Fishing Sanibel and Captiva Islands


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Sanibel Island fishing and Captiva Island fishing offer many species including the much sought after snook, redfish, sea trout and tarpon.

SNOOK: Because the habitat around our islands contains numerous inlet river mouths, oyster bars and mangrove shorelines, there is an abundant snook fishery here…12 months a year.

REDFISH: Our islands have one of the healthiest, largest redfish populations in the State of Florida. Picture the excitement of sight casting to a “tailing” redfish in crystal clear, shallow water or pulling a hefty redfish out from the mangrove shoreline.

SEATROUT: Seatrout are becoming more plentiful as well as larger due to good fishery management. With more fish and larger fish, the sea trout is gaining a healthy respect as highly sought after saltwater gamester.

TARPON: Tarpon fishing is so spectacular around Captiva and Sanibel Islands, it deserves its own write-up. This area is the cradle of tarpon fishing. The first tarpon caught on rod and reel was in 1885 by W.H. Wood using bait and thumb stall reel with linen line right here on Sanibel Island in Tarpon Bay.

  • The annual migration of tarpon starts around mid-April and goes well into the month of July.
  • Tarpon fishing in famous Boca Grande Pass (known as the World Capital of Tarpon Fishing) with professional captains is usually drift fishing in large boats using at least 50# tackle.
  • The fleet of Sanibel professional fishing guides fish primarily off the east end of Sanibel offshore, anchored up, chumming and use light to heavier tackle.
  • For the light tackle and fly fisherman, professional tarpon guides use skiffs from 16 feet to 23 feet cruise the beaches and back bay areas in hot pursuit of the migrating fish.
  • The Sanibel and Captiva areas offer the ultimate in tarpon fishing…so many casts, so many opportunities.

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The seatrout, on the other hand, wouldn’t leave us alone.

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Easy parking for recreational vehicles, and a short hike from the parking lot to the beach. Located at the south end of Tarpon Bay Rd. at West Gulf Drive. Mid Island

  • Restrooms and outdoor shower at beach entrance
  • Bike parking at beach entrance – no fee for bikes
  • Oversized (20 foot and over) vehicle parking – several
  • Free handicap parking – 3 handicap spaces at beach entrance

Fishing: Most residents and visitors must purchase licenses for fishing in salt or fresh water. You can purchase a license at:

  • The Bait Box on Periwinkle Way
  • Bailey’ Center at the corner of Tarpon Bay Road and Periwinkle Way
  • Tarpon Bay Recreation
  • Jensen’s Marina
  • Adventures in Paradise
  • Norm Zeigler’s Fly Shop
  • Whitney’s Bait & Tackle
  • and at all the marinas.

Rules and regulations on size and bag limits plus open and closed seasons change.

Most bait stores distribute free lists published by the Florida Marine Fisheries Commission.

You do not need a license if you are: under 16; over age 65 and a Florida resident; Fishing: Most residents and visitors must purchase licenses for fishing in salt or fresh water. You can purchase a license at:

Rules and regulations on size and bag limits plus open and closed seasons change. Most bait stores distribute free lists published by the Florida Marine Fisheries Commission.

You do not need a license if you are: under 16; over age 65 and a Florida resident; effective August 1st, 2009 all Florida residents fishing from land or a pier now require a license; or fishing from a boat covered by a Vessel Saltwater Fishing License. The Tax Collector’s office and bait shops list criteria for residency.

Fishing-Pier-at-Lighhouse-beachFishing-Pier-at-Lighhouse-beach

Sanibel Island Captiva Spots for Fishing

  • Tarpon Bay (Recreation Area of J. N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge)
  • Sanibel Fishing Pier located bayside of the Sanibel Lighthouse
  • Fishing from the Beach
  • Fishing, snorkeling and scuba dive charters and instruction are available with local professional guides.
  • Check out leegov.com/naturalresources/marine/ArtificialReefs for reef and wreck locations.
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Sanibel Island Captiva Inshore Fishing

All Year:Snook

  • Redfish
  • Sea trout
  • Spanish mackerel
  • Snappers
  • Grouper

Spring and Summer:

  • Tarpon
  • Pompano
  • Cobia
  • Permit

Spring and Fall:

  • King mackerel
  • Tripletail
  • Black Drum

Winter and Spring:

Sheepshead

Blind-PassBlind-Pass

Captiva Island, located off the coast of Florida near Fort Myers, is only four miles long and half a mile wide, but what the island lacks in size it makes up for in natural beauty and pristine beaches.

