Destination Florida: Set Your Hooks on the Paradise Coast

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Heading south for a little rest, relaxation and fishing? This tourist haven has everything you’ll need.

Battling codfish on a windy ocean or hauling perch through the ice with featherweight outfits and miniscule jigs can be a lot of fun, but nothing beats back winter’s chill like a soul-warming journey south. While there isn’t anything wrong with making the best out of what Mother Nature has to offer here on Long Island during the frigid season, you just can’t beat the heat – especially if you head to a fish laden oasis like Florida’s Paradise Coast.

Nestled comfortably between Estero Bay to the north and the start of the Everglades to the south, this beautiful stretch of prime Gulf Coast real estate in Collier County features the beautiful city of Naples, laid back and fun Marco Island, plus historical Everglades City and the western, Gulf Coast portion of the Everglades. You’ll find terrific dining here, over 30 miles of white sand beaches, a thriving arts and culture scene, plus family entertainment opportunities galore. Marco Island, in fact, was selected by Trip Advisor viewers last year as the #1 Traveler’s Choice island in the USA – and #4 in the world!

SUPER FISHING POTENTIAL

When it comes to piscatorial pursuit, this place makes no apologies when laying out the welcome mat for anyone wishing to wet a line.

“It’s a great place to fish,” says JoNell Modys, of the Paradise Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.paradisecoast.com,) because you have so many choices here. You can go it alone on the Naples Municipal Beach and Fishing Pier, hire a charter skipper to fish the back country waters of the Ten Thousand Island’s area for snook, tarpon, redfish and sea trout, and head out into the Gulf or jump on a party boat to explore local bottom fishing possibilities. Freshwater angles should also try the super bass fishing at 900-acre Lake Trafford or in the many local canals and waterways. There’s just so many options that you’ll never get to cover them all in one trip so you’ll just have to keep coming back.”

I can’t argue with that logic. On a visit here two years ago, I had a blast on all fronts and came away especially impressed with the fishing possibilities. One day, I fished for snook and redfish way back in the mysterious Ten Thousand Islands with Orvis endorsed guide Capt. Ken Chambers (www.snookonthefly.com.) This area offers miles and miles of flats, mangrove islands galore, and is a light-tackle or fly-fisherman’s paradise. Cruising the shoreline and channel edges are the serious game fish while tucked under the mangrove roots are huge Sheepshead. Cast the channels and you’ll connect with plenty of sea trout. This is exciting fishing and, once you tuck into the island region, all signs of civilization quickly vanish.

The Naples Fishing Pier (no fishing license required) is within walking distance of the small but bustling city. It extends 1,000 feet out into the Gulf and sees a mix of bait-fishermen trying for Sheepshead while other anglers cast tins and spoons for jack crevalle, Spanish mackerel, pompano, bonito and occasional large snook. Stroll down the beach a bit and you can fish the usually gentle surf for the same species with less competition.

Want to try something really different? Consider sharking from the beach after dark. Blacktip, bull and spinner sharks regularly patrol the area once the sun goes down. Capt. Pete’s Bait and Tackle (239- 643-4466) in Naples is a great source for bait, lures, information and up- to-the-minute fishing reports.

DON’T PASS ON THE SWEET SIDE

For freshwater fans, Lake Trafford is certainly worth investigation. Back in the 1970’s, this 900-acre lake was considered one of Florida’s premier largemouth bass lakes. Invasive hydrilla, however, choked the water and the fishing action eventually tailed off. Thanks to a major restoration program by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, in cooperation with Collier County and the surrounding community however, the weeds have been tamed, water quality has improved and 250,000 largemouth bass fry were stocked in the lake several years ago.

Where impenetrable mats of surface bloom once covered the lake stands of bassy looking bulrush today invite anglers to target their edge. The efforts have paid-off big time and Lake Trafford Marina (www.laketrafford.com) is where you can get the latest info, hire a guide or rent a skiff. Surface frogs work especially well in this environment but if you find the bass fishing tough a small grub or tube lure should put you into plenty of big crappies.

…AND BE SURE TO HAVE SOME FUN!

Of course, you’ll want to sample a little shopping, night life and down time between fishing outings. Laid back Marco Island is a great place to do this and well worth a visit, especially if you enjoy collecting sea shells. In Naples, you’ll find fine dining and plenty of shopping opportunity at Fifth Avenue South. For beaches, it’s hard to beat the stretch that borders Naples, but Barefoot Beach Preserve was ranked a Top 10 USA Beach for 2013 and Tigertail Beach Park on Marco Island is quite inviting. Want to see dolphins? The 10,000 Island Dolphin Project is the perhaps the only scientific research study funded by tourism. Paying guests board the Dolphin Explorer cruise vessel and participate with naturalists and researchers collecting data.

As for where to stay, accommodations are easily made throughout the area. We very much enjoyed staying at The Green Links Golf Villas in Lely Resort and Country Club (www. greenlinksnaples.com,) and dining at Sneed’s Restaurant. This was a well-appointed condominium style suite that put us just a ten minute car ride from Naples, but you’ll find plenty of solid choices ranging from historic inns and value-priced hotels to trendy resorts.

For more information about Florida’s Paradise Coast – Naples, Marco Island and the western portion of the Everglades – or to schedule a trip, visit www. paradisecoast.com.

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