Southwest Florida Fishing: A-Z Guide
Whoppers, sweet spots, and dinner.
Long before there was shopping, golf, and the arts to attract visitors and residents to the Greater Naples area, there was fishing. Tales of mighty tarpon, snook, grouper, and redfish—our big four catches—have captivated the sporting adventurer since the days of the Calusa. In modern times, many still plan their days around getting out on a boat, beach, or pier to cast a line. Following is our guide of pointers to inform your catching.
For some words of fishing wisdom, click here.
Fish. Sleep. Repeat. If that’s your formula for an ideal getaway, check in to one of our local resorts that make it as easy as stepping out the door and into a boat. On Marco Island, the Boat House is set up for anglers to arrive with their own vessel, which can be tied up at the docks. Port of the Islands in the Everglades also has docking, as well as boat rentals and fishing charters. Ultra-modern Naples Bay Resort likewise boasts full marina services including a variety of guided fishing charters.
Below and right: Naples Bay Resort offers boat and kayak rentals, as well as a marina with charter services.
You can break down the local fishing scene into two types: deep-water and inshore backwater. The bays, rivers, grass flats, and mangrove estuaries around Naples provide fertile opportunities to catch a number of inshore fish, such as mangrove snapper, redfish, speckled sea trout, snook, and sheepshead.
For first-timers fishing in this area, your best bet is a guide. Charter captains are easy to find at marinas and through resort concierges. Fishing charters generally last a half day (four hours) to a full day (eight hours) and provide a personal, customized experience with a limited number of anglers on board. Charges are usually levied at a per-boat rate.
Offshore fishing in deep waters gives anglers access to bigger fish such as grouper, shark, cobia, and mackerel. From the Naples area, it requires a trip out into the Gulf of Mexico for waters from 20 to 100 feet deep, depending upon the charter captain and what you’re trying to catch.
The South Florida habitat known as the Everglades encompasses the waters around Marco Island, Ten Thousand Islands, Collier Seminole State Park, Everglades City, and Chokoloskee. The coastline—with its maze of inlets, rivers, and bays—is one of the top fishing destinations in Florida. It can be tricky navigating the waters in these parts, so consider hiring a charter guide, at least your first time out.
Fly-fishing takes angling from sport to art, requiring finesse and fly-tying skill. Mangrove Outfitters Fly Shop in Naples teaches private and group classes in fly-fishing and tying. Plenty of other charters offer fly-fishing excursions.
Practically synonymous with Southwest Florida fishing and dining, grouper dwell in deep waters. The red grouper is the most common locally, while black and gag grouper are rarer than red grouper and more highly prized for their taste. All of them grow to be large fish with a mild flavor and meaty texture.
How-To for Kids
Fishing is a fun, interactive way to get kids outdoors and offline. Several charters will customize their excursions to families and learners, such as Capt. Will Geraghty’s Grand Slam Light Tackle Sportfishing. For free, kids aged 5 to 15 can learn casting, knot-tying, and tackle skills from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission one day each year at the Naples Pier. This year it’s March 11 from 9 a.m. to noon. During its annual Summerfest, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office typically hosts free Gone Fishing sessions at the pier from 8 a.m. to noon Tuesday through Friday. Adult supervision is required.
More commonly referred to as “passes” on Florida’s west coast, the cuts between barrier islands and where rivers flush out are famously productive for catching fish. Anglers favor Delnor-Wiggins Pass and Gordon Pass, among others in and around Ten Thousand Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Fish hang out around any structure, whether it’s a reef, bridge, or rock jetty. In addition to the jetty at Gordon Pass, a number of old dock pilings run northward from the beach to attract fish. And fishermen.
Fishing from a kayak has multiple advantages. You can get into narrow waters that powerboats cannot reach, and you don’t have to worry about a motor scaring away your prospective catch. Some kayaking outfitters, such as Everglades Kayak Fishing, can set you up in vessels specially customized for fishing.
Unless you are covered by a fishing charter’s or pier’s license, you will need to purchase a fishing license for both salt and fresh water if you are 16 years or older. Short-term licenses are available for visitors who live out of state.
Mangrove trees serve as a nursery for our fisheries. Juvenile fish find shelter and food within the trees’ roots. Because of the shade mangroves afford and their supply of smaller fish, bigger fish such as snapper, sea trout, and redfish like mangrove habitat as well.
