The city of Fort Myers is ideally centrally located to one of Florida’s most incredible fisheries. The rivers are the life blood of this region and the reason for its bounty! Whether fishing centrally along its sprawling riverside or the close proximity of Sanibel, Fort Myers Beach this is hub central to explore all the surrounding fishing grounds!
Nestled on the southern portion of the great Caloosahatchee River, that dissects the western portion of Florida from West to East stretching from Lake Okeechobee in the center of the state draining large amounts of sheet flow inland. Mixed with a plethora of historical importance, the river helped build the city of Fort Myers by instituting the epicenter of trade. Although the river has experienced many changes and evolutions over the years it still plays a largely important role in the facilitation of estuary like creeks and tributaries that help nurture fry from many important game fish species as well as prey items like shrimp and mullet.
From time before common written description, Fort Myers has attracted fisherman of all sorts from survival to profit, big game hunters to hunter gathers including names like Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, who once claimed the best tarpon fishing in the world was right in front of his winter house on the river, which is now in the city of Fort Myers.
We will discuss in some detail the diversity in seasonality of angling the Caloosahatchee River and its tributaries along Fort Myers and Cape Coral shores. The river, as it is affectionately known hits near to the heart for the author as I spent many many a summer days exploring the tidal creeks and upper reaches of the river from my grandmothers home.
The creek “Powell Creek” was on the site of the first settlers on the north side of the river at the time boasting a early homestead long before the introduction of Flagler’s RailRoad that ran one block away from the house, allowed a young man to dream and explore from its earliest man made roots. With Cape Coral sharing the northern shores of the Caloosahatchee, it is only fitting to include the city along with Fort Myers in rhetoric to describe the fishery.
In the winter (first cold front of December-February) when water temperatures start to plummet, Fort Myers will have a good redfish and sheepshead fishery along the river. The water clarity is increasing daily towards spring time with the lack of rainfall. Colder water temperatures has a large influence on the species of prey available to gamefish so crustaceans like shrimp and crabs are at the top of the list like elsewhere in the county.
Adequate snook fishing can be had in remote tidal creeks and certain sections of the river as the resident snook population will come out to warm themselves on the shallow sand banks while looking for prey. Tarpon can be found up river near the power plant, as the cooling towers will be discharging warm water coming from the reactors.
Winter periods can alloy for a truly remarkable situation for sight fishing if done correctly! Within the city limits the Caloosahatchee will be the prominent fishing ground but a short drive will allow other access to unique eco sytems within the city such as Punta Rassa at the western end, Fort Myers Beach and Estero Bay to the south.
With the arrival of spring, (March-May) the gradual warming of our waters and increased photoperiod of the days really spells out one character in particular and that would be the snook! It is at this time of year we see an abundance of this incredible animal departing their winter time haunts coming out into more open water and looking for feeding venues. All forms of tackle can be used to target them this time of year!
The increase in warmer water temperatures will also increase the abundance of baitfish in the river system as salinity continues to rise from its winter dry period. With this bait follows large schools of lady fish that the tarpon absolutely love. It is not uncommon to encounter large schools of tarpon taking advantage of this phenomenon.
Cobia do show up at their leisure and are almost always sight fished along the shoals of the river banks. Small permit can be taken key points in the river usually never exceeding the 1-3lb size range. There is significant written record of permit being seen and taken from the river system dating back over a hundred years ago! This is a little known fact of our area 😊
With the summer season (June-September) rains and high daily air temperatures the fishery within the reaches of Fort Myers will be at their highest productivity and vitality. All of the aquatic cold blooded species will be operating with the highest metabolisms at this time which in simpler terms means its time to eat! The water clarity will still be there but the tint in which the water clarity has from tanic acids of breaking down plant material will give this area an entirely new feel.
The tributaries along both shorelines will be delivering the highest amounts of prey items and species like snook, tarpon and jack crevalle are the main predators. Snook fishing is probably the best of all three to target and will take everything from flies to plugs, live mullet and menhaden.
Tarpon patrol the heavy current creek mouths with authority taking advantage of the influx of freshwater species like hoplo catfish and freshwater pan fish and cichlids that are swept into the creeks.
Afternoon storms can be menacing so early morning trips or evening sunset charters are the way to go to beat the heat and avoid the showers! This is a lively time to experience this watershed and usually is the least crowded of all fishing grounds we have!
Just about the time most start longing for pumpkin spice and trick or treating in the fall (October-first cold front of December), the fishery between Cape Coral and Fort Myers is ramping up! All warm season the baitfish have been growing on the abundance of phytoplankton and algae’s that help endemic species like menhaden grow large and bulging with fish oil. Fish oil is the biggest drive to these predator fish as a life source to help them get through winter and or the long migrations they make, there quite simply isn’t a more powerful fuel for tarpon and snook then baitfish high in fish oil.
In fall, large schools of tarpon are returning from their warm vacation along the gulf coast where many have spawned and made migrations of their own, as well as the snook population that spawned off the passes and beaches of boca grande and Sanibel now have returned close to “home” in order to recoup the massive amounts of energy they have expelled in reproduction.
With 20 years of experience, both snook and tarpon can be found in certain sections of the river as they make their way upstream in sequences. It is a great time of year to catch large fish of both varieties! Redfish are still encountered with some frequency and are at their most brilliant colors this time of year!