We are sure most anglers, and kayak anglers in particular, are sick of red tide. As writers extolling the beauty and productive inshore waters available to anglers, we are finding it hard to confidently recommend any launches in Southwest Florida that involve salt water.
It was fortunate this winter that most of the red tide events were focused to our north and south, leaving us with clean water and healthy fish. We must not have knocked on wood hard enough because now it’s our turn.
We looked back at a column we published during the last devastating red tide event and decided to address this subject the same way. It’s basic stuff, but it may help some folks find saltwater fish. Please think about the devastation in our bays and on our beaches and practice catch and release. We must save some fish for seed ... again.
Gamefish sense red tide toxins and leave the area if possible. Species like pinfish, catfish and flounder, among others, are limited to a specific area. Others like snook, redfish, trout, jacks and mullet will often swim away from the toxic water flowing into the bay with incoming tides. Their obvious route of escape is away from the Gulf and upriver into the brackish water.
This retreat is limited by the fresh water flowing down the Peace and Myakka rivers into Charlotte Harbor. Saltwater gamefish will move upstream until the water becomes too fresh for comfort, and there they stay. These fish, condensed into a small body of water, quickly deplete the forage available and get hungry.
Kayak anglers don’t have the luxury of launching their boat and paddling 20-plus miles in search of clean water and feeding fish. It is important to launch as close to the destination as possible and spend more time fishing and less time paddling. To this end, we want to mention a few launches available on the Peace River above the I-75 bridge and on the Myakka River above the El Jobean bridge that should get you into some action.
Darst Park (537 Darst Ave., Punta Gorda), located a half-mile upstream of the I-75 bridge, is a good place to start on the Peace River. There are a couple of islands about 400 yards to the north that will break the wind from that direction.
Riverside Park (8120 Riverside Drive, Punta Gorda) is actually on Shell Creek, which has its own flow of fresh water pushing back on the brackish water farther down. Upstream from here is the home of bass and bluegill, but downstream will hold snook and redfish.
Deep Creek Park (9751 SW Peace River Street, Arcadia) is farther up the Peace River, but we have caught both redfish and snook in this area. Fish will sometimes come up this far in response to red tide.
Over on the Myakka River, a few spots come to mind. The El Jobean boat ramp (4224 El Jobean Road, Port Charlotte) has 800 yards of canal that will put you downstream from the bridge on a shoreline protected from north winds. Then you can fish along this protected shoreline to the east, cross over to the west wall, or explore upstream past the Myakka River Motor Coach Resort.
The North Port boat ramp at Marina Park (7030 Chancellor Blvd, North Port) puts you on the Big Slough with its multiple side channels. This area can be good whether in cold weather or as a refuge from red tide. Head downstream and explore the channels on the north side by the manatee sign.
Senator Bob Johnson’s Landing (9083 S Tamiami Trail, Venice) is even further upstream near the U.S. 41 bridge. Launching here and going downriver will get you to where the waters flowing out of Warm Mineral Springs meet the Myakka. This flow of fresh water helps push the red tide back.
An even more reliable trip would be a freshwater launch at any of our local fisheries. Summertime bass fishing is a sport for early or late in the day, leaving plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely siesta in the air conditioning.
Since we’re in the rainy season, there is plenty of fresh, flowing water to explore. A kayak is the perfect solution to the dense shoreline vegetation that borders most lakes and creeks around here. From shore, landing a bass through this stuff is nearly impossible.
A favorite weedless lure for us is a frog imitation. Rigged weedless on a 5/0 wide-gap hook, a Zoom Horny Toad is easy to fish around dense cover. Take some along and head to Shell Creek, Webb Lake, or any of the canals above a spillway to catch some bass, bluegill or channel cats where red tide never goes.
Kimball and Les Beery, authors of the waterproof “Angler’s Guide to Shore Fishing Southwest Florida” and “Angler’s Guide to Kayak Fishing Southwest Florida,” contribute these columns to promote the excellent fishing available in Southwest Florida. Their books are available at most tackle shops in the area, AnglerPocketGuides.com, or Amazon as a download or hard copy.