A historic landmark and much-photographed icon, the Naples Pier provides 1,000 feet of over-the-water footing for casting without a boat. It’s also a socializing and networking opportunity for landlubber anglers. Newly renovated in 2016, the Naples Pier holds a bait shop, snack bar, restrooms, and showers. Its fishing license covers all who cast from there.
Before you cast your line, make sure you know which catches are in season and which are not. You must release fish caught out of season. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission lists the off-seasons for snook, gag grouper, red snapper, and other Gulf of Mexico species.
While fishing with lures can be productive, many fishermen prefer live bait. Shrimp is easiest to procure because you can purchase live shrimp at bait shops. But truly dedicated anglers catch their own bait by casting nets for pinfish and other bait fish, or digging up sand fleas at the surf’s edge.
Bring along a measure to avoid penalties for keeping undersized fish. Most bait shops carry handy rule sticks that include size limitations for local species, and every charter captain will have one onboard. Some species also have a regulated bag limit, which is the amount of a particular fish each angler can keep per day.
The smart fisherman looks out for our natural resources to ensure fish populations survive. Catch-and-release is a responsible practice; mounted live trophies are passé. Abide by all size, bag limit, and seasonal regulations, which are designed to protect undersized and breeding-female fish. Also be sure to dispose of fishing line, hooks, and other gear properly. Remove line tangled in tree branches. Monofilament line is a killer of birds, sea turtles, and other wildlife.
Hanging out at the beach and fishing: How can life get any better? Surf fishing from any local beach can yield snook, sheepshead, and other fun catches.
Tournaments for Charity
In Naples, fishing means one more way to give back to the community. The Seventh Annual Trash Can Slam Fishing Tournament, scheduled for August 12, benefits St. Matthew’s House’s mission for the homeless. The four-day Conservancy of Southwest Florida Annual RedSnook Catch & Release Charity Fishing Tournament, usually held the first weekend in November, launches from four sites in Naples, Goodland, and Everglades City.
Everything from railroad ties and concrete rubble to bridges and a sunken ship make up the Paradise Coast Reef, a series of more than 80 artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico that attracts the tiniest fish to 300-pound goliath grouper.
Very Best Times
Like us, fish avoid midday heat and like to eat early in the day. A common rule of thumb is to fish early or at dusk, and avoid slack tides. Fishing is better when tides are incoming or outgoing, particularly on a strong incoming tide, when water movement is optimal. Moon phases also affect water movement, and full and new-moon times are believed to be best.
Where to Shop
You can stock up on fishing supplies at local hardware stores and at some marinas. The Ship’s Store at Rose Marina on Marco Island, for instance, carries rods, bait buckets, lures, filleting knives, hats and shirts designed for fishermen, and a complete array of tackle and boating supplies. Avid local fishermen know Surf & Turf Custom is the place for custom rods. For protective fishing attire and fishing kayaks, head to Naples Outfitters.
X Marks the Spot
Whether you call them “sweet spots” or, more technically, GPS waypoints, favorite fishing holes are often a well-kept secret. The best way to find them? Charter an excursion and pay close attention to where the captain takes you and where the catching is optimal.
Once you’ve bagged a few choice food fish, a number of local seafood restaurants will gladly cook them for you the same day. Oyster House Restaurant & Bar in Everglades City, Snook Inn on Marco Island, and Stan’s Idle Hour in Goodland are all on or near the water with a salty atmosphere. Two restaurants near the Naples City Dock—The Dock at Crayton Cove and Chez Boët—also cater to incoming anglers. Alert the restaurant ahead of time—a charter captain will often do this for you—and bring in your catch already filleted.
Sporting fishermen prefer a catch with spunk—one that puts up a good fight. The most highly hailed in that category is the “silver king,” the monarch of game fish—the tarpon. Weighing up to 280 pounds and measuring up to 8 feet, the tarpon uses more than its girth to make the reeling a challenge. It is known to run with the line, dive deep, then jump spectacularly to try to lose the hook. Less appreciated, but a favorite of those in the know, is the ladyfish, which is also in the tarpon family. Though it is smaller, generally 2 to 3 feet, it is similarly feisty. Offshore, the beautiful permit fish, averaging 25 pounds, gives you your money’s worth in reel-time combat.