Feature Photo: Jason Houser
Growing up in the Midwest, my fishing opportunities were often limited to bass, bluegill and catfish. The biggest body of water we ever got to fish on was a local farm pond, or the small river winding through the countryside, and on special occasions, we would launch a boat on a local lake of a few hundred acres.
When the opportunity to fish with Southern Instinct Charters near Ft. Myers, Florida came along, it was an opportunity that I could not turn down. We would be fishing in the Gulf of Mexico for a variety of fish that we certainly did not have in my home state of Illinois.
I certainly could not go on this trip alone, so my brother-n-law Tom, and a couple other guys were quick to say yes to such an opportunity. Our wives and even my mother wasn’t going to let us go at this alone, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. After an 18-hour drive, we reached our destination at the Hilton Garden Inn in Ft. Myers. This would be our base camp for the trip.
Our accommodations where amazing. Great chefs, comfortable rooms, friendly staff that were eager to help, and I can’t forget to mention the fresh cookies that were always available at the front desk. I highly recommend this hotel when you get the chance to visit Ft. Myers.
Our first day in the area allowed us time to do some sightseeing before it was time to rest up for a day of fishing. The guys and gals thought the best sightseeing would be at the beach, and I agreed. After a few hours of enjoying the water, it was time to get some sleep, for we had fish to catch the next day.
Arriving at the docks at Port Sanibel Marina before first light the following morning, Captain Ryan Kane owner of Southern Instinct Charters had his 36-foot Contender ready to hit the water. While we were fishing, the ladies would be visiting Sanibel Island, experiencing the shopping, food, beautiful beaches, and of course the great shelling the area is known for.
We were going to begin our trip with a 50-mile ride out to where we hoped to hook up on some Snapper. But, with several hundred horsepower’s of Yamaha pushing the boat, it would be a quick trip.
Arriving where we hoped to catch some Yellowtail Snapper and Grouper, Capt. Ryan and Capt. Trevor Sushil quickly set anchor and begin chumming. Of course, this type of fishing was new to all of us, so we had a quick lesson on how to fish, and what to expect.
We were quickly on the snapper, but the problem we were facing were the barracudas in the area. It was a battle between fisherman and barracuda to see who wanted the hooked snapper the worst. Of course, we did, but more times than we would like, the barracuda took the opportunity to eat our fish before we could get them to the boat. That is one thing about fishing in these kinds of waters, there is always another fish ready to eat what you have on your line.
It was a frustration, but at the same time it added an extra element of excitement to the adventure. We caught a couple of the barracuda throughout the excitement. I have to say that these fish have some teeth, and an odor I have never known a fish to have.
A couple hours into the trip, Tom hooked a nice snapper, but the barracudas were aggressively trying to strip it off the hook. Tom was reeling like I have never seen a fisherman reel before. Unfortunately, the barracuda won, and Tom was able to land just the head of the snapper.
Wanting to have a little fun, Trevor hooked the head of the snapper onto a rod and reel combination that was suitable for catching one of these 4-foot barracudas that swam just feet from the boat. It did not take long for one of these long fish to take the bait, and the fight was on.
A few minutes into the battle, Capt. Ryan made the comment that the barracuda was gone. Tom knew he was still fighting a big fish, and had to question the Captain’s comment. He explained to us that the barracuda just got ate by a shark, a big shark. Now this was not what we expected, and we certainly were not fishing with a rod and reel combo setup for sharks. We were not in Illinois anymore.
With just a 30-pound leader, the chances of ever landing the shark seemed impossible. But, Tom was ready to give it a try. As seconds turned into minutes, then hours, the shark began to show signs of slowing down. We began to think that we were at least going to be able to get a glimpse of the big fish.
Finally, we caught a glimpse of silver in the depths of the gulf. Slowly the silver speck turned into the outline of a fish, a big fish. Ever so slowly, Tom was able to bring the fish to the surface at the boat’s side, and lay a hand on the leader. The giant fish turned out to be a Bull Shark with an estimated length of 9-feet.
