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Sporting Life on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

As one can imagine, there is no shortage of sports activity in the Sunshine State, so travel agents seeking options for clients who are sports enthusiasts can take a look at The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. Here, choices include world-class fishing, golfing, baseball and hockey, to name a few; and agents may be surprised at just how much there is to do in the world of sports on this tropical island getaway.

Fishing

The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel on the Gulf of Mexico in Southwest Florida offers myriad inshore and offshore fishing opportunities, from shorelines, bridges and piers to deep sea casting and backcountry boating. In fact, the destination is considered one of the greatest areas in Florida for saltwater fly-fishing and light tackle fishing, the fastest growing segments in the industry. The area has earned its reputation as a “fisherman’s paradise,” with many world-record fish catches in its waters.

Inshore fishing

Inshore fishing supplies great year-round opportunities to catch snook, redfish, spotted seatrout, sheepshead, crevalle jack, mangrove snapper and other species. Inshore fishing areas include mangrove shorelines, beaches, open flats, bridges, piers, docks and the many passes and inlets to the Gulf of Mexico.

For non-residents over the age of 16, The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel requires licenses to fish from a pier, bridge, dock or beach. Florida residents fishing from land or a structure fixed to land do not need a license.

A fishing license authorizes anglers to attempt to take or possess fish in compliance with state and federal regulations of The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Offshore fishing

Offshore fishing continues as an excellent way to find shark, grouper, bonito, barracuda, permit, black fin tuna, cobia, and Spanish and king mackerel. These can be caught above the many natural and artificial reeds offshore. Southwest Florida is reputed to have some of the best grouper grounds in the state. Sight casting to tripletails gathered around floating objects is fast becoming a favorite fishing method.

Tarpon Fishing Sports-fishing for tarpon has a long history as a favorite for area visitors. Fighting tarpon are one of the world’s most sought-after fish for good reason. One of the largest tarpon migrations in the world takes place annually off the shores of The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. Thousands of these might fish migrate through Boca Grande Pass and the reefs off Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach during April, May and June. Some even reside here year-round, but migrate season is the best time to ensure success at this sport.

Anglers seek tarpon different ways. In Boca Grande Pass (known as the “Tarpon Capital of the World”), they use a controlled drift-fishing technique with heavy tackle and live bait from 30- to 30- foot boats. Along the beaches of Sanibel & Captiva Islands, Boca Grande, and the outer Cayo Costa, as well as in backcountry waters, anglers pursue tarpon in smaller boats and flat skiffs.

Freshwater fishing

Freshwater fishing in the Fort Myers and Sanibel area runs all year long. Inland waters abound with eating fish like bass, crappie, blue gill and catfish as well as shellcrackers and oscars. Anglers use cane poles, plug casting outfits, spinning reels or fly rods. Baits of choice include plastic worms, wild shiners, artificial lures, cricket.

Freshwater sources virtually surround land areas, with the Caloosahatchee River leading off hundreds of miles of canals and both natural and manmade lakes and ponds throughout the area. Anglers may go it alone or hire a guide. Knowledgeable captains can be contacted through local tackle shops. Bass clubs also are excellent sources of information, welcoming visitors to participate in meetings and tournaments.

Boating fishing

One of the best choices for agents’ clients is the offshore commercial party boats. There is no age limit; they do not require a fishing license; and they supply all tackle.

Boats range from 60 to 100 feet, have onboard restrooms and typically provide a small galley. Fees for half-day and all-day trips are affordable. Anglers usually return to shore with strings of grunts, grouper, lane and mangrove snapper or Spanish and king mackerel.

Most boats for hire are found on Fort Myers Beach. Sportsmen and women with any degree of fishing expertise also can charter a boat with a fishing guide for a half day or full day.

No fishing license is required. Spin, plug or fly tackle is furnished, but guests can bring their own gear. Target fish vary through the year. Charters cost from a couple of hundred to several hundred dollars for the day.

Fishing regulations

Fishing licenses can be obtained from the Lee County Tax Collector at six county locations (call {239}-339-6000), most sporting goods stores, tackle shops and marinas. Prices vary from $17 to $31.50 per year, depending on the type of license purchased. Information on fishing regulations and closed seasons for specific types of fish can be acquired from the same locations and through the Florida Marine Patrol at (239) 332-6966.

Golf

In addition to booking great fishing vacations for their clients on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, travel agents also consider the destination when seeking a great golf vacation. With more than 95 golf courses, the area provides a wealth of opportunity for any client looking to enjoy a day on the links. Combine an abundance of municipal, daily fee and private courses with ideal weather (an average annual temperature of 73.3 degrees), and it’s easy to see why agents regard Southwest Florida as a veritable golf heaven.

“It’s a great place to be whether you’re a golfer or not,” says Rich Lamb, director of golf at Eastwood Golf Course and the Fort Myers Country Club, both in Fort Myers. “Pricewise, it’s outstanding. Whatever you can afford, you’ll find something in that range. The climate is ideal and golfers have many courses from which to choose.”

Choices include challenging courses like the 6,400- yard, par- 72 Eastwood course, ranked among the Top 50 public course in the nation by “Golf Digest” with a four-star rating. Of the many public courses, less-experienced golfers as well a senior players have their pick of executive courses.

One of the newest area courses open to the public, Raptor Bay Golf Club in Bonita Springs, has golfers talking. This 18-hole course, designed by golf legend Raymond Floyd, debuted in 2001 as the first resort course in U.S. history to receive Audubon Internal’s Gold Certificate. Designed in harmony with its lush natural surroundings, the 6,702-yard, par-71 course is adjacent to a 144-acre nature preserve where lucky golfers might spot an eagle or gopher tortoise.

