Red tide aside, Florida’s Gulf Coast always worth a visit

Capt. Ryan Kane, of Southern Instinct Charters, was seeing red as we met at the Port Sanibel Marina at 8 a.m. No, not red as in red tide, but red as in being mad that our trip ran into a glitch due to weather. There was no reason to meet early due to the fact that a storm was coming down the Gulf Coast of Florida and bringing with it some unwelcome winds. We were going to stay close to home and go with our Plan B … or Plan C. There are always alternatives.

The initial plan was a 50-mile offshore run to the Fantastico, a 200-foot Honduran freighter that sank in the Gulf of Mexico off Fort Myers during the “No Name” storm of 1993. The Gulf of Mexico doesn’t have a lot of structure. Throw in a sunken ship or a radio tower and they become fish magnets.

This time of year should have been good for gag grouper around the wreckage. Yellow snapper, kingfish, cobia, amberjack – you never know what you’re going to catch. That shipwreck will now be a future bucket-list item and something to look forward to in our next trip to The Sunshine State.

Shielded from the wind by Sanibel Island, Kane chose to explore around an artificial reef made from the spoils of the old Sanibel Causeway, built the beginning of this century. Helping on the trip was Kane’s new partner, Capt. Matt Hetrick, of Fort Myers.

Right away, we noticed some birds diving on baitfish near the reef. If there’s baitfish, there’s usually predator fish. We worked the area back and forth a few times as we marked spots on the GPS to identify reef piles that were holding fish, for now and for future reference. These waypoints can be invaluable. They didn’t work today. It could have been the wind or it could have been water temperature.

After several hours of trying and with the wind kicking up a notch, we decided to anchor at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. Using live shrimp for bait, we worked the water for better than an hour, managing to catch one snook and losing a couple of other unidentified fish. We decided to return to the marina and target snook in the harbor, and did very well using the live shrimp.

Kane noted that it’s been a tough year because of the threat of red tide, a type of harmful algal bloom. While it doesn’t directly impact his fishing adventures because of where he fishes, he did have more cancellations than he would have liked due to the media hype the area received this past year.

Red tide has been around for a long time. It was first documented along the Gulf Coast in the 1840s. Experts are still trying to figure out what causes it. The Florida Wildlife Commission conducts daily monitoring at http://myfwc.com/redtidestatus.

Every time we come to visit the Fort Myers/Sanibel area of southwestern Florida, we seem to stumble onto a different adventure, be it fishing, birdwatching, shelling or just general outdoor recreation. If you like fishing the surf or just casting different areas, there are plenty of spots to wet a line. From piers to rocky shorelines, from beaches to bridges, fish are plentiful and fun to catch.

Sanibel Island is one of those places that offers a wide variety of hidden secrets. The area breeds excitement. If you don’t believe me, pick up a copy of a Randy Wayne White book that is part of the Doc Ford Series. Based out of Sanibel Island, the fictional writings are tough to put down.

One of our favorite spots is the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. It’s a bird lover’s dream and the spot I saw my first Roseate spoonbill and wood stork many years ago. If you are ever in the area, this NWR is a must see. Go when they first open at 7 a.m., and make sure you bring your fishing rod and camera.

As far as accommodations, we based our operations out of the Sundial Beach Resort and Spa. In addition to having prime beach access, plenty of dining options and activities galore that include kayaking, paddleboarding, biking and more, the Sundial is home to the Sanibel Sea School. This unique opportunity teaches guests about these very marine ecosystems, including the bird life and the shells you will find along the 50-some-miles of public beaches in Lee County. What a great idea as you expand your knowledge of the area to understand how everything interacts. We will be back.

Categories: Blog Content, New York – Bill Hilts Jr

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