by Dan Carns
Our launch at Gulf Coast Outfitters sits square in the middle of one of SW Florida’s most prolific fisheries and is a kayaker’s paradise. We are also on the Calusa Blueway, a 90-mile watery gem of a paddling trail winding through Lee county and a portion of Charlotte harbor. Like any other day of fishing, you’ve prepared your gear to encounter certain species of fish, but the variety here can be extensive so adaptability is essential.
Once launched you can traverse north or south of the Bascule Bridge; I personally prefer the northern side as the environment is so diverse and likely to hold more species, but may suffer a little more fishing pressure. Other than a couple of boating channels, you soon realize how shallow it is and more importantly how few boats can traverse around you and your paddle craft. Although unseen from the surface, this Preserve is feed by a fast-moving tidal flow right down the middle of the pass bringing with it an influx of salty water, bait, and the fish we love to chase. Like a conveyor belt, twice a day the tides flush out the fresh water that sheet flows though the mangrove-protected shoreline and delivers new oxygenated salt water that is the life blood of this fishery. Sometimes the decision to fish open water or “backcountry” can be tough, but here they are so close to each other that you can easily do both!
Depending on the day or time of year I will start in open water and follow the tide into the deep mangrove channels or vice versa, paddling at daybreak into the backcountry flats hoping for the elusive tailing redfish or snook that are potholed-up waiting for the tide to deliver breakfast. This backcountry fishery is one of my favorites, as it is really shallow and you can sight fish easily, but you must be stealthy and approach from a distance with long casts. These shallow creeks pass through mangrove choke points that may have a little deeper water where mangrove snapper and the occasional sheepshead hang out and can be the savior of a fishing trip. Anchored up with a bucket of shrimp, you can pull dozens of these tasty fish out and perhaps bring some home for the frying pan. The coves surrounding the dozens of mangrove islands here are home to countless fish species including spotted seatrout, Jack Crevalle, ladyfish and the unavoidable catfish! As you move to the outside islands and into the pass you find numerous oyster bars, varying depths of water and countless opportunities to catch fish. Matlacha is home to a heathy shark and tarpon population, so dropping a dead bait on the bottom may result in a drag screaming run of a lifetime! Whatever species of fish your chasing down the Matlacha Aquatic Preserve may be just the place for you.
It’s a Wild World-Get Out There!