Saturday, October 20, 2007

Charlotte Harbor/Gulf Islands Adventures...

Charlotte Harbor/ Gulf Islands Attractions for Fishing Families in Florida


Jan Stephen Maizler


My first experience with Charlotte Harbor showed me what truly immense Florida marine habitat looks like- I simply was not used to losing sight of two opposite enclosing shorelines while I sat midway in the "bay" as mackerel struck with abandon and skyrocketed into groups of minnows and whitebait. I was out on Captain Ralph Allen's 18- foot Hewes Redfisher, which is one vessel out of his nine-vessel cruise and charter King Fisher Fleet (1-941-639-2628, 1-941-639-0969

As the mackerel "footballed" - a Captain Allenism- we caught half a dozen fish for pictures and moved down -way down!- to Cape Haze Point. This was for the purposes of acquiring the four kinds of bait that was to make this a banner day with multiple slams of snook, redfish, and trout.

Captain Ralph used a jack mackerel, bread, and seawater combination chum to net small whitebaits, large whitebaits, and small pinfish. We moved closer to the Cape Haze Bar to jig up some ladyfish to use as chunk baits.

After the bait catching was done, we fished about five miles of the straight Cape Haze shoreline. Captain Ralph would motor his skiff to one hundred yards off each of his hotspots, then pole his skiff the rest of the way. His next step was to chum the shoreline where snook would be holding on “structure”- this very same shoreline would provide the travel contours for cruising “high water” redfish.

The specific chum baits were bits of ladyfish and small whitebait. While we kept the live pinfish as back-up baits, it was never necessary to use them as the large live whitebaits caught numerous snook, trout, and small redfish, while the ladyfish chunks resulted in some big redfish that fought like junkyard dogs.

We ended our day live-chumming a dock a few miles from Fishermen’s Village and had the snook at a constant boil. We had many strikes, loads of cutoffs, and one released snook before a thunderstorm drove us back to our homeport at the Village.


My base of operations was Fishermen's Village Resort (1-941-639-8721, 1-800-639-0020 – in Punta Gorda. I loved this destination, which truly is one-stop shopping for anglers arriving with or without boats. It boasts a huge marina, launching ramp, full boat services, the entire King Fisher charter fleet, tennis court, pool, well-appointed and beautiful waterfront rooms, multiple boutique shops, and five restaurants- there was simply no need for me to leave this facility in five days! There were also many non-anglers and their families I met at Fishermen's Village who were thoroughly enjoying their stay. The day I left, this resort facility filled up with tournament redfishermen who were headquartered there.


The next day, we traveled inland to catch the Swamp Buggy Eco-Tour at Babcock Wilderness Adventures (1-800-500-5583

This tour took about ninety minutes and featured environs, flora, and fauna that were stunning, educational, and downright enjoyable. The tour is set in the heart of inland Florida inside the 74,000 acre Crescent B Ranch.

The Swamp Buggy took us through four types of eco-systems: open prairie, pine flat-woods, cypress swamp, and fresh water marsh. We spotted anhingas, cormorants, alligators, historic cracker cattle, deer, wild pigs, and wild turkeys in our tour through the bush.

Of some note is that the Sean Connery movie, “Just Cause” was filmed at the Crescent B Ranch. I found that this destination was just perfect as a place where a fishing family could spend a novel day “off.” It’s also a great place for non-angling friends and family while the fishing guys or girls are busy catching gamesters in Charlotte Harbor.


After our inland eco-experience, we traveled northeast to the city of Placida, which fronts a coastal stretch of Cape Haze. Conveniently located on the shores of Gasparilla Sound, the Fishery Restaurant (1-941-697-2451 welcomes “drive-ins, walk-ins, swim-ins and float-ins.”

The Albritton family of Placida –north of Charlotte Harbor- has done far more than simply construct a landmark Olde Florida eatery. They also offer visitors and locals family-built arts and crafts, collectibles, and Florida memories through their Placida Cove Gifts and Crafts, Margaret Albritton Gallery, and the Placida Museum. The Albritton’s also own the adjacent Placida Fish Market where fresh shrimp, and seasonally available scallops, oysters, crabmeat, and stone crabs are sold to patrons desiring to create their own mouth-watering meals.

The meal was memorable and began with fried Gator Bites served with key lime mustard. The balance of our repast consisted of the Famous Fishery Gumbo, sautéed scallops, mahi-mahi sandwiches, and key lime pie- all the dishes were well-presented, subtly cooked, and delicious.

