Matlacha, a beautiful tropical island situated between the east side of Pine Island, and the mainland of Cape Coral, is a colorful artistic community that has a rich history of aquaculture and arts in SW Florida. With a topographical layout stretching mostly north and south it is a “pass” by definition and boasts a hefty exchange of water on tidal movements that bring a multitude of species through its corridors. A notable example of its exclusivity is the conversion of tidal movement in the heart of Matlacha nearest Matlacha bridge where the outgoing tide, which is mostly Southbound in many parts of the gulf coast actually travels north into the harbor where as from the bridge it flows south towards the Sanibel causeway into San Carlos Bay on its way to the gulfstream. What this enables is a constant flush of vital nutrients and movements of fish that only a bountiful eco system like this can support.
Amidst the north to south corridor is a labyrinth of small creek systems that discharge sheet flow from pine palmetto flatwood habitat along the mainland coast, shallow grass flats prevail here that support a healthy redfish population, speckled sea trout and impressive snook fishery. Tarpon are residents of this gulfcoast paradise and are reliable for all but the cold winter months. For those guests that wish to test their angling skill, Matlacha boasts some of our areas most consistent clear water that provides excellent sight fishing opportunities year around for the above mentioned species, greater detail can be found below when we break down the seasons.
During the World War II era, Matlacha was made famous as the “worlds fishiest bridge” from all of the enlisted serviceman that were based at the Buckingham air field that found it was much cheaper to go fishing than other activities at the time and this was a great start to recognizing and founding the amazing fishery we still experience today!
Seasonal variance is felt here but not in any form of exclusion. Each season shares much of the same quarry but different routes taken to achieve our angling goals, below you will find the four seasons: and I don’t mean Vivaldi!
April showers bring May flowers! Is a lovely saying my grandmother would tell me growing up, and it is just as true to the fishing world. In spring (March-May) on the warm up we encounter extremely clear water clarity in this area from the lack of tannic acid being washed into the water from rain. Coincidingly, it is at this time of year that small pinfish and shrimp are extremely plentiful and the gamefish take note. Redfishing is very good with the live bait option as well as light tackle lure fishing and fly fishing. Large snook can be found beginning to leave their winter time haunts as they begin to school and get ready for their main spawn which takes place in early summer at our nearshore passes. Large speckled trout are taken with consistency in deeper seagrass shoals and all the way to the mangrove shoreline on higher tide option. April and May adult tarpon show up in charlotte harbor for a short period as they start to gather for their spawn as well.
Summertime (June-September) in SWFL as everyone knows is warm! During this time of year we like to start our charters early in the morning ranging from dawn, to predawn departures custom suited for your needs and wants when chartering. Early bird gets the worm and when we are in full afternoon thunderstorm season it is nice to beat the heat and rain to have a half day or ¾ trip wrapped up and back to safety while the other folks are stuck in the weather! Experience pays off and safety is always the first consideration by the captain.
Now back the good stuff! In summer to our north we have the Peace River that discharges in the northern reaches of Charlotte Harbor, and the infamous Caloosahatchee river bordering the southern portion of Matlacha. What this means for us is that there are incredible amount of resident fish that flock to the mouths of those rivers to score a easy meal that we often times come across anomalies like huge schools of jack crevalle that can be a absolute blast to catch.
The tarpon are very active in summer with a healthy mixture of adult and sub adult fish. The same shorelines that produce 10-30lb tarpon also at times will have triple digit fish working the same habitat so diversity is truly a blessing here. On the right tides redfishing can be done with great success on both tide events but the captains favorite and specialty is looking for tailing redfish. When the water depths are right and the red drum are happy the act of sticking their tails out of the surface of the water as they forage about for food is truly a remarkable sight and can become quite addicting! Tailing or not redfish can be taken on live and or cut bait, artificial lures and my specialty fly fishing.
If you are lucky enough to experience Florida in summer, you owe it to yourself to fish the summertime bite. No greater of a time to target these incredible gamefish than when they are at their peak vitality.
Just as the first teasing whispers of cool weather of fall (October-fist cold front in December)starts to occupy our minds, Matlacha and Pine Island are exploding at the seams teaming with life from the flora to the fauna. Observant conservationist will note the incredible activity by the birds this time of year and that is a direct result of mass amounts of baitfish that have had the entire warm summer period to reach maturity gaining mass and the all mighty fish oil that have accumulated from micro nutrients. It is the gift from nature, to nature the splendor of life.
