Hook the big one.

This is "The Tarpon Capital of the World" and home to "The Fishingest Bridge in the US.," names earned by reputation for delivering the kind of experiences anglers don't have to exaggerate. Whether you are offshore, on the flats or surf fishing, when you find the right spot you'll know it because the fish will be biting.

Fishing Tips for Fort Myers and Sanibel Waters

"Options abound for fishing Fort Myers Sanibel area waters -- guided or solo, inshore or offshore, party or chartered excursions."

What’s Out There When
No matter what time of year you visit The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, the fishing is phenomenal. Temperate waters welcome large game fish in the spring like our famous tarpon and grouper, and year-round catches of succulent snapper and redfish are common.

In the warm summer months, try fishing near piers and jetties in the early morning, before the water heats up. Later in the day, stick to channels and passes, especially during incoming tides.

Winter fishing moves inshore. This is high season for flats fishing, especially for snook and big trout. Spring and fall allow you to make good use of Lee County's hundreds of miles of waterways, where you'll find cobia, Spanish mackerel, amberjack and more.

Savvy Fisherman’s Guide to Guides
If you plan to hire a guide, here are some key points to keep in mind.

1. Fees start at $200 for a half-day (four-hour) trip. Six-hour and eight-hour trips are also available. Clients usually tip guides after a successful fishing experience, ranging from $20 to $50 per trip.
2. The guide will provide the boat, license, fishing gear, equipment and bait. Bring a hat, polarized sunglasses, food and drink, and sunblock.
3. Guides will clean and filet the catches that are kept and the guide can help you take enough photos that a taxidermist can help replicate the "big one."

Pointers for Solo Fishermen
If you’re fishing without a guide, here are a few additional pointers.

1. Edges of sea grass beds hold many types of predatory fish, but troll or pole over the shallow grass flats to prevent propeller damage to these critical marine nurseries. Remember to watch for slow zones in manatee habitat areas.
2. Fishing on slack or weak tides is rarely good. Consult tide charts, and fish during strong running tides.
3. Keep bait lively and moving to attract the big fish and to keep crabs from stealing it.
4. Many fish will seek refuge near docks, boats, navigational aids, bridge abutments, etc.
5. The phases of the moon are important. A bright, full moon allows fish to eat all night, making them less hungry in the morning. Fishing is often better during moonrise or moonset.

Party Boats
Party boats offer an excellent fishing experience to anglers of all ages. The fishing license and all tackle are provided. Boats range from 60-100 feet long and have restrooms. Average cost for a half-day trip is $25 per person, $40 for a full day.

Charter Boats
Charter boats include personalized instruction from an experienced guide. Anglers can charter a captain and a boat for a half- or full-day trip. No fishing license is required. Tackle is furnished, or you can bring your own gear. Prices range from $200 for a half day to $400 for a full day.

Shore Fishing
Beaches, piers, bridges and docks provide excellent fishing to people of all ages and experience levels. A saltwater license is required for non-residents older than 16.

Scout Your Fishing Spot

"Whether you choose inshore or offshore, saltwater or freshwater, you'll find plenty of fish."

Saltwater Fishing
Angling can be highly productive, whether you're fishing from the beach, piers or bridges, or by boat in the backcountry, inshore or offshore. This area is known as a "fisherman's paradise." Saltwater fly fishing and light tackle fishing are the fastest-growing segments in the fishing industry, and Lee County is considered one of the greatest areas in Florida to pursue this type of angling. In fact, several world-record fish have been caught in these waters.

Inshore Fishing
Lee County has fishing year 'round for snook, tarpon, redfish, spotted seatrout, sheepshead, jack crevalle, mangrove snapper and many other varieties of fish. These gamefish can be caught along the mangrove shorelines, over the open flats, around bridges, piers, docks or by wade fishing along the beaches or drifting the many passes and inlets that lead to the Gulf of Mexico.

Offshore Fishing
Lee County is well known for some of the best grouper in Florida and the abundant waters are filled with shark, bonito, barracuda, permit, cobia and Spanish and king mackerel. Sight-casting for tripletail gathered around floating objects is fast becoming a favorite among anglers, as well as casting lines around the natural or the many artificial reefs offshore.

Freshwater Fishing
Freshwater fishing is abundant and accessible all year long. The species of fish most often targeted by anglers are bass, crappie, blue gill, shellcrackers, catfish and oscars. Commonly used tackle includes cane poles, plug-casting reels, spinning reels and fly rods, and baits range from live worms and shiners to plastic worms and crank baits. Popular freshwater fishing areas include the freshwater canals in Cape Coral, the Caloosahatchee River and lakes and ponds throughout Lee County. Some lakes and ponds are private property, and permission is needed to fish them.

Florida Grouper Recipes

In the alphabet of The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, G is for grilling. Summer means grilling and grouper, but not always together. It takes an experienced outdoor chef to manage flaky grouper on a grill, but it can be done if you're dying to impress your friends with your Florida cooking prowess. The recipe below gives you one method.

For the kids, the local favorite is grouper fingers. What is this grouper you're hearing so much about, and how did it grow fingers? It's sort of our staple fish. And, no, it doesn’t have fingers. Big and meaty, one large fillet goes a long way and lends itself to a variety of preparations.

