When it comes to yesteryear splendor in architecture and feel the exquisite historic Tarpon Lodge located In the Pineland area of Bokeelia, FL on the NW side of Pine Island is the true fountain of youth the conquistador Juan Ponce De Leon should have been searching for! The Lodge features award winning dining and accommodations. Tarpon Lodge features the original hardwood floors and layout of historic building, along with the Island house, cottage and boathouse offer 20 rooms and 2 private cottages in paradise. Guests that admire the historical beauty can reserve one of the fine rooms inside of the lodge that overlooks beautiful pine island sound through beautiful pane glass. Tarpon Lodge sits at the forefront of the long-forgotten Calusa canal that split Pine Island in two, running east to west the indigenous tribe used this skillfully dug canal to speed up access to the mainland for probable use in acquiring food items and timber. Towering high above the surrounding landscape, the Pineland shell mound directly behind the lodge is full of immense history and significance. Dating back over 6,000 years humans have inhabited this incredible landscape. Florida Museum of Natural History’s Randell Research Center is now the care taker of this important historical site. Guest of the lodge can find a wonderfully kept trail and grounds that sprawl along the original Calusa shell mound site.
The gourmet dining experience that is found here, especially in the evenings is sure to put a smile on anyone’s face. How could it not be so? With such a beautiful setting and superb service it is always a treat and pleasure to dine here. For those that wish to lodge here you will find excellent accommodation in very clean heavenly rooms. With a staff that is here to see to your every need Tarpon Lodge is the ultimate destination along the gulf coast. If you wish to bring your boat along on your visit, you will find boat trailer accommodation along with excellent dockage along our waterfront. There is a boat ramp two doors down to our north called Pineland marina. All necessary needs can be met here with fuel, bait, ice and parts available to ensure your vacation goes on without a glitch!
The Lodge is pleasantly located in the heart of SW Florida’s greatest tarpon fishery and nursery habitat. Extensive turtle grass flats extend for as long as the eyes can see in every nautical direction providing home for a tremendously healthy biodiversity unmatched for most of the nearby gulf coast. Visitors will find sea trout in good numbers in many of the potholes located in the large open expanses in the nearshore waters. The redfish population is high most months of the year taking advantage of the plentiful shrimp and crabs in the seagrass bottom as well as scaled sardines and pinfish that inhabit the same are. Snook fishing is fantastic with the beautiful beaches of Cayo Costa within a 15 minute run from the docks as well as catching them along the mangrove shorelines of islands that surround our slice of heaven. Tarpon of ALL sizes call our area home and I will go into further detail about this when we break down the seasons later in this writing.
It is important to introduce Cabbage Key to this conversation now as it will help paint the picture and layout of a remarkable piece of paradise. Directly west departing from the docks of Tarpon Lodge navigating out of Wilson cut we will reach the 100-acre island of Cabbage Key. Located on the western side of the Intracoastal waterway and the Eastern protected side of Cayo Costa island. All 100 acres of the tropical paradise are unique and share significant historical significance. Being home to a shell mound that holds proof of occupation 100 B.C. until around 1570 A.D. with the arrival of the conquistadors. The island has remained largely unchanged surviving many hurricanes and stewards of the land through the homestead act era. The great tarpon fishery would attract one of Cabbage Keys biggest influencer in the 30’s when Americas bestselling mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart would visit Useppa island next store for Tarpon fishing and soon learned of the incredible wild island. In 1936 the Rinehart family purchased the island and the “Rinehart Era” began. A extensive compound was built with Fort Myers most prominent architect of the time, Nat Walker. Once Completed in 1937, the winter estate featured six fireplaces, two large porches, large kitchen along with two cottages and a spectacular water tower that is still on site today and visitors can walk to the top to get a one-of-a-kind view 360 degrees overlooking Boca Grande, Useppa Island, North Captiva and Pine Island.
It is worth noting in the spring of 1938 the U.S. Dept. of Fisheries sent out an expedition to cabbage key to study tarpon in the tarpon capitol of the world. The group contained Dr. Charles Breder of the New York Aquarium and Marshall Bishop from Yale University making this in the authors opinion one of the most significant research studies done at the time further cementing Cabbage Key’s incredible legacy. A single-story structure was put up on site with accommodation for the researchers. A area was set aside near the center of the key to dredge a large containment pond for experimentation with juvenile tarpon.
