Photo By Jeff Dennis
“Capt. Josh Harvel with a nice redfish from Indian Flats”
By Jeff Dennis
Fort Myers International Airport serves as the gateway to some of the last remaining enclaves of Old Florida for visitors in search of a quality angling experience.
The Tarpon Lodge on Pine Island offers lodging, meals, and the best guides to help pursue tarpon and more.
Right across the street from the Tarpon Lodge is the Calusa Heritage Trail, where Indian shell mounds are reminders of the native civilization that once thrived by utilizing the natural resources of both the land and sea.
Perhaps the most innovative design of the Calusa Indians was their extensive use of engineered canals to move shellfish and seafood across Southwest Florida.
Whether fishing at Bokeelia on the north end of Pine Island or south at Matlacha, a kayak is always a solid option to stalk saltwater species. A short paddle down the Great Calusa Blueway leads to Indian Flats where manatees and turtle grass are common.
Anglers use polarized sunglasses to look for conspicuous sandy potholes where fish might be holding. A 7-foot medium action rod is a good choice for casting artificial lures in search of a strike from a snook, jack crevalle, or trout.
Robert Wells III is the owner of the Tarpon Lodge and he makes it clear which fish is his favorite target. “When the snook are biting you can see and hear the activity,” says Wells. “It is impossible to resist.”
The docks at the Tarpon Lodge are just steps away from the inn and Pine Island Sound beckons for exploration. Small islands like Cabbage Key offer miles of shoreline fish habitat, and anglers watch the tides to try and unlock the combination to fishing success.
When it comes to chasing the silver king, the Tarpon Lodge can recommend Captain Scott Hughes and his Backwater Charters.
During the peak months for tarpon, including May, June and July, Capt. Hughes can’t guarantee catching a tarpon, but he has a no-pay policy if the angler doesn’t at least ‘jump’ one.
Another fishing option requires a short ride to Sanibel Island to visit the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The 6400-acre refuge is home to countless wading birds and offers great fishing in the mangrove-lined Tarpon Bay estuary.
Darling was a Pulitzer Prize winning illustrator from Michigan who played a large role in what we now call conservation. As the first ever director of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, he convinced President Truman to save this acreage in 1945 and it was later renamed ‘the Ding.’
Baitfish and gamefish thrive in the protected waters at the refuge, and Tarpon Bay Explorers are the official concessionaire offering nature tours and fishing trips. World class birding is always just a natural part of any day spent at the refuge.
After a hard day of fishing, the Tarpon Lodge offers a four-star restaurant with a menu that has a savory reputation. Their blue crab and roasted corn chowder has been recognized as one of the Top 100 dishes to eat in Southwest Florida.
Drinks at the tarpon bar and a proper Florida sunset against the picturesque palm trees on site are a great way to finish any day.
The author’s Lowcountry Outdoors blog is celebrating a tenth anniversary in 2019.