Before the weather grows any cooler, take a shot at an inshore grand slam fishing in Charlotte Harbor on Florida’s southwest coast.
The autumn and spring months in the state’s second-largest estuary — with 830 miles of mostly protected mangrove shoreline — are best for releasing tarpon, snook, redfish and trout. All in the same day.
“There’s a lot of lee shoreline, so there’s a lot of calm places to fish available 365 days a year,” said captain Ralph Allen, who operates the Kingfisher Fleet of charter fishing and sightseeing boats in Punta Gorda’s Fishermen’s Village. “There are grass flats, mangrove shorelines, tidal creeks and oyster bars.”
Anglers have their choice of fishing with live bait, artificial lures or fly tackle. Catching bait usually is pretty easy. Allen netted a well full of scaled sardines, or pilchards, as well as pinfish on the flats near the Burnt Store Village development recently using canned jack mackerel and bread balls for chum. He and a customer used them to target tarpon in a deep man-made canal nearby and along a tide line where ladyfish could be seen chasing schools of minnows.
The pair didn’t manage any tarpon releases, but they caught and released numerous sea trout drifting a wide grass flat. They also hooked and missed a large redfish lurking in a pot hole that ate a bait and then broke the line on a sharp oyster bar.
Punta Gorda has 105 miles of sea walls, which — although not the best substitute for natural habitat — create a haven for snook. The canny fish lurk beneath docks and boats, using them for cover on warm, sunny days. On cold days, the dredged waterways of Punta Gorda Isles and other neighborhoods create a thermal refuge for snook, jacks and other species. Casting live pilchards along the seawalls, Allen and his companion caught and released a handful of snook plus some lively jack crevalles up to six pounds.
The waters of Charlotte Harbor were stained a tannic tea color the day the two fished, owing to recent heavy rainfall in the area. But with the onset of the winter dry season, the waters become clearer, creating some excellent sight-fishing opportunities for trout and redfish on the flats.
Allen, who has operated his charter business here since 1985, wouldn’t trade these waters for anything.
“The variety is probably the No.1 thing,” he said. “There are fish to eat and trophy fish.”