Along with sister island Sanibel, Captiva draws fishermen with the promise of more than 50 types of fish in its coastal waters. From shoreline fishing to chartered excursions, there are many ways to enjoy fishing while you're visiting Captiva Island.

License and Regulations

With a few exceptions, both residents and nonresidents must obtain a fishing license to fish in Florida's waters.

Visitors to Captiva Island can purchase a license online, via phone or at local marinas and licensed retailers.

For those fishing via charter boat, the license is typically either included in the price of the charter or available for purchase on board.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regulates licenses and establishes bag limits. A list of these regulations and limits is available from the commission or any retail location that sells fishing licenses.

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Ways to Fish

Captiva Island offers a range of fishing locales, from the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico to inland waterways and mangroves to the bay-side environment of Pine Island Sound.

Three public marinas on the island, Jensen's Twin Palm, 'Tween Waters and McCarthy's, offer visitors access to boat rentals, chartered fishing excursions and experienced guides.

Anglers are not limited to offshore fishing in the Gulf or Sound, but can also enjoy shoreline fishing from Captiva's beaches and mangroves or pier fishing in nearby Sanibel.

Because of the variety of fish in the area, fishermen can employ a number of styles including saltwater fly fishing, light tackle on the beaches and heavy tackle from a pier.

fishing-two-gag-grouperfishing-two-gag-grouper

Types of Fish and Seasons

The abundance of fish available in and around Captiva makes fishing possible any time of year.

The area is known for tarpon, in season during the spring and summer; snook, a year-round favorite; and king mackerel, a spring and fall catch.

Snapper, grouper and redfish, available year-round, are plentiful and popular recreational catches. The location on the island will inform the type of catch.

Offshore, anglers catch species such as Spanish mackerel, amberjack and shark; while the inland and bay waters tend to yield sea trout, snook and redfish.

Captiva area saltwater fly fishermen often bring in ladyfish, pompano and cobia; and fishing from the shoreline or the pier is likely to include a catch of flounder, black drum, sheepshead or whiting.

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Places to Fish

Whether you are fishing from land or boat, several locales offer optimal fishing on Captiva and adjacent Sanibel.

  • The pier at Sanibel Lighthouse Beach, located at the tip of the island on both the bay and the Gulf, provides opportunities to catch redfish, snook and snapper, among other species.
  • Tarpon Bay, part of the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, was the location of the first tarpon caught via rod and reel and remains an excellent locale for tarpon.
  • Fishing is also plentiful along the causeway bridge, which links Sanibel and Captiva to mainland Florida, and
  • Off of the bridges that dot Captiva, including
  • The bridge at Turner Beach 
  • Blind Pass Bridge.

|Fish-On| Florida Fishing|

Whether you charter a captain, launch a trailerable skiff or kayak, or simply putting a rental pontoon boat out onto Tarpon Bay, you’re in textbook light-tackle fishing territory, quick.

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You might take for granted those schoolie seatrout. Then again, you might exercise your imagination or try different tackle altogether. Saltwater fly fishing? It’s a lock, in a fishery this rich.

Schoolie Red FishSchoolie Red Fish

After a difficult morning chasing tailing redfish,

Redfish was our main goal when the two picked me up at the ‘Tween Waters Inn on Captiva Island.

We left the dock at sunrise, planning to catch a negative low tide on some flats not far from Blind Pass.

The “pass” divides Sanibel and Captiva; then, as now, it was filled with sand.

Winter is ideal for sight-fishing this region.

Water clarity improves immensely, as summer wet-season runoff dries to a trickle and plankton and seagrass production dip with water temp and photo-period.

Another big plus for fishing, Paul explained, is a period of extreme low tides occurring during this time of year (negative tides, as explained in our January 2009 article, “The Tailing Trigger”.

