The Best the State Has to Offer
By CAPT. CHARLES WRIGHT
The State of Florida, with its vast coastlines, wonderful climate and impressive fisheries, claims to be the “Fishing Capital of the World”. Few areas can dispute this claim. Its reputation is well deserved and touted by anglers worldwide. The sugar sand beaches of the Panhandle, the tarpon flats off Homosassa Springs, Pine Island Sound, the marshes of the northeast, the lagoons of the west central peninsula, the sailfish alley of the southeast coast and the crystal clear waters of the Florida Keys comprise a big part this wonderful fishing paradise that we call Florida. However, the crème’ de la crème’, the best the State has to offer, are the waters surrounding Chokoloskee Island in the western side of Everglades National Park. It is rich in history, rich in opportunities, rich in diversity and rich in experience.
Located only 90 minutes from Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Ft. Meyers, few places can rival the western Park area. It is a massive nursery of marine life that feeds a diverse array of sport and food fish. From its rivers, flats and islands spills the forage that nurtures the species that we sportsman seek … bass, tarpon, snook, redfish, trout, permit, cobia, shark, grouper, snapper, pompano, sheep head, triple tail, mackerel and kingfish. All are fed by the rich waters of the Park. It is very common on a single charter to catch a dozen or more species in a single trip.
The topography of the area alone provides some wonderful fishing opportunities whether you are fishing from a Kayak, jon boat, pontoon boat, flats boat or a center console. Consisting of over one million acres of flooded wonderland there is always somewhere new and different to explore and experience.
Located in the approximate geographic center of the area is the gateway to this paradise, Chokoloskee Island. Chokoloskee is a 137 acre island, rich with history, on the southern side of the 10,000 Islands area. To the north (actually northwest) are literally thousands of mangrove islands to fish. Against the mainland’s southern shore, the waters of the tidal rivers have been flowing in out of the backcountry since long before we all were around. These rivers provide excellent opportunities to fish oyster bars, sand and mud flats, scoured holes, river mouths, run-offs and feeder creeks.
While artificial fisherman and live baiters alike can fish these rivers effectively, this is perhaps the fly fisherman’s paradise. The “head waters” are crystal clear, though always tea colored from the mangroves, providing excellent site fishing opportunities. The rivers are littered with small mangrove islands and feeder creeks that are havens for fish. The rivers all have “resident” populations of small tarpon year round. The moving water scours deep “holes” and at the same time creates sand and mud flats. Numerous oyster bars, natures little fortresses for crabs, shrimp and small fishes, are up and down the river creating natural rips and eddies. The fishing opportunities are immense.
An angler can take a fishing life time learning just one river. North of Chokoloskee lays the Pumpkin River, the Little Wood River, the Wood River, the East River, the Fakahatchee River, the Ferguson River, the Barron River and the Turner River. South you will find the Lopez, Chatham, Houston, Lostman’s, Rodgers, Broad and Harney Rivers as well as, many unnamed “creeks” large enough to be called rivers. You get the idea … lots of opportunity.
The “north” rivers dump into large bays surrounded by literally thousands of islands. Each provides opportunities for fishing its respective oyster bars, cuts, mangrove overhangs and rips. The islands themselves form massive “passes” that tidal waters flow through. These passes scour holes that are sometimes over twenty feet deep. At various times in the year, you will encounter most all the fish area has to offer in these passes. The smaller of the groupers, the largest of the black drum, Spanish mackerel and the cobia move into the passes in the cooler months. As things warm up, the massive goliath groupers, large numbers of large tarpon and the biggest of the snook move in. Snapper, jacks, trout, pompano and ladyfish are a ”given” almost year round.
The “south” rivers are “fed” by the backcountry, a vast flooded area of saltwater bays, bayous, bights and islands. Part of this country is the Wilderness Waterway, a marked boating trail, maintained by the National Park that runs for over 75 miles. Higher in the backcountry, to the north, above the bays, are runoff creeks from the mainland. Here you can catch a snook in one cast, and redfish the next and a large mouth bass on another.
The mouths of the south rivers are defined by massive oyster bars and passes that cut through even larger grass and mud flats. At the proper time, these areas concentrate large numbers of fish and wildlife. Fishing the mouths, it is common to be amongst hundreds of wading birds, manatee, alligators, porpoise, eagles and osprey. You will even see deer, pigs, cats and bear on the beaches. Have you ever seen a sawfish? You might actual catch one of these dinosaurs here.
The outside barrier islands, both north and south are lined with pristine, isolated beaches with grass flats just off the shoreline. Snook, redfish, shark and jack roam the beaches making for excellent sight fishing opportunities. Trout, pompano, ladyfish, flounder and redfish are up on the flats. Tarpon, shark, cobia, large jacks and porpoise will be there also hunting the smaller species. While trout fishing with six to eight pound spinning gear, my anglers will almost always run into a school of ladyfish. In the spring, summer and fall, quite often, a ladyfish will be gobbled up a marauding tarpon … show time!
Just offshore, within sight of land, are natural and artificial formations that hold piles of fish … cobia, snook, goliath groupers, mackerel, kingfish, snapper and permit. A typical day can consist of the inside/outside trip. Anglers get to fish “inside” amongst the rivers and islands in the morning and “outside” on the near-shore structure in the afternoon. In the warmer months, I get often get to witness Mother Nature’s food chain first hand. At least once a week I have an angler’s cobia, permit or snook inhaled by a giant goliath grouper or run down by a shark. It certainly makes for an exciting and varied day on the water!
The typical angler can’t always choose to fish when the weather is perfect. Most of us fish when other obligations allow, when we have time off or are on vacation. Unlike, most every other fishery in the State, rarely are you “blown” out because of weather. Because of the Western Park’s diverse fishing opportunities and its vast amount of sheltered water, you can almost always find good, sheltered areas to catch fish no matter what the weather guessers deliver. Don’t get me wrong, when the sparks start to fly with the summertime thunderstorms, you can be run out of here just as fast as anywhere, but even in a 15+ knot breeze, you can still catch fish in the lee of the islands, river banks and creeks. This fact alone makes the area an excellent destination.
For some, including me, one of the most attractive features of the area is the solitude. I prefer to fish alone with my anglers, the wildlife, the islands and the fish. If I had my choice, I would rather not see another boat the entire day. I like the feeling of solitude, the feeling that this special place and time is my special place and time. Here you have that choice. It is very easy to get away from the others because there is just so much country available to explore and experience.
I feel very lucky to be able to live and work in this area. One of my greatest jollies is watching people experience this area. The look on angler’s face as he looks down at his reel to see the bottom of his spool appear as a permit streaks to the horizon or the excitement in a youngsters face when he sees a snook break the water is absolutely priceless. I would not trade it for anything in the world. I am passionate about the Chokoloskee area and love sharing it with others. I grew up in Miami, fishing and diving the southeast Florida area and the Keys. As well, in a “past” life, I fished the west coast of Florida extensively. However, for all the reasons above, this is truly the best Florida has to offer.
If you wish to book a charter with Capt. Wright, call or email him at Chokoloskee Charters (239) 695-9107 CaptWright@ChokoloskeeCharters.com More information can be found on the web at www.ChokoloskeeCharters.com .