Today in the 21st century Tarpon Lodge and Cabbage key have earned the admiration of so many people that find this island in their journeys, Ernest Hemmingway and Jimmy Buffet have both visited and admired its uniqueness. There are few places that will match the access and experience to the Lee island coast.
Being centrally located between the Gulf of Mexico and Peace River across Charlotte Harbor the fishery opportunities are extensive for both inshore as well as pelagic species that have been long known about dating back to billfish tournaments held in our area.
Much of what is known about Tarpon fishing was developed in our area as well making this a true world class fishery.
In the Spring period of the calendar year starting in March and ending in May the water clarity surrounding this area is extremely clear and the salinity level is very high creating the perfect recipe for sight fishing and migratory masses of Tarpon to begin moving inshore on the extensive grass flats, as well as gulf side fish that will be tracking up and down the beach going north or south, to and from the center of breeding, Boca Grande Pass.
Anglers fishing with Fly Fishing tackle will have opportunities to target triple digit weight tarpon in a average depth of 6 feet. When they daisy chain, a courting act of swimming in a circle on the surface in the calm days of the sound you truly can’t decipher the heavens from reality. Encountering schools of tarpon on the beach can be extremely exciting as you normally see the fish from long distances and it is a true spectator sport in every aspect. Along the SW fringes of Charlotte Harbor have cobia quite frequently following manatees and sea turtles. Redfishing is at its greatest in the shallow grass flats and remote backcountry lagoons around Tarpon Lodge. Snook and trout are normally found in good numbers more so in the nearshore locations until water temperatures warm up as summer approaches. One of the greatest hidden gems we have access to is the nearshore permit fishery that live crabs are the preferred tactic.
In summer (June-September) the warmest parts of the year our coastal waters go through a big change that is most greatly influenced by the rainy season. Freshwater is the life blood to all living creatures and being located in a area that has large freshwater tributaries and discharges provide the perfect scenario to encounter predator species that are attracted by the abundance of bait fish feeding on the immense nutrients deposited by the receding rain water from sheet flow. That crystal-clear water from our winter and spring suddenly begins to darken much like sun tea. The tannin in the water is a result of tanic acid released from decaying leaf material coming from the mainland flora. This dark water time of year is still attractive and very beneficial to the eco system. Although the water tint is darker the water always remains “clear” in sight and with some acclimation your eyes will adjust and you can see fish with little issue. Additional benefits of this time of year is the darker tint makes it much easier to sneak up on wary gamefish to get excellent shots at trophy gamefish.
With the routines of summer thundershowers, the common practice is to begin your charter at dawn or pre-dawn to utilize the cooler water temperature and “morning bite” that is often the best bite of the day short of key lunar phase evenings. The joy of summer especially around the summer solstice is all of the daylight hours we have to fish and spend on the water. Select lunar phases in a monthly calendar period will be ideal late afternoon sessions especially when targeting fish that compliment a well moving tide i.e. tarpon feeding in the passes in heavy tide or the quest for tailing redfish which is the captain’s specialty especially on fly fishing tackle. Summertime snook fishing will primarily take place along the gulf coast beaches with Boca Grande, Cayo Costa, North Captiva and Sanibel being the hot spots to find schooling fish moving up and down the beaches which consist of mostly male snook which are the sub mid twenty-inch range.
The largest snook are always females with that being pretty much exclusive of the 28inch and up size range. On clear weather opportunities the nearshore wrecks and reefs are a exciting time to fish for Permit using live crabs and when the conditions are super calm a fly rod is a excellent choice. Amberjack and grouper are caught with routine frequency. Jigging is the most productive form of fishing period.
Night charters are available with appointment, most of the busy season night charters are not available and I apologize but I am human and all-day trips make night trips very difficult. Please contact me within 2 days’ notice and I will happily accommodate your needs.
Fall (October-First cold front of December) fishing in North Pine Island Sound and Charlotte Harbor for the inshore territory bundled with Boca Grande, North Captiva and Redfish passes are the feeding zones that flush out into the nearshore sector of the beachside waterfront are the perfect recipe for smile. This time of the year always has some of the nicest weather days and the fish and bird activity is incredible as the hunt for food to prepare for winter and the act of reproduction in spawn take full advantage of the large and end of the season mature baitfish in search of the almighty fish oil, the carbohydrate rich oil of life.
