What you know and who you know
There’s a saying out there that infers “it’s not what you know but who you know” that translates into success in certain situations. During a recent trip to Southwest Florida, it was a little bit of both – what we knew and who we knew. It turned out to be another excellent series of outdoor adventures as we traveled into the Sunshine State for some fun in the sun.
For nearly a decade, we have been traveling to the beaches for Fort Myers and Lee County (https://www.fortmyers-sanibel.com/) and we have uncovered some outdoor gems that act as a magnet, pulling us back into the region year after year. At the top of the list is Sanibel Island, a unique ecological wonderland filled with outstanding beaches, fish-rich waters, lots of shells and numerous appealing restaurants. Whenever we are on the island, we must drive through Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge – a bird lover’s paradise. It didn’t disappoint and it’s free if you have a current Migratory Bird Conservation Stamp on you.
The love affair with Southwest Florida all started with an invitation from Shelley Crant, Sales and Public Relations Manager with the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau. She has proven to be an invaluable resource for me as a writer and has helped to line up many story opportunities. She and her husband Dan have also become friends through the years. With local charter guys keeping busy on the water, it didn’t seem to work out to spend a half day with a skipper with our schedule. Dan and Shelley invited us to hit the water for 3 hours one morning with them to help make up for it.
From their home on Pine Island, we motored across Pine Island Sound to the Matlacha Preserve and the edge of Charlotte Harbor. As luck would have it, a front came through the night before to make the trip a bit more comfortable in the temperature department, but it brought with it some wind that forced us to fish slightly different waters.
We were using two basic approaches to catch a variety of fish. I was tossing a ¼-ounce Johnson Sprite spoon (the 1/2-ounce size was not available in the store I went to) and they were both tossing Jamfab jigs in ½-ounce size. Dan believes the Johnson Sprite spoon will catch more fish, but the jigs will catch more pompano, one of the fish species we were targeting.
Fishing in 3 to 5 feet of water, we immediately noticed that there was plenty of baitfish around. Birds were diving all around and there seemed to be plenty of other predator fish grabbing a free meal. It was an encouraging sign, even if the conditions weren’t the best. We started catching lizard fish, then managed to catch some sea trout that stretched to 20 inches long. Shelley was doing most of the catching, including a big pompano that went into the livewell with the trout. We ended up with 4 “eater” fish, dinner for the evening.
While we fished we saw dolphins, sting rays, sharks and a wide variety of bird life. It was easy to get lost in the experience. It was a great morning.
The next day, my wife Sandy and I headed to Gasparilla Island and Boca Grande. The weather was perfect and the beaches were deserted. This is the northern fringe of Lee County and we could not believe how accommodating the fish were. Like the day before, there was plenty of baitfish around. Birds were diving on them and we could see larger fish swimming around, too. On my third cast I had a snook on. The season is closed on them so back in the water it went. I ended up catching a few more, as well as a ladyfish, and lost 3 or 4 more in 2 hours fishing. Instead of a gold Johnson Sprite, I went with a gold Kastmaster spoon and it did the trick.
This blog would not be complete without mention about the bird life here. Incredible doesn’t tell the whole story and everywhere you look there are birds flying around or standing in their native habitat. Egrets, herons, wood storks, ospreys, roseate spoonbills, ibis’s, and a long, long list of other water birds. If you come visit this region, make sure you bring a pair of binoculars … and your fishing rod. It won’t take you long to build up your angling knowledge for the area and to make new friends.