article is reproduced from the May/June 2002 issue
of Times of the Islands Magazine, with
use you "back browser" to return to About Sanibel. Thank you.
charters on the islands
since I could walk, says Tray Cooke, referring to his childhood
along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Cooke, who runs fishing
charters out of Sanibel Marina,
is typical of charter captains along the barrier islands of Southwest
Florida. Although few started fishing here, they love fishing in local
waters. Their enthusiasm is obvious.
Dozens of charter fishing captains operate out of Boca Grande, Pine Island,
Captiva, Sanibel, Estero Island, and down to Marco Island. They serve
the thousands of incurable anglers, both residents and visitors, who are
attracted by the bounty of Southwest Florida’s gulf and back-bay
Pinkett of Aurora, Ohio, who winters in Bonita Springs, frequently
rents boats to go out on his own, but he admits that chartering an experienced
captain is a better way to assure your catch. These guys know the waters,”he
says. They are here year-round. They follow the currents. They know where
the holes are and when the fish move to a different hole. And
if you choose a captain who’s licensed by the Coast Guard and fully
insured, such as those included in this article, your fishing trip is
more likely to be safe as well as satisfying.
Most of the
captains didn't start as charter operators, but evolved into it. For example,
40-year-old Capt. Cooke was a teaching golf pro at The Vines in
Bonita and at South Seas Plantation on Captiva for eight years after moving
to Southwest Florida. But he was driven to fish and to be his own boss,
so in 1996, after fishing for himself from a boat he kept at South Seas,
he started running charters out of Sanibel Marina.
enjoys having families aboard. Teaching youngsters the fishing fundamentals
is one of his favorite activities and he believes his experience teaching
golf helps him work with the kids and get them excited, even when the
fish are reluctant.
fish, though, are not a common problem. From the snook and redfish that
run in the summer to the trout and sheepsheads that are prevalent in the
cooler waters of the winter season, there are plenty to catch. Then there
are tarpon, mackerel, and shark that migrate through the estuaries of
Estero Bay, Pine Island Sound, and Charlotte Harbor. “Hook any of
these varieties,” Cooke promises, and you can have a fight
on your hands.
Boyette's Go Fish Charters,
based in Punta Gorda, offers tarpon trips, backcountry fishing, flats
fishing, and other near-shore and inshore excursions. Boyette is
very much at home in Charlotte Harbor and Boca Grande Pass, world famous
for tarpon tournaments.
Charters, operated by Hawkeye Halper, calls Bokeelia his homeport.
Located on the northern tip of Pine Island, he is well positioned to take
advantage of the action in Pine Island Sound and north into Charlotte
Harbor. Halper catches sea trout, snook, redfish, grouper, cobia, Spanish
mackerel, tarpon, tripletail, and snapper—and he has the photos
to prove it. He also offers a money-back guarantee: No catch, no pay.
charter service that guarantees your experience is Satisfaction Guaranteed
Fishing Charters on Marco Island. Capt. Brien Spina and his
staff of three additional captains are regulars in the waters of Naples
and the Ten Thousand Islands. Spina likes to net cast for live bait before
heading to the backwater feeding grounds for snook and redfish. He also
offers three-day, offshore fishing packages for grouper, snapper, cobia,
shark, permit, king mackerel, and barracuda. Packages include hotel accommodations
and shore lunches.
Scott Hughes also operates his Blackwater
Charters out of Marco Island. He runs fishing charters into the
waters off Ft. Myers Beach, Sanibel, and beyond, where big tarpon can
be plentiful. Hughes provides all bait, tackle (including fly rods
and flies), and fishing licenses for up to four anglers. That’s
pretty much the rule for charter operators. Most also provide plenty of
ice but expect you to bring your own food and drink.
That’s the case for Capt. Will Lasseigne, who operates the
Ragin Cajun from Sanibel Marina. As the name suggests, Lasseigne
hails from Louisiana where he grew up on the shores of Bayou Lafource.
His dad was a commercial fisherman and took Lasseigne along on
fishing and crabbing trips. Lasseigne moved to Southwest Florida
in 1994 and started his charter business on Sanibel.
Lasseigne admits the 24-foot, Florida-built boat with a 200-horsepower
engine isn't named for him. There’s a roller-coaster back in Louisiana
that I used to ride when I was a kid. It was called the "Ragin Cajun."
I thought it would be fun to name the boat after it,” he says with
a chuckle. The Ragin Cajun is no roller-coaster ride, however; its shallow
draft floats through the back bays. For Lasseigne, business peaks
in the summer when the snook and redfish are feeding, and families are
the most frequent tourists.
was on one of these family trips," Lasseigne says, "that
a passenger hooked a small mackerel on 12-pound test line near the Sanibel
Causeway. As the teenage girl was reeling it in, there was a hit on the
line. Something big took off with the catch and the line." After
a spirited run that ended at marker No. 2, they finally boated the new
catch—a 46 1/2-inch redfish weighing about 50 pounds.
Capt. Cooke reports an adventure of another sort. "One of the
major mistakes passengers make in the winter is assuming the warmth and
lack of wind at the dock will continue when the boat is moving,"
he says. He often has to return to the dock for a sweater or a jacket,
or turn around to fish a windblown hat out of the water. Only once, however,
has he seen the wind lift the wig off a passenger's head. Unfortunately,
it was not retrievable. Sunscreen anyone?
If one tires of fishing, there is plenty of nature to watch and the pleasure
of being on the water on a balmy Florida day is something you can count
on. You might spot bottle-nosed dolphins, manatees, or even sea turtles;
eagles or wood storks might fly overhead; and pelicans abound. In season,
you might even see the flock of white pelicans that hangs out in the channel
between Pine Island and Useppa Island.
Then there is the shelling. As great as the shelling is on Sanibel and
Captiva, which are accessible by car, the beaches along North Captiva
and Cayo Costa can often be even better because the islands can be reached
only by boat.
you are chartering to fish, to sightsee, or to shell, you need to contact
your captain ahead of time for reservations and plan to board at the marina
where your captain is berthed. While some captains will pick you up at
other points, such as private docks and beaches, Capt. Lasseigne
reports that there is an unwritten code that captains do not pick customers
up at someone else’s home marina. That’s about the only rule
that might get between you and a great time when you are fishing the bountiful
waters of Southwest Florida.
am asked where one should stay in Southwest florida when they come to
fish. It's not on Sanibel, but Tarpon
Lodge is just across Pine Island Sound from the island and has great
access to the fishing grounds. The owners can put you up for the night
inone of their 21 rooms, feed you lunch or dinner intheir award-winning
restaurant and refer you to charter captains in nearby Pineland Marina.
William Ernest Waites is a freelance writer who lives in Ft. Myers.