“Instead of having a window of maybe an hour of water low enough to see tailing fish, as we do in summer, we now some days have 4, 5, even 6 hours when the tide is low enough to see fish feed on the bottom.”

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Paul said this as he weaved his 18-foot skiff around emergent turtlegrass flats. I recognized the area. Like many of the best redfish flats, it shows on charts with green-shaded dry spots lots of little italic 1/2’s—meaning a half-foot of water at mean low tide.

A nearby channel, in this case marked, is another good sign. They’ll roam shallow enough to expose their dorsals at times, but redfish generally stick to flats proximate to deeper-water retreat routes.

“All this, you can’t see when the tide’s in,” Paul said, emphasizing the need to familiarize oneself with the terrain—cautiously—at low tide.

Paul shut off the outboard and began poling. Spencer and I fan-cast with topwater walking plugs.

The treble hooks rode safely over the tops of short-cropped turtlegrass. Topped out in summer, that stuff can be a drag to fish through.

“When we have these cold nights, it causes the grass to really thin out,” Paul continued, “but in a way that’s kind of good—the shrimp and crabs are still buried in there, and the fish can see your lure or fly better.

In summer, even with a live shrimp a foot away, the grass is so thick, the fish don’t see it.”

The snook, apparently, had grown hungry after the previous day’s fasting.

Some had moved from the mangroves to forage on surprisingly cold flats.

We saw a few good busts and soon a fish inhaled my chartreuse Super Spook Jr. At 32 inches, the snook measured within the 28- to 33-inch total length slot limit for the Gulf Coast.

It came to us halfway frozen but was freed by the calendar, February being last of the winter closed months for the Gulf Coast.

Running back toward ‘Tween Waters, we stopped outside a big flat off Buck Key. Spencer threw an intermediate-sink flyline, using one of the same bushy brown EP flies his father favors for tailing reds.

The trout obliged, and as we moved into the shallows, Spencer counted coup on a big redfish on spin; the fish struck a DOA CAL tail, glow-and-gold, rigged with a pinch weight on a weedless worm hook.

Paul said the winter/early spring trout bite is consistent throughout the sound, with a lot of action available right along the Intracoastal Waterway in 6 to 8 feet of water.

The shallow water redfish game is primarily the domain of anglers with local knowledge or a healthy dose of patience

While there aren’t many secret spots these days (having fished the area for years, I can personally vouch for the reliability of spots shown on Florida Sportsman No. 015), 

how you approach a redfish flat is perhaps more important than where.

“Go slow to learn the areas,” Paul advised. “Spend a few days there, to find how fish are coming onto a flat, and how they’re leaving. Pay attention to the tides.”

Many of my own most memorable days on these islands have occured beachside, the simplest fishing of all.

Starting in late April, snook begin traveling the surf, close enough to brush the ankles of shell-hunting tourists.

Some days their willingness to eat a streamer fly rivals the enthusiasm of jig-slamming seatrout in Ding Darling.

February, however, is a month when bluefish, whiting and other coldwater species rule the Gulf side of Sanibel and Captiva.

Both ends of the Sanibel-Captiva complex, the Sanibel Pier and Redfish Pass, will fire up in a matter of weeks as water temps reach the 70-degree mark, heralding the arrival of migratory mackerel, and not long after that, big tarpon rolling and flashing in the sunlight of lengthening days.

Fishing Guide
Fishing Techniques
When to fish
Fish I.D’s.
Fish on
Fishing Knots

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The fishing pier, situated on the east end of Sanibel near Point Ybel Lighthouse, faces toward the causeway on San Carlos Bay.

Many varieties of fish are caught here, where the water is deep and the tide runs swift. Best bets at this location include snook, trout, redfish, Spanish mackerel and sheepshead.

Shore and wade fishing along the bay beach and causeway islands provide catches of trout, snook, shark, flounder, sheepshead and blue crabs.

On the Gulf side of the islands when the weather is good, pompano, whiting, shark and trout are sought all year.

With warmer spring temperatures, snook move into the near-shore areas from their winter lairs to spawn. These snook will hit artificial lures or live bait and are sure to give a thrill to any fisherman.