The 7,000- yard, par Lochomoor Country Club, a well-manicured semi-private facility, presents one of many options in North Fort Myers.

The scenic Riverbend executive course and El Rio Country Club are public; Del Tura Country Club, called the finest executive course in southwest Florida, is semi- private. The Alden Pines Country Club on peaceful Pine Island wins approval with a gorgeous 5,800-yard course, par-71.

Semi-private courses in Fort Myers include the executive course at Golfview Golf & Racquet Club, the beautiful 18-hole, 71- par San Carlos Golf Course and the 18-hole, par-72 Gateway Golf and Country Club.

Lehigh Acres gives golfers another view of paradise. The 7,043-yard Mirror Lakes Golf Club is well designed and mature. The challenging Cypress Pines Country Club sponsors a lushly landscaped 18-hole, par-72 championship course. Yet another choice, the 6,280-yard, par-72 Westminster Golf Club lures golfers to Lehigh Acres year after year.

Sanibel Island has made room among its treed roadways and nature preserves for courses at the Dunes Golf & Tennis Club, a 5,600-yard, par-70 challenge, and the Beach View Club’s 18-holes. Adjacent Captiva Island, connected to Sanibel by a bridge, has nine holes that hotel guests play twice for par-72 on the Gulf of Mexico at South Seas Island Resort. According to South Sea’s PGA pro Mark Haluska, “South Seas offers just the right blend of good course, design, weather and atmosphere.”

Fort Myers Beach on Estero Island boasts the 3,091-yard, par-60 Bay Beach Golf Club. In addition, golf enthusiasts can take advantage of exceptional opportunities to attend prominent tournaments headline by some of the sport’s greatest names.

Baseball, Hockey & More

There’s more to southwest Florida sports than spring baseball training. The Fort Myers and Sanibel area touts two of the 18 major league teams in the Florida Grapefruit League and a Florida State League team.

However, baseball isn’t the only hit in southwest Florida.

Ice hockey has taken residents and vacationers by storm. In 1998 the Florida Everglades made their permanent home here.

Baseball has a long and grand tradition on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. In 1925, the Philadelphia Athletics became the first major league club to train in Fort Myers. The Athletics played for 12 years at Terry Park. From 1939 to 1940, the Cleveland Indians made Fort Myers their spring training headquarters. Fourteen years later, in 1995, the Pittsburgh Pirates arrived, welcomed by a renovated Terry park stadium. The Kansas City Royals came in 1968 and stayed for 20 years. Each team went on to win the World Series!

The renovated Century Link Sports Complex once known as the Lee County Sports Company Hammond Stadium serves as spring training headquarters for the AL Central Division Champion Minnesota Twins. This new sports complex serves as the summer home for the Fort Myers Miracle, the class “A” team associated with the twins.

The original, 1991 stadium was named for William “Bill” Hammond, the assistant county administrator who spearheaded the project from inception. The newly renovated stadium was completed in February 2015. This state of the art complex now seats 9,300 viewers, four major league practice fields, an agility field, a new 360 degree boardwalk, and a concourse.

The Minnesota Twins are the fifth team in more than 65 years to train in Lee County. In 1988 Lee County began pursuing the team, which commenced their spring training here in 1991. It was the first time the entire Twins organization had operated from the same place. Immediately on the heels of this auspicious spring training, the Twins went on to become World Champions. Lee County recently inked a deal with the Twins that will keep them in Fort Myers for Spring Training through 2020. The Class "A" Fort Myers Miracle became affiliated with the Minnesota Twins in 1993, following its first season in Southwest Florida.

JetBlue Park, is the spring training home of the 2013 World Series Champions Boston Red Sox. This 10,823-seat stadium, built in 2012, is a field replicated to look like Fenway Park. JetBlue Park at Fenway South captures elements of Southwest Florida, including seashells within its brick foundation and the architecture of the white roof, mimicking cypress trees in the distance.

Environmentally-sustainable features are incorporated throughout the facility and Complex. The field provides six practice fields, other adjoining facilities that house both the Major and Minor League operations, and a rehabilitation center.

In 1993, the Boston Red Sox left Winter Haven, Florida, and headed to Fort Myers to begin their spring training.

The Red Sox and Lee County struck an agreement in 2004 to extend the club’s stay in Fort Myers through 2019. Upon winning the 2004 World Series, the Red Sox became the fifth Major League team to win the Series after training in Lee County.

Recently, ice hockey has found a new market of excited fans in Lee County. In 1998, the ECHL’s Florida Everblades played their inaugural season in Germain Arena, a major presence on 30 acres in south Lee County just down the road from Florida Gulf Coast University. The Florida Everblades belong to the ECHL national hockey league and compete with 30 franchises from across the country. Since the team’s inception, fans have filled an average 90 percent of game seats. Games run October through April.

In addition to the main arena at Germain, the complex features two other NHL regulation-sized ice rinks, a year-round restaurant with 27 televisions, a lounge, a private club and luxury suites. Germain Arena’s recreational rinks provide children and adults practice time for ice hockey and figure skating as well as classes in both sports.

For additional information on planning a golf vacation to The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, visit www.fortmyers-sanibel.com.

Editors’ Note: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel include: Sanibel Island, Captiva Island, Fort Myers Beach, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Estero, Cape Coral, Pine Island, Boca Grande & outer islands, North Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres. Images available upon request.