The quintessential meal on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel is a fried grouper sandwich. Strips of fried grouper are a favorite ""finger"" food. The recipe below does it one healthier than the traditional by oven-frying the fingers. For best results and a chance for them to play with their food, have the kids form a dipping assembly line to prepare the grouper fingers.

Baked Grouper Fingers
1 pound grouper fillet, cut into 1- to 1½-inch strips1 cup breadcrumbs1 cup cornflake crumbs1/2 tsp. lemon-pepper seasoning (optional)1/4 cup flour1/3 cup liquid egg substitute (or 1 egg), beaten lightly Spray oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 2. Pat grouper fingers dry with paper towel. 3. Combine bread and cornflake crumbs with lemon pepper, if desired, and spread on a plate. 4. Place flour on a separate plate. Pour egg substitute (or lightly beaten egg) in a shallow bowl. 5. Station One on the assembly line rolls the grouper fingers in flour and places them in the egg mixture.6. Station Two dips them in the egg mixture, gently shakes off the excess and passes them on to the crumb plate. 7. Station Three carefully rolls the fingers to cover them in crumbs and arranges them on a cookie sheet that has been sprayed liberally with oil. 8. Spray oil on top of the fingers and place them in the oven for about 4 minutes. 9. Turn when they begin to brown on the bottom and bake about another 3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets, or until flaky. 10. Serve with lemon wedges and tartar sauce or ketchup.

Ziploc® Grilled Fish
To keep your cookouts quick and clean up easy, marinate your fish in a zipper-lock plastic bag, and toss it when you're done. Presto! Here's one of our favorite marinades:

Margarita Grouper
2 pounds grouper fillet1 cup bottled margarita mixJuice of 1 Key lime (a Persian lime, the grocery-store variety, will do)1 tsp. green Tabasco sauce1 tsp. salt1/4 cup tequila1/2 tbsp. olive oil

1. Cut fillets to make four pieces.2. Mix remaining ingredients in a large zipper-lock plastic bag. 3. Add grouper and refrigerate for at least one hour, turning bag occasionally to redistribute marinade. 4. Oil grill and heat to medium. 5. Carefully place fillets on grill. (Use a grill fish basket if you have one.) 6. Baste the fillets with the marinade and close the grill. 7. Check the fillets after about four minutes to see if they're ready to be flipped; the meat should be opaque and flaky. 8. If they're ready, turn fish and baste the other side with the reserved marinade. 9. Cook until flesh turns opaque and flaky, but do not overcook. 10. Serve with wedges of lime and Mexican beer.
Makes 4 servings."

Fishing the Backcountry Snook

"Find plentiful snook in the area's bays, creeks and rivers. A kayak, a rod and some lures are all you need to snag these challenging game fish. "

A strong incoming tide flushed the baitfish off the grass flats and carried them into the waters of Hell Peckney Bay!

I let my kayak glide with the current and watched as a great blue heron waded through the shallows ahead, looking for an easy meal. As the big bird inched closer to the shoreline, a pair of snowy egrets perched in a nearby mangrove took flight and spooked a fish that had been resting under the overhang.

Judging by the size of the wake, the fish had to be a snook. They love the mangroves because the elaborate root systems give them plenty of places to hide and ambush prey.

Guessing where the fish had gone, I let a top-water lure fly and stopped it 10 feet from the bank. Then, as the tide carried it along, I twitched it once ... twice ... and then the water boiled as the snook found its mark.

Line screamed off the reel as I lifted the rod tip, hoping to steer the fish away from the shoreline and certain escape. For a moment, I thought I had succeeded, but then the line went slack. The fish had wrapped the line around a root, where oyster shells sliced it like a knife.

But no worries. I had a tackle box full of plugs. And the snook? There were plenty more where he came from.

Where the Snook Are
The waters of Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve, San Carlos Bay and Pine Island Sound are blessed when it comes to snook.

"Everything is just right," says Ron Taylor, Florida's top expert on the highly prized game fish. "You have three rivers feeding plenty of fresh water and miles of undeveloped mangrove shoreline that provide a nursery area for the young of the species."

The Peace, Myakka and Caloosahatchee rivers supply the expansive estuary with a seemingly endless supply of baitfish and crustaceans. That’s why the area is widely considered one of the best snook fisheries in the world.

How and Where to Hook
Snook can grow to more than four feet long and weigh more than 50 pounds. The fish prefer shallow water because it offers some protection from sharks and dolphins, so anglers willing to paddle have a distinct advantage over their motor-boating counterparts.

Shallow draft vessels, commonly called "flats boats," are another option for getting into the "skinny" water if they can run in one foot of water or less. An electric trolling motor or poling platform is helpful.

If you're looking to do a little fishing on your own, all you need is a cheap spinning rod, a couple of lures and a rental kayak. Fort Myers Beach is an excellent starting point.

From there it’s a short paddle to well-protected Hurricane and Hell Peckney bays. Nearby Mullock and Hendry creeks are also worth exploring. The waters on both sides of Pine Island are favorite fishing areas.

Live bait, usually pinfish or scaled sardines, are the choice of most professional fishing guides, but anglers looking for more of a challenge will want to use a variety of artificial baits, from hard-bodied plugs to soft-bodied jigs."

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