One of our favorite kayak launches on Gasparilla Island is at the east end of 19th Street in Boca Grande. To find it, you’ll need to turn east on 18th Street then go north a block to 19th Street. This is an easy launch that you can back a vehicle down to, eliminating the need for a dolly.
The grass flats to the east can be nearly dry on a negative low tide, but there are deeper channels along the mangroves west and south of this area. Use the wind to drift across this shallow flat while targeting the sand holes for trout and redfish. Paddling due east will bring you to a deep cut between Hoagen Key and Three Sisters Island, which concentrates a lot of moving water and bait in that area. Target this area with a few casts, and watch for snook using this moving water to ambush a meal.
If you paddle along the south shoreline, you’ll find mangroves between the docks and a slightly deeper channel for boat access. If you head north, the mangrove shoreline borders a boat channel for high-speed cruisers, which we try to avoid. Both routes take a paddler past some great habitat for gamefish, but each area requires a little different rigging.
The docks along the southern shoreline offer deeper water that holds redfish, black drum, sheepshead and snook on a low tide. Under these docks is a good place for a freelined shrimp with a little splitshot sinking slowly to the bottom. Leave it there for a minute or two. With lures, use the same technique. It’s like fishing a mangrove shoreline — if you aren’t hitting a dock piling every now and then, you might cast a little closer. Avoid hitting the boats, and never, ever, get on a dock to retrieve your rig.
For the shallows, we use a light sixteenth-ounce jighead with a shad tail that matches the color of baitfish we see. For deeper grassflats, we switch to an eighth-ounce jighead. We also toss plastic shrimp and crab imitations into the mangroves, sand holes and under docks. Their slow descent can trigger a strike.
Be sure to cast under the outer branches of the mangroves, even if you must skip the lure in there. Often the difference between a great cast and catching a mangrove tree is less than an inch. If you aren’t catching an occasional mangrove branch, you aren’t casting close enough. Accuracy will reward you with some quality fish.
Try to keep your kayak an easy cast from the shoreline and you may be able to lure a snook or redfish away from the mangrove roots before they pull you into the jungle. Once they get back in the roots, with your line and rod tangled in the branches, the game is over (and you lost).
On a recent trip to Hoagen Key, we found a few fish by drifting across the shallow flat in the middle of the bay and casting to sand holes. The tide was starting to come in and the fish were moving up onto the flat. It was exciting to see fish charging from the edge of a sand hole to grab the jig when it swam by.
After a lunch stop on Hoagen Key, which is one of the few free public camp sites in the Gasparilla area, we fished the eastern side of the key. While there, we saw what appeared to be a school of jack crevalle crashing baitfish along the shoreline and heading toward our kayaks at the north end of the island. Soon, a school of a half-dozen snook raced past us in a foot of water. A quick cast ahead of them led to an immediate hookup. Seeing a school of snook chasing bait was a first for us. Later, Kimball hooked up with a big “redfish” that morphed into a stingray when it finally came to the kayak after a lengthy sleigh ride.
So, if you’re looking for an easy launch with shady parking for the car and great fishing just a few paddle strokes away, 19th Street in Boca Grande just might work. Here, you’ll find productive flats, surrounded by mangroves and docks with scenic Hoagen Key for a lunch spot. Try it — we think you’ll like it.
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.