The look of excitement and exhaustion on Tom’s face as the fish of a lifetime swam off said it all. He had the just experienced the fishing opportunity that many anglers will never feel, and he made the most of it.
Ready to move on, we decided to target some Bonitos, a member of the tuna family. These fish were everywhere, and it was just a matter of getting a lure into the middle of the large schools of fish working the water’s surface. With just a couple jerks of the lure, we would be hooked up on a fighter.
It was our intention to catch a few Bonitos to be used as bait for bigger fish, but the action was nonstop and we could not leave. Cast after cast we were hooking into these fish that were fighters like I have never experienced before. With line screaming from our reels, it was hard to leave the area to go look for fish elsewhere. A wise fisherman never leaves fish to go look for fish. It turned out that we ended up filleting the fish that many locals release, and were surprised how good they were when cooked to a medium-rare.
Fifteen hours into the trip we were able to experience fishing like we have never experienced before. Throughout the day we were fishing in waters with 6-foot waves, but the boat handled it perfectly and no one got sick. We landed yellowtail snappers, barracudas, and even a bull shark. What a trip. If you are interested in fishing with Captain Ryan give him a call at 239-896-2341, or on the web at www.southerninstinct.com
Of course, the Ft. Myers area has a lot more to offer than just fishing. You can’t come to the area without enjoying fresh seafood. We ate at several restaurants, but our favorite was Pinchers. We walked in the doors of Pinchers at The Marina at Edison Ford on empty stomachs, and left with more than satisfied bellies. With fresh seafood caught daily, and several locations to choose from, it is a must to visit one of the restaurants when in the area.
I reluctantly ordered the soft shell crab dinner. I was not for sure about eating the whole crab, but once I tried it, it became one of my seafood favorites. I was able to steal a couple bites of crab cakes off my wife’s plate, and there were no complaints there either. Without a doubt, the best crab cakes I have ever eaten.
After a lunch overlooking the marina, we made a quick walk to the Edison & Ford Winter Estates.
With over 20 acres of botanical gardens, the walk through the estates was breathtaking. The women didn’t want to leave. It was a great opportunity to step back in time to see how a couple of the greatest inventors and business legends lived.
Taking a peek into the homes, you could only imagine what was discussed around the dinner tables at night. The first inground pool is even on the estate’s property. Inground pools sure have changed over time.
The highlight of the tour for me was walking into Thomas Edison’s lab. It was a thrill to see where so many things we take for granted today, were only a thought in a brilliant man’s mind decades ago.
We chose to take the guided tour so we could learn as much as we could about the estate, but for those of you that would rather go at it alone, there is that opportunity as well with plenty of literature to keep you informed.
After the tour, we decided to backtrack to the marina, and take a boat tour with Pure Florida. Our wives had yet to be on the water, and we could not think of a better way to spend the remainder of the day.
Our 1 ½ hour cruise on the Caloosahatchee River allowed us to see Mangrove forests, bird rookeries, dolphins, and the Edison & Ford Winter Estates from the water.
The Pure Florida crew were very knowledgeable of the area, and made the entire cruise not only educating, but fun too. They also have sunset tours available as well.
We went to the Marina of Edison Ford for lunch, but stayed the day. There was just that much to do.
Not only is there great food, wonderful lodging, and historical tours in the Ft. Myers area, but there is so much more as we found out. The area is great for weddings, honeymoons, and family vacations as we witnessed plenty of all. If you get the opportunity to visit the Ft. Myers/Beaches of Sanibel area, take it.
This article started out in my mind to be about our fishing experience, but as I began to write, I could not leave out all the great family opportunities available. If you would like more information on Pinchers restaurants visit, www.pinchersusa.com. For Edison & Ford Winter Estates go to www.edisonfordwinterestates.org. For a great sightseeing tour of the area, www.purefl.com should be your tour of choice. And of course, for great lodging when you are not seeing the sites or out fishing, rest your head at the Hilton Garden Inn, www.fortmyers.StayHGI.com. To plan your own adventure, contact the folks at the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau on the web at www.fortmyers-sanibel.com or call 1-800-237-6444.