Happy Boxing Day! If you don’t know how to celebrate Boxing Day, ask a Canadian or a Brit for advice. Boxing Day or not, today stands to be a busy day in Southwest Florida. There are tons of visitors in town for the holiday week, and now that Christmas Day 2019 is just a memory, many of them are looking for “Florida-ish” things to do for the remainder of their stay. Here are some suggestions for things to do in the outdoors.
Get out in the woods
If you’re inclined to do this without getting your feet muddy, then you can go for a drive on the massive 65,000-acre Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area. The entrance is located on Tucker’s Grade just south of Punta Gorda.
You can go for a nice tour without ever leaving blacktop if you take the first right turn past the entry pay station. This puts you on a five-mile paved road that runs for most of its length alongside Webb Lake. At the south end there is a cul-de-sac at which you turn around and head back the way you came. You will almost certainly see some waterbirds, and you’ll have a good chance at spotting a gator or two on the lake.
If you’re just a bit more adventurous and don’t mind driving on a fairly well-groomed gravel road, then after you leave the pay station, keep going straight on Tucker’s Grade for about 8 miles. You’ll drive past numerous flag ponds where waterbirds are often sighted in large flocks, and you’ll pass through areas of pine woods and open prairie. You will eventually find yourself on a causeway with a lake on the left. This is almost a sure bet for spotting gators, especially if it’s sunny.
Small game season is open now, so you might see a few dove, snipe or squirrel hunters about, though most of them won’t be near these roads. But if you are concerned about this, then wait and go tomorrow. Hunting is not allowed at the Webb on Mondays, Tuesdays or Fridays during small game season. And yes, snipe hunting is a real thing.
Go for a boat ride
There is plenty to see on our local waters. Cabbage Key is a locally famous boating destination for a casual lunch, and the more upscale Tarpon Lodge in Pineland is rapidly growing in popularity among boaters too.
For something different, consider a sightseeing jaunt inland up the Peace River. It is navigable for several miles above I-75, though the unusually low tide that’s scheduled for this morning probably means those who are not familiar with the shallows in the river would be better off waiting until higher water this afternoon to make a first-ever trip up there. You might be glad to have that extra foot or two of water in a few of the shallowest areas.
Wet a line
We know that fishing is a big deal in Southwest Florida. If you’re reading this, there is a better-than-even chance that you’re a fisherman. If you’re equipped to head offshore into the Gulf, there are some opportunities for you today (as long as the winds are calm enough). The fall king mackerel run is winding down but is still underway. There have been fish taken in 50 to 70 feet of water in recent weeks, mostly around big schools of bait. There have been some bonita (also called little tunny or false albacore) around those bait schools too.
This is also the last week of gag season before the Jan. 1 closure. Gag fishing has not been particularly great this fall, but there are some gags on nearshore ledges in 30 to 50 feet of water. It’s possible to get that last-of-the-year gag without leaving sight of land.
If inshore fishing is your thing, then you have some choices too. If you find yourself entertaining guests who just want to pull on a fish, then search around the east side bar between Alligator Creek and Burnt Store. There have been numerous schools of jacks cruising that area and they are fun fish to catch. The bushes on both sides of the Harbor have been productive for small snook and redfish, though there won’t be enough water for that fishery in the morning today. Remember that snook, redfish and trout are all closed in this region till the spring.
If you want to put fillets in a skillet on an inshore fishing trip this week, you’ll probably have the best chance by fishing mangrove snapper or sheepshead. There are lots, and I mean lots, of small mangrove snapper in the Harbor. You’ll have to sort through some undersized fish to find keepers, but they are around.
Good luck, and let’s go fishing!
Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at 941-639-2628 or Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.