J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge offers good backwater fishing in the mangroves at Tarpon Bay.

Fishing from the road that runs through this wildlife refuge can produce catches of mangrove snapper, trout, redfish, snook and blue crab.

Many boaters fish the mangrove areas and bay; the bay bottom contains deep holes, channels and extensive grass flats.

The channels and holes are home to tarpon, cobia, shark, large jack and tripletail.

The grass flats average from two to six feet in depth and stretch from the causeway westward between Sanibel and Captiva and the mainland.

As the tide floods the flats, most species forage there to fill their bellies. Trout, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, jack and cobia are likely booty from the flats, with snook and redfish near mangrove fringes.

The mangrove areas form a maze of creeks and bayous which make up the heart of the wildlife refuge. Sheepshead, trout, redfish, snook and mangrove snapper may be found throughout.

The mouth of the Caloosahatchee River is dotted with oyster bars; these combined with swift currents provide great fishing for large snook, tarpon, jack and redfish.

Boaters fishing inshore have several artificial reefs from which to choose.

Expected catches from these areas include grouper, Spanish mackerel, snook, shark, tripletail, snapper, tarpon, barracuda, cobia and king mackerel.

Farther offshore on the natural bottom or wrecks, look for grouper, red snapper, amberjack, shark, barracuda, cobia and permit.

With large tarpon and snook in abundance, fly-fishing is growing in popularity here. Several world-record fish have been taken from local waters.

Lures accommodate many hours of easy fishing and catch loads of fish. They can be fished anywhere, anytime, with lots of action.

All non-residents 16 and older must have a saltwater fishing license. Florida residents ages 16 to 65 need a saltwater license when fishing from a boat. Be sure to get a copy of the current rules.

Fish Chart

The possession of saltwater fish, shellfish and crabs is regulated.

Federal, state and local laws may apply for certain areas and seasons.

New rules are pending.

Tackle shops will provide current rules. The information on this chart is for Catch and Release.

Sanibel-Captiva Vitals

Boat Ramps:

At either end of the Sanibel Causeway.

The county ramp at Punta Rassa, on the mainland side, is where to launch if you aren’t staying on the island(s);

it costs $5, but saves you the $9 Sanibel Causeway toll fee for truck-plus-single axle trailer.

Boat rentals:

For family fun, nothing beats a pontoon boat.

You’ll find a fleet of shaded 20-footers available for rent on 950-acre Tarpon Bay.

Bring your light spin or fly rod, and bring the whole gang.

Full day/half day rates are $260/$180. Call 239-472-8900 or visit www.tarponbayexplorers.com

Bait and Tackle:

The Bait Box, on the main drag on Sanibel Island, Periwinkle Way. 239-472-1618; www.thebaitbox.com

Guides:

There are lots of fishing guides here; too many, in fact to list them all.

Typical rates for small boats (poling skiff or larger bay boat) are $350-450 for half-day, $500 to $700 full day.

You might check with the Lee County Guides’ Association, www.fishsanibel.com, or ask at The Bait Box.

Paul Hobby, a lifelong resident of nearby Fort Myers, specializes in fly and light tackle fishing in Pine Island Sound; 239-433-1007; www.fishinghobby.com

Accommodations:

There are countless home rentals and small inns on these islands, but thankfully no high-rises.

Local building codes were designed around ecological studies published back in the 1970s, unlike much of the state where it’s the other way around.

Tween Waters Inn, on Captiva Island, is a great place for boating families. As the name implies, the property basically straddles the Gulf of Mexico and Pine Island Sound.

There’s a boat ramp, fuel dock, supply shop and wet slips visible from your room. Phone 800-223-5865; www.tween-waters.com.

A quick web search turns up lots of other options.

Royal Shell Vacations (239-472-9111; www.royalshell.com, can locate rental homes and condos on both islands.

With the slow economy, finding a place to stay on short notice shouldn’t be a problem.

Eats:

You won’t go hungry. My picks: upscale, Thistle Lodge at Casa Ybel on Sanibel; island-style, RC Otters on Captiva. By Jeff Weakley, Editor

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