live sardine. Not to mention the added cost of having to prepare a chum mixture to catch the bait. Your guide will not only know where to get the day’s bait, but will also know where to find the fish willing to eat it. Spots are rarely, if ever, random with a guide.
A variety of techniques are also a big part of a guided fishing trip. There are many times throughout the year that cut bait may be more productive than live bait. There have been times where a lure or a jig will out-fish live bait. Your guide will know this and will utilize all the tools at his disposal to bring fish over the rail. Many people here on the west coast of Florida will utilize live shrimp as a bait all year long, never realizing that in the warmer months shrimp is only really going to be a productive bait for snapper in deeper water. Redfish and snook may take a live shrimp, but you will have to weed through a lot of junk fish which makes for a very frustrating day on the water. Late fall, winter, and very early spring are the best times for shrimp.
Our guide is our teacher. Click here to learn about more:
Time to Drop the Snow Shovels and Head South to Fish
For many of us northern country folks, there comes that one point during our long winter months when it seems like the snow will never stop falling, your back is aching, the forecast is for a 10 degree colder day tomorrow and the wind just gusted at 25 mph to greet the morning darkness. You head for your truck to get to work late – you had to shovel and it won’t start. Ugh! You mutter a few unmentionable words. Have you been there? It’s a treasured moment! A memorable moment of the wrong kind.
You head back to the house, pick up the phone to call your boss, apologize because you’re going to later getting in than you thought now, the line is busy and it doesn’t switch to the machine. Ugh #2! You try to settle down, a nice hot cup of coffee helps. Mmmm, even the thought of hot coffee has you wiping off the shrug you had. Then as you pour out the java, like a flash of good fortune, there it is on the table. Last Sunday’s paper with a half-page color ad: “VISIT FLORIDA, WARM UP YOUR FISHING RODS!” Instantaneous thoughts occur. You smile. It’s a Machiavellian grin. You contact your better half, check your piggy bank and, of course, you both agree, why not? Let’s do it!
Five minutes later, you have called your boss and like it was perfect, now he isn’t in, but his machine come up and you leave a message, “See you in a week!” Sorry boss. You’re still smiling, wider now. You look, there are flights, low cost too, for a round trip to Florida if you book this instant. Click. You got ‘em. Two tickets to paradise for a week. YES! Next search, google is already up, need a fishing guide for two days. Wow, there are lots of ‘em. Which one is a good guide? You read a dozen reviews, some folks are not happy, some are downright feeling cheated, plus they paid hundreds of dollars. AND, no fish. You get discouraged. Erase that forlorn moment. This is supposed to be a happy time!
It is a happy time, because today, there is a better way to find a good guide. Simply switch over to a new fishing guide service, www.iTrekkars.com, which will work for almost all of Florida if you are heading near a saltwater beach area. These guys offer veteran charter captains that are bonded, know their stuff, know the waterways, have hi-performance fishing boats, hi-performance tackle, have all of the right baits for your target species and, just in case, they guarantee your money back if not satisfied
They connect anglers with the best fishing captains in Florida. Imagine, here is a charter service that believes when you are purchasing a charter, you shouldn’t have any surprises and should be able to trust the captain you choose. You can search, compare and book right on their website with a 100% money-back guarantee that you will have an amazing experience on the water. I took a trip with iTrekkers last week and they made it seem easy to have fun out there, not to mention one of the best fishing days with several bonus ecological photo opportunities I have ever had fishing saltwater.
Some fish made the 20-pound braid scream off the reel, testing the 25-pound test fluorocarbon leader and chemically honed Owner circle hooks that was cast into one of those secret pockets that these vetted captains seem know wherever they take you. It was an awesome half day of fishing! In all, we hooked up with about 30 fish across seven different species. It was an education in efficient fishing simplicity and fun on the water.
iTrekkers founder, Tom Mulliez says, “The whole idea started about five years ago after another failed attempt to find a good fishing charter when my family and I were on vacation in Hilton Head, South Carolina. It always amazed me that you never knew what you were going to get. That your only resources were the guide-owned websites and testimonials on review sites that can be bought or manipulated.” The thirty something Mulliez adds, “Often times, the boat was not as advertised or it was “in the shop,” apologies were made even before leaving the dock. Then the guide turned out to not as qualified as he made himself seem to be. There was not a trustworthy solution where the reviews were real, the guides were amazing and I could feel safe and secure that the amount of money being spent would drive the value and experience I was expecting.”
Just bring yourself. No bait is required. No tackle is required. No license is required. It’s all part of the service. Do bring a cooler, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, and your giant smile for some great photographs. Check ‘em out.