Any marine angler who loves Florida's west coast and its abundant inshore and offshore fisheries should spend lots of angling time in Charlotte Harbor. This enormous watery expanse is etched into the Sunshine State with 830 miles of shoreline in Florida's second biggest harbor. The quality of angling results at times can be staggeringly good.
I had spent a considerable amount of time during the summer months successfully pursuing snook with Captain Ralph Allen of King Fisher Fleet at Fishermen's Village in Punta Gorda. Since his fleet offers sightseeing cruises and fishing charters, I chose the latter, while my non-angling friends opted for the former-and were delighted with the results.
But I had a hankering to try the upper reaches of Charlotte Harbor during the cooler months for other types of species like seatrout, sheepshead and redfish. So I called Ralph and we set up two fishing days for the following week. Cold fronts were still cascading down the state of Florida and we hoped we'd be able to get our angling efforts in between them and certainly hopefully away from the rainy edges of these chilly systems.
The drive from Miami was safe and uneventful, a simple shot via I-75 and then a short drive to the beautiful Four Points Sheraton which sat on the intersection of U.S. 41 and the edge of the Peace River in Punta Gorda. Since my wife and I arrived the day before the fishing, we enjoyed some fine libations and snacks downstairs at the hotel as well as our pretty room with a riverfront view. After an excellent dinner at Trabue, we settled in for the night. I slept with some trepidation about the next days weather since the rains of a rapidly approaching cold front might threaten our fishing in the morning.
As fate would have it, the cold front did hit in the pre-dawn darkness, and completely obscured the sunrise with sheets of chilly rain. As the morning wore on, Ralph and I deliberated every hour. Though it appeared we might have fished for an hour or two in the holes between showers, I opted for fishing the next day when it was likely the rain would pass and merely leave some cool air behind over our little corner of Paradise.
Punta Gorda and up the Peace River
I met Ralph at 6:45 a.m. this next morning at Fishermen's Village and we were soon underway. There was some fog which caused Ralph to idle slowly into the channel as we made our way towards the backwaters of the Peace River.
As we eased our way along, Ralph shared his battle plan, which was to focus on redfish, seatrout and sheepshead in that order. As the sun rose, the fog lifted and we proceeded to our first spot. When we arrived at the tip of an island, he anchored his skiff to keep us in position. Then he took out two spinners rigged with jig heads and pinned a live shrimp to each. As both of us cast to the point, our hookups were immediate and we quickly reeled in two modest but well-colored redfish. This act repeated itself again and again until I felt like I was running the risk of eating too much of one delicious food at the expense of the others on the table. It was time to move.
At our second and third spots, though we were trying for a larger redfish, we caught lots of mangrove snapper, a few seatrout and a snook at the mouth of a creek. I already had a West Coast Slam and felt thoroughly satisfied. Though Ralph wanted to try more spots for a large redfish, I was keen to have a go at some sheepshead reputed to weigh as much as 6 pounds — or bigger.
Ralph agreed and we ran downriver past Fishermen's Village to a canal mouth not far from his fleet. He baited me up with a mangrove crab and told me to let it drop along a rocky wall with the current. I had a quick thump and I struck back, putting a serious bend in the rod. After a five minute battle, I had a 5-pound "sheepie" alongside his skiff for photos and release. In the next hour we simply caught as many as we pleased.
It was early afternoon and I had all the action and images I needed to tell the story of another great Florida region that offers superb angling and boating twelve months a year.
For other information, facts, features and venues of the area, be sure to visit http://www.charlotteharbortravel.com/