It’s been a bad winter so far, worse than most, and still a long time before spring. If the cold, snow, bitter winds, and ice are starting to get you down, there’s really only one choice — head south, and for most of us, that means Florida.
But it’s a big state, and the question is: where should you go? I’ve covered this long state from top to bottom, fishing for bass in swamps and blackfin tuna off Key West, and since I love saltwater fishing the place that draws me back is territory along the west coast from Sarasota south. There’s good fishing and lots to do, both for you and the family.
If fishing is a main interest, do keep one thing in mind. Florida’s two worst fishing months are January and February. Action improves dramatically in March, gets even better in April, and so on. So, if you’re fleeing ice and snow, at least wait until mid-March when the water warms and snook and sea trout, redfish and mangrove snappers move shallow and come into range.
On my last trip down there, a couple of years ago, I based first near Sarasota and did some fishing on Little Sarasota Bay. I went out with a guide — always a smart move in new country — and used white jigs to work flats and sea grass areas. The ladyfish were waiting, often called “poor man’s tarpon,” and they put on a show of leaping high and often. The sea trout were hiding in slightly deeper water, but we found them eventually, and made a good catch.
Another favorite hotspot lies just south at Charlotte Harbor. I usually fish out of Fisherman’s Village here, again with a local guide, and never failed to have a good day. On my last visit we fished live shrimp below a small spslitshot, and found nice sea trout hiding near some very expensive homes. Then we went looking for redfish and finally located a pod between two mangrove islands. They were hiding in a little pocket wrapped in deep shadow, and ran up to five pounds.
On another trip to Charlotte Harbor, I fished out of Ponce De Leon Park, and had some of the liveliest fishing I’ve yet enjoyed down there. The guide first threw his cast net a few times to get a live well full of sardines, then we rigged up bobbers with a foot of line below and a lip hooked sardine, and started working the shoreline. We were after snook, and there was never any doubt when one was around. The sardine would start skittering on the surface, even leaping out of the water, then there would be a heavy boil and my arms would snap straight.
I enjoyed more good fishing along the Lee Island Coast, but there’s more here than fishing and my wife and I found plenty of other activities to keep us busy. Sarasota, for example, calls itself “Florida’s Cultural Coast,” and offers everything from an artist’s colony to the Ringling Museum of Art and great shopping at St. Armand’s.
Charlotte Harbor has its own fun activities including a tour of the 61,000-acre Babcock’s Wilderness Adventure, wildlife buggy tours, evening cruises on the harbor and dolphin tours. The Lee Island Coast has some almost unique sports, among them first class sea shelling. Visitors along any coast love to hunt for shells, and such will find good hunting on the public beaches at Sanibel Island and great shelling at beaches like those along Cayo Costa. This island is reachable only by boat, mostly from PIne Island, and visitors can walk the beach for miles seeking whelks and scallops, buttercups and cones.
Don’t forget birdwatching at places like the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve near Ft. Myers, canoeing, kayaking and great seafood all along this west coast. It’s a good cure for winter doldrums, and you can Google up information on any or all by typing up local tourist groups of C of Cs. Give it another few weeks to let fishing improve, then head south. The snowbirds have the right idea.
Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org