As much as I love Mexican food, sometimes I want to experience some different flavors. And as much as I love the fishing in our backyard, sometimes I want to go try some things that you just can’t do on the Harbor. So let’s take a look at some of the amazing opportunities that are within easy reach of Southwest Floridians.
Lakes Ida and Osborne
These canal-linked lakes on the East Coast can be fished from land, with lots of bridges and a couple parks that offer decent access, but there are a lot more spots that require a boat. Small boats are ideal — you’ve got some low bridges to go under, so a stripped-down bass boat will fit a lot better than your tower skiff.
There are lots of species here: Butterfly peacock bass and pacu from the Amazon, clown knifefish from the Indian tropics, dozens of cichlids from Africa and Central America, plus of course the native bass and sunfish.
TACKLE: You can use any rod you’d use for seatrout or largemouth bass. The lighter it is, the more fun you’ll have.
RIGS: For larger gamefish, smaller live shiners are king here. The peacocks and clown knifefish love them. The good news is that you don’t need the big wild ones. Baits in the 4- to 6-inch range are perfect. If you like artificials, a lipped plug in the same size range is good. For taking on smaller fish, red wigglers or Beetle Spins will get a lot of attention.
Myakka River State Park
This park is in Sarasota County along State Road 72. Shore access is limited here, though there are a couple creeks and bridges where you could make a cast, plus a levee near the boat ramp. You don’t need a big boat, though — a kayak or canoe is about right. Bass, crappie, tilapia, bluegills and shellcracker share the water with lots of alligators and thousands of wading birds of all types.
And no, the gators don’t pose a threat to your paddlecraft, since they haven’t been fed and are leery of close approaches. (Still, if one gets too close for comfort, it’s a good idea to back down.)
If the bite is slow, that’s OK. The trails offer a sort of time travel — riding back into Florida’s past, before it was overwashed by a tide of people. There’s a huge number of wild creatures that live here, from deer and bobcats to quail and fox squirrels.
TACKLE: As for Ida and Osborne. For panfishing, a true ultralight outfit is a hoot.
RIGS: Minnows, worms and crickets are great for the panfish, and bass like shiners. Personally, I keep it simple with Beetle Spins or small inline spinners to catch it all.
Old U.S. 41 south of Naples
This is one of the coolest stretches of road for the land-based angler. There are hundreds of places where you can pull off the side of the pavement and wet a line. Since you’re in the Everglades, you’ll have many species that might take your baits. You’ll find that different locations will be better for some fish than others.
For example, one spot near Naples (and no, I can’t tell you exactly where it is because someone else showed it to me) routinely produces tiny tarpon and juvenile snook, but only a few oscars and Mayan cichlids. Other areas will be loaded with bass or with cichlids, but you’ll never know what you might hook on the next cast. For the meat hunter, this is a great trip — there’s no bag limit on the cichlids, and it’s usually easy to load a cooler.
TACKLE: There are lots of places here where you don’t have a lot of room to swing a rod, so shorter is often better. On the other hand, where you have room to cast a fly rod, that’s some serious fun. Either way, light tackle will maximize your enjoyment.
RIGS: A minnow or wiggler under a float works great, or you can throw small artificials. Beetle Spins, the smallest Rapala minnows and crappie jigs are all excellent.
This is a huge estuary that is much more different from Charlotte Harbor than you might think, considering they’re less than 80 miles apart. There are piers and bridges for land-based fishing. The old Skyway bridge is now an immensely popular state park and fishing pier. It’s $4 per vehicle plus $4 per person to go, but there’s no other pier in the state that offers the level of access this one does — and since you’re parking on the bridge, you’re close to your vehicle. No long walk here.
The Bay ranges from the deepwater channel at the mouth to grassy flats much like the ones we see in Charlotte Harbor. Some fish are the same, but there are differences too. There are fewer snook and a lot more black sea bass. Naturally, you’ll have a lot of ground to cover to figure out the best spots, but that’s what exploring new water is all about.
TACKLE: About what we use here. For fishing the Skyway Pier, you might want some heavier tackle. Some bigger fish such as gag grouper, cobia and kingfish are regular catches here.
RIGS: Live shrimp and soft plastic baits are great for searching the shallows. For the pier, I like to have both free-lined and weighted rigs to fish both high and low.
Of course, if you want to roam farther, the Florida Keys are beautiful and offer both flats fishing and true reef fishing (as in, there’s actually a coral reef) within a couple miles of each other. The Indian River and Mosquito Lagoon are legendary for big trout and huge inshore redfish, and although those estuaries have had their share of problems in recent years, the fishery is still productive. The Atlantic Ocean off West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale brings blue-water big game fish within sight of shore.
Really, Florida has an embarrassment of riches in the “places to go fishing” department. You can explore as many as your schedule and sense of adventure allow. Get yourself out of that rut and go try something completely new — it’s good for you.
Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle, located at 4425-D Tamiami Trail in Charlotte Harbor and at 14531 N. Cleveland Ave. in North Fort Myers. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing info, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.