This entire complex is perfect for land and water-based anglers and their families to drive right up- as we left, I saw anglers tying off three bay boats at the dock and then enter the Fishery. In addition, there’s a funky Floribbean bar at the entrance for adults to enjoy a libation before their meal.


I was thoroughly excited at the prospect of kayaking the afternoon away through the mangrove creeks of Gasparilla Sound and Coral Creek. The expert(s) who would provide us and guide us were Captain Marian Schneider’s Grande Tours
(1-941-697-8825,, 12575 Placida Road, Placida, Florida).

While Grande Tours offers five other experiences- Captain Marian’s Choice, Don Pedro State Park, Sunset Tour, Watchable Wildlife, and Kid’s Fishing- it was the last tour
I was really interested in, which was the fishing excursion. The time and timing of our arrival would make the fishing tour less successful, so the afternoon was devoted to the exploration of the Coral Creek complex.

In a perfectly executed example of “never say never”, our trip through Coral Creek yielded sightings, blowouts, and boils of loads of redfish and snook...and there I was without tackle or lures! Though it was frustrating, it was primarily enticing and gives me yet another reason to return as soon as I could to this vast, fruitful, and pristine area.

I was also glad to see that my recollections of Hurricane Charley were merely that. I saw no substantial evidence of its’ passing. To the contrary, the entire Charlotte Harbor/Gulf Island area of southwest Florida is thriving and growing, while at the same time preserving the untouched wilderness that makes this area such a paradise for fishing families.

Jan Maizler

Friday, October 19, 2007

Resumption of SOFLA Fall Fishing.....

The last three weeks had taken me away to some wonderful destinations: South Seas Island Resort at Captiva Island, Fishermen's Village at Punta Gorda/Charlotte Harbor, and Gamboa Rainforest Resort in Gamboa, Panama. Week number four left me free to resume my pursuit of what was left of the fall mullet run that began to traverse the shores of the Gold Coast about a month ago.

Since the summery weather persists with today "arriving" partly cloudy with some showers and south-southeast winds of 15 m.p.h., I chose to fish the bridges of north Biscayne Bay at night. I'm glad to report that some mullet were still in evidence, though their density and distribution differed from bridge to bridge. In my lure choice, I matched the hatch by using swimming plugs. By the time my sweaty wee-hours efforts came to an end, I'd released a large snook of about fifteen pounds and a tarpon of about thirty pounds.

It's midday now. My glance outside affords me a view of palm-filled greenery baked in bright sunshine and basted in the almost-visible moisture of a humid back-to-summer day. I'm longing to see the southbound buzzards fill our skies and make circles over Miami, while the wind winds up and pitches a cool delivery out of the northwest.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Back from Gamboa Rainforest Resort...

In a delightful whirlwind of three days of fishing, dining, eco-trekking, and adventuring at Gamboa Rainforest Resort, I'm jazzed! The fishing from the Chagres River and well into the Panama Canal was excellent! I fished with Captain Benjy Serrano and eco-guide Nodiel. My personal release results of 47 peacock bass to 6 pounds, a chunky freshwater snook, countless crappies and a rare sabalo pinton on ultralight 4-pound spin were spiced by sightings of loads of white-faced capuchin monkeys, manatee, otters, coatimundi, and passing flocks of bright blue butterflies.

The best part of this fishery is that there are no painful, multi-legged, and time-consuming forays into the Amazon. Gamboa lies only less than an hour outside of Panama City, Panama! I literally hopped a plane from Miami to Tocumen airport, where I was picked up by an air-conditioned Gamboa Resort van, and was fishing and hooking up on peacocks two hours later.

The lush jungle that surrounds Gamboa Rainforest Resort ( was striking, vast, and replete with exotic plants and birdlife. It seemed at times I was fishing at the dawn of earth's creation.

The resort's physical plant, landscaping, accomodations, cuisine, services, activities and amenities are absolutely first-class. I'll be writing about of all of this and more shortly. But for now, my thanks and hello to new lifetime friends Edgar, Luis, Chicho, Katarina, Benjy, Nodiel, and of course, Holly!


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Mullet Run Arrives!...

North Biscayne Bay is loaded with large schools of finger mullet, possibly the largest fall aggregation in years. In the flat calm conditions, presenting artificials to the snook and tarpon hitting the bait was like serving up a gumball at the diamond counter at Tiffanys- easily inspected and rejected! Additionally, there were surprisingly few predators- given the table spread expanse of finger mullet seemingly everywhere. I did blow out two large snook laid right up against seawalls and shorelines- these tight feeding "ops" presented courtesy of fall flood tides, a week of onshore winds, and five straight days of heavy rain.

Let's hope the mullet persist for a few weeks.