Nearshore in fall is the arrival of Kingfish and bonitas that follow in bait schools in migration. Tarpon are still found in pockets absolutely devastating pods of blood minnows and threadfin herring that they send showering into the air. Triple tail show up towards the middle of fall and you always feel torn between staying “oceanside” or miss out on the incredible inshore fishing that is taking place back towards “home” (Tarpon Lodge). On the incredible turtle grass flats out from the lodge’s acreage begins the most incredible density in biodiversity especially as you near the deeper water of the passes to the west.
In Fall it is not uncommon to come across large schools of Red drum that move up onto the flat this time of the year to feast during and post spawn that takes place outside the passes. Large sea trout make their way into the shallows and are a busy predator harassing schools of baitfish that make their way through the sea grass forest. Snook are a delight this time of the year both fishing in the passes near Cabbage key as well as the snook that are in the shallow waters making their way towards their winter habitats. They stop along the way and feed so it is a exciting time of year in search of these special spots and ecosystems to target big snook.
Juvenile Tarpon are found when they are least expected as they are small schools that travel the extensive flats like restless teenagers before a winter snow storm.
As old man winter tightens up his grip on our tropical paradise (First cold front of December-February) the much awaited cool down brings a sure sign of turning the page. Cooler water temperatures compliment some species and suppress others. Tarpon all but disappear from a few key spots and or natural occurrences with weather like a abnormally warm winter. On the flip side though juvi tarpon are found in deeper water backcountry haunts and provide excellent angler excitement and practice before spring arrives. Shallow water snook fishing almost always by “sight fishing” is at its best as many large snook make their way up into super shallow water to take advantage of the quicker warmup from sunning themselves along with the search of food.
Trout fishing this time of year always produces the largest specimens often times reaching close to 30”. The bait of choice for large trout is artificial lures and sight fishing them with fly rods in ideal shallow water shoals. The epitome of winter time fishing for the Capt is targeting shallow water redfish in the bountiful grass flats of the sound. This time of year, in correlation with the bright moons cause negative tides when a huge tidal amount of water is out to sea. This causes some areas to go completely dry, and concentrates fish in hidden potholes and drop off reliefs.
Push poling grass flats in search of tailing and working redfish is a skill and experience. For them to be in their happy zone and comfortable to be vulnerable it is much like turkey hunting. Small permit are taken on live bait, jigs and occasionally a fly whilst angling in and around the passes and flats. Large sheepshead are a fun target that provide table fare and quite the angling skill when trying with fly fishing equipment.
As for the nearshore fishery when it is cold looking for birds working the surface will often times reveal Black headed sea gulls and royal terns simultaneously exploding on herring and minnows as schools of blue fish, bonita and Spanish mackerel continue the onslaught. Trolling for kingfish is a productive form of time well spent. Colder temperatures also bring in a increase of gag and red grouper that are a welcome delight. Triple tail will stay on the surface around crab buoys until all but the coldest days when they retreat to the bottom to find a more suitable thermocline in the water column. In the winter we see a big influx in the preferred diet of fish that tends to switch from primarily fish based to more crustacean like penaeid shrimp.
No matter the time of season to our beloved oasis preserved in time will always provide guests with a feeling of friendship and admiration for a time preserved in structure and elegance. Still just as beautiful as the nature it encompasses and draws all of us too. For thousands of years this has been a huge draw to humans. You owe it to yourself to come experience its elegance and tranquility. The premises are awarded in deep historical significance and tradition in stewardship. I am extremely proud and humble to guide out of Tarpon Lodge and Cabbage key sharing with our guests the splendors of our natural wonders. The atmosphere and fishery are unlike anywhere else in the world.
Boating access for dining and accommodations open to the public and welcomed. At cabbage key upon entering the marina basin you will find a friendly and helpful dockmaster to welcome you to the island and aide in mooring. To visit tarpon lodge as you approach you will see adequate dockage located on the SW and NW corners of the property that provide convenience for those that wish to just visit the restaurant or those that are lodging and wish to park closer to their rooms.
With a large are of potential trophy fishing ground from the back steps of either lodge encompassing half the harbor and huge portion of the sound we cover the entire fishery from Boca Grande all the way south of Captiva from the prime access in a beautiful setting, please don’t hesitate to contact me or the office for questions and or requests. The front office of Tarpon Lodge is run by the nicest staff that will help assist you in your every need, they know the captains by name and please don’t hesitate to mention my name! I will list the contact information below. I genuinely look forward to the opportunity to plan your fishing desires with you over the phone at 239-200-5098 or by contacting me through this webpage.
Tarpon Lodge Main Office.
Cabbage Key Restaurant
13921 Waterfront Dr.
Bokeelia, Fl 33922