These few months all walks and flights of life are gorging themselves to prepare for winter and “usually” the welcoming of next generation. In fishing terms this means that schools of mackerels, blue fish and sea trout can be found in the deeper water reaches among the black headed gulls and royal terns busting bait. On the low wind days with the right lunar phase cobia are a wonderful target along the harbor fringes.
But the true VIP this time of year is the backcountry fishing for redfish, trout and snook. The explosion in bait has all three species working shallow flats and mangrove lagoons. With years of fishing experience hands down this is my favorite and most productive time of year in regards to hunting trophy fish with fly rods and spinning tackle. The chances for large snook go up immensely as many snook are on the outside edges of their winter backcountry homes so we tend to find “resident” fish in key areas that can be extremely rewarding to the angler. For the birding crowd in fall we get our first white pelican visitors as they arrive in style for winter, this is a great time to view feeding herons and egrets along with the arrival of songbirds beginning to show for their winter stay.
The immediate affects of our first cold front is the true Floridian sign of winter (first cold front of December-February) like an official stamp of approval. With the cooling of the water temperature signals the increase in water clarity and our tactics change slightly when targeting the above-mentioned species. Quarterly in winter months we experience extreme tidal influence from the moon and sun being so close together it creates extra gravitational pull on the water and produces “negative tides”.
The term “negative tide” can be used as slang here bc it is such monumental moment. In many areas the water will cease to exist and reveals the bottom of the ocean in which is a remarkable time our worlds combine. This immense movement of water will leave marine animals trapped in pot holes and creeks, fish that were on a large flat can be concentrated in channels and reliefs so it can produce a immense amount of bites and variety in fish we catch.
Redfish are still the top of our target list and are the most reliable of the big three we fish for. Water temperatures can dip into the high 80’s and while snook may be completely lethargic until mid day warms them, the redfish on the other hand can still be caught and fished in the cooler water. Tailing redfish are still a viable option in winter, they tend to be a bit more spooky in some areas bc of the improved water clarity.
Snook fishing is a exciting target in the winter fishing shallow water. It takes them a bit longer to warm up but once they do they usually move up into shallow water to begin hunting for food and it is this time we target them with applied tactics. Sea trout in Matlacha during winter will yield the largest trout of the year. Fish of 28,29&30 inches or and more have been taken many times from north and south Matlacha. Pompano are another visitor this time of year and make excellent ethically responsible table fare. Out of all the locations to fish in winter, Matlacha is always at the top of my list for good reason!
Matlacha remains one of our areas most unique and rewarding fisheries of our area, guests can access Matlacha in two ways! In Matlacha itself, lies Matlacha community park. Equipped with safe convenient parking and bathroom facilities located almost smack dab in the middle stretch it offers the quickest access to both ends of the pass. Nearby the park are a unique variety of restaurants and art shops that further add to your experience and adventure after your fishing trip! I highly encourage guests to see Pine Island and the historic Tarpon Lodge located 15 minutes away from Matlacha community park.
The second option of access comes from the main hub boat ramp known as Punta Rassa boat ramp in fort myers. This ramp is extremely busy with recreational and commercial use, the largest group of professional guides in our area operate from this ramp providing boaters with incredible access to Matlacha, pine island, Sanibel and fort myers beach from its shores. Many guests that will be staying in fort myers, Sanibel and Captiva will find this departure location to be of the greatest convenience. From the time we leave the dock while operation on a slow plane we usually begin fishing in southern Matlacha within 20mins.
In the event you are staying some distance from Matlacha and we are experiencing a weather event like high winds and a rough skiff ride may be in our futures. The captain will likely suggest the best alternative and routinely that entails a trip to Matlacha community park for safety sake as it offers safe haven in the multitude of back country areas that we can still access out of the wind and weather.
For my culinary minded friends that maybe browsing the page the captain can recommend a few restaurants on Matlacha island. For the captains favorite dining experience I have to recommend Blue Dog Bar and Grill. Owned by a retired cape coral fire fighter this small restaurant comes through in huge ways with fresh quality seafood and a family appropriate atmosphere. When in season, make sure you try the Triple tail fish bites! This is guide fuel!
Berts Bar and Grill located on the mainland side of the Matlacha bridge is a unique bar that has a immense amount of history going way back on the island. They serve some food and the atmosphere is great to overlook the water.
Miceli’s family restaurant located next to D and D tackle and A-1 marine service is a wonderful family owned restaurant that is very popular always boasting a full parkinglot. Live music and tiki bar out back offer a nice place to relax and eat