A New Chapter in Saltwater Fishing: Catching Fish and Sharks in Charlotte Harbor, Florida

  • Advice #1: Seek expert help. The well-stocked Port Charlotte tackle shop called Fish’n Frank’s offers charter captain advice from local fishing specialists.
  • Advice #2: Keep an optimistic focus. Share a grin and good questions to identify the best fishing methods.
  • Advice #3: Tackle care. The legendary fish-filled backwaters of Charlotte Harbor demand that every angler check lines, leaders and hooks often.
Simon Cremin with one of 25 sea trout caught while fishing lures and jerk baits over an oyster bed in Charlotte Harbor.

By Forrest Fisher

In the sun-kissed kingdom of Southwest Florida, shimmering waters meet pristine beaches, and tales of fun, exploration, and daring adventure unfold with each fishing trip.

More than once a week, Simon Cremin embarks on a journey to share his unmatchable passion for fishing and the sea. Originally from the United Kingdom, Simon resides with his family in the United States. He is transitioning from fishing in Europe, where the goal was to catch toothy northern pike and musky.

Today, Simon sets out to find and conquer the mighty Apex predators that roam the coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Facing the challenge of choosing the right fishing gear and learning where to fish with success, Simon works with optimistic focus, a grin, and a curious expression to develop answers that satisfy his call for challenging the deep. His fully equipped 19-foot fiberglass Sailfish Boat, powered by a 90 horsepower Yamaha 4-stroke outboard, transports him and his fishing friends to their destination quickly and affordably.

Every summertime saltwater fish trip starts at sunrise. It’s dark when the boat goes into the water.

His home base of operations for learning more about the nationally famous tarpon waterway of Charlotte Harbor, Bull Bay, and Boca Grande is a well-stocked tackle shop called Fish’n Frank’s (941-625-3888). Recently rebuilt after a fiery vehicle accident burned the homey, 5-decades-old tackle store to the ground, the new location in a plaza is located at 4200 Tamiami Trail (US Route 41) in Port Charlotte, FL. Store manager, Robert Lugiewicz, offers a complete and friendly service with live bait, frozen bait, lures, rods, reels, and line, all at affordable prices. Maybe the best part is that the store is filled with nautical wall maps, silent conversations, and finger-pointing to hotspots with fishy details, explanations, and a grin to cheer you on your way. The Lugiewicz staff provides the most considerable degree of encouragement to newbies and retirees that enter this legendary tackle store domain. The visitors find a boost of honest help on what, when, where and how to catch fish. Simon will agree because, with their help, Simon has succeeded.

Launching in Charlotte County from Placida Park (6499 Boca Grande Causeway) or Charlotte Beach public boat ramp (4500 Harbor Blvd.), Simon usually meets up with one or two local friends. They check lines and leaders, then head out to explore the legendary, island-filled coastline and mangrove-filled backwaters of Charlotte Harbor. Simon says, “Each fishing trip is new to me, as I am still sort of new to the area. It’s fun to learn where to find fish, and we have found fish in some of the most remote areas imaginable.” Laughing a bit, Simon says, “Good thing most of my friends have little fear and a brave heart.”

The morning scenery can be amazing as daylight and warming occur to form cloud formations that are absolutely beautiful.

Simon continues, “We fish simple. We use my electric bow motor to access secluded backwaters where we have found some of the largest fish, including Tarpon, Snook, Redfish and Speckled Trout. Of course, wherever we go, I focus on also catching a Shark, they are so powerful, and there are so many types here. I have learned with each fishing trip and have evolved to establish a simple system that offers an opportunity to catch multiple species, and sharks too.”

Simon prefers the back of the boat to the front, so his fishing partner is offered control of the boat, running the bow motor for the day. Simon says in his British accent, “All of my fishing buddies seem to enjoy that part of our 6 to 8-hour fish trips. We each cast lines with plastic-tailed jerk baits on weighted weedless hooks or throw hard baits. Both lure types are designed to mimic the local forage groups. Doing that, I like to trail one or two lines for Shark. I have learned that it is better to trail one line simply. You can get into a real mess with two trailing lines when a handsome Gafftopsail Catfish hits and runs laterally. In the back of the boat, I can still cast out the side of the boat for multiple species, but now I trail just one line with a huge bobber, a wire leader and a huge hook with a half ladyfish or other cut bait. Some days, we catch five sharks and more than 50 other gamefish. It’s exciting! I’ve even caught sharks while casting lures. They can be that aggressive. “

Simon says, “Snook, redfish, trout, catfish, and others, like this bluefish, are all out there chomping on our lures.”

Simon explained that on one trip while discovering a new oyster bed with nearby emerging sea grass, he and his partner caught 11 different species while hooking up with 3 Tarpon, some more than 6 feet long. They also caught Blacktip Sharks and watched dolphins, stingrays, nurse sharks and bull sharks swim near their newfound fishing zone. In total silence, the intriguing sounds of a circling osprey or a nearby eagle crack the meticulous silence of the fishing mission.

Simon admits that studying the weather, the tides, and moon phases is necessary, but he enjoys the academic side of fishing the saltwater. He also admits he may be pushing the boundaries of his fishing gear at times since he hooked and landed a 7-foot Lemon Shark estimated at 125 pounds in weight, a personal best shark catch on one recent trip. That Shark and all the others were each carefully released to live another day. That giant Shark was caught on a 40-pound braid main line, a 60-pound fluorocarbon leader to the bobber, and a length of 0.040-inch diameter wire leader to an 8/0 circle hook.     

Using a 40-pound test braid and a 60-pound test fluorocarbon leader to wireline worked for this shark. Released alive and hook-free.

Before each fish trip, Simon studies the local areas, reports on marine life, and talks with his newfound friends at Fish’n Frank’s. He studies the successful strategies of others, takes notes, watches videos and readies himself and his boat to face the ultimate challenge and adventure of fishing the saltwater.

Some of the sharks are so huge, and their teeth are readily apparent as they tire and swim alongside the boat. It’s pretty exciting.

Each trip begins with setting sail before dawn, and enormous anticipation fills the air each time. Minutes turn into hours, and there have been times when he admits they have persevered in unpredictable weather and high heat index days, knowing that the ultimate prize may await on the next cast or next drift. Persistence pays off when a gargantuan shadow glides beneath the surface on the end of your line. The true leviathans of the deep live in each of the natural bays here. Simon says, “Each trip is so exciting that when we power the boat onto the trailer at day’s end, I cannot wait for the next time.” Talking with Simon in person, he admits, “Hooking up with one the Sharks, there is adrenaline pumping through my veins, and the fun of it all is indescribable.”

Just when you think the good fishing is over for the day, a drag-screeching Gafftopsail catfish can brighten your day.

Amidst the fish battle struggles, Simon admires the magnificent creature fighting for freedom. He recognizes the importance of conservation and respect for these majestic Apex creatures—reasons why he makes the ultimate sacrifice and releases the Shark. Simon is an advocate for conservation in his community.

In the heart of Southwest Florida, tales of adventure are etched along the coastline and every inlet of the intra-coastal waterway. The Simon Cremin “learn-to-fish” story is a testament to the attraction of the sea and the capacity for personal growth. Through his journey of learning more about saltwater fishing, particularly shark fishing, he has reinforced the importance of responsible fishing practices, the value of conservation, and the irreplaceable wonder to be discovered in the natural world here. As the sun sets on the Gulf waters, the tides of destiny await the next trip. His future focus? As a Charter Captain, his new goal, Simon Cremin plans to share more of his fishing time with others. He’s going to be a good one!