Not many kayak launches involve stairs, but this one does. In addition to miles of trails and a picnic pavilion, Lemon Bay Park and Environmental Center is a great spot to get on the bay, even with the stairs. The park is located less than a mile north of downtown Englewood on Old Englewood Road. Plenty of parking for kayakers and their trailers is located about 200 feet from the launch. We recommend a dolly to get your boat from the lot to the top of the stairs.
Getting a kayak down these wooden stairs is easy: Just hold onto the stern and steer as gravity slides your rig to the water. We always rig our kayaks at the car and slide them down the stairs ready to go. On lower tides, you may need to drag your kayak a ways over soft sandy mud to float it. When you get back, dragging your kayak back up the stairs can be an aerobic experience. It helps to unload some of the heavier stuff first.
Once you’ve negotiated this rather unusual launch, you’ll see why we like this area, particularly on an east wind. The shoreline along the mangroves to the north tapers gradually out to the ICW. Other than the soft, irregular bottom, this is a good flat to wade. But using the wind and tidal flow, you can cover a lot more area from a kayak while also avoiding any interactions with the stingrays that frequent these flats.
A short paddle south leads you to a point that drops off to a sandbar and a 3-foot-deep grassflat. Fish tend to hang out east of this sandbar. Using live bait or jigs, work the edge of the bar and the grasses. This is also a good place to get out and wade a bit. Be sure to securely anchor your kayak if you decide to park.
To the east of the bar, you’ll see a small canal where snook hang out under the mangroves and docks. The seawall and riprap to the south of the canal produce snook and jacks that like to corner bait against the rocks. The grass and sandholes south and west of this bar concentrate trout, snook, Spanish mackerel, pompano and redfish. We have even caught sheepshead from the sandholes here.
If you paddle north from the launch area, you’ll notice a shoreline dotted with small sandy beaches. These are great spots to stretch. The grassflats here are popular with wade fishermen, so be sure to give them plenty of room. These flats deepen gradually westward toward the ICW, with 6-foot depths about 200 yards offshore.
We usually try to fish this protected shoreline and flats on an easterly wind. Drift from the shoreline out to the 4- to 6-foot depths near the ICW. This is where you’ll find the best action with spotted seatrout. Once you find some fish at a specific depth, concentrate your efforts there on subsequent drifts. On the higher tides, look for redfish and snook that feed along the mangrove shoreline here.
There are a couple of oyster islands about a half-mile to the north that make a good lunch stop. To prevent nasty cuts, be sure to wear wading boots (not sandals!) around these oyster bars. Wade and cast around these islands with suspended bait, shallow-running jigs or flies. You may hook up with trout, snook, flounder, sheepshead, redfish, jack crevalle, Spanish mackerel or ladyfish. We often wade along the sandbar that runs west from here out towards the ICW.
From these oyster islands, you can keep heading north to the flats around the entrance to Forked Creek or retrace your path back to Lemon Bay Park. If a sea breeze from the west becomes an issue in the afternoon, you can quickly but carefully cross the ICW. We always try to cross at the narrowest point to be able to safely maneuver between high-speed boat traffic.
Fish your way south to Blind Pass Park, which is directly across from Lemon Bay Park on the western shore of Manasota Key. Fish the grassflats around Blind Pass, then paddle carefully back across the channel to the launch. Be sure to watch for manatees on the flats and bald eagles that nest along the shore. Give manatees some space as these gentle giants can unintentionally tip a kayak if you get too close.
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.