Exploring Marco Island
In the Heart of Ten Thousand Islands
Written by Jeff Merrill
Named for Saint Mark, the Christian evangelist, Marco Island is the largest of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, offering year-round opportunities for excellent backwater, near-shore and offshore fishing.
The shallow water among this realm of Ten Thousand Islands provides a vast habitat for popular species including snook, tarpon, redfish, snapper, trout, jacks, pompano, sheepshead and lady fish. These waters are quiet and secluded and well protected from winter’s breezy conditions and provide an excellent chance to introduce kids to fishing. Depending on the species sought and season, casting artificial lures, plastic baits and natural baits will draw exciting strikes from predator species in shallow water among this maze of marsh and grass. Here you’ll also enjoy scenic views as well as encounters with rare birdlife and marine mammals such as the majestic manatee.
The term offshore may be a misnomer for those fishing off Marco Island. Unlike Florida’s east coast where water depth drops off significantly within five miles of land, here that same distance finds anglers plying the wrecks, rock piles and artificial reefs among depths of only 75 to 100 feet, where you can tangle with numerous species of grouper and snapper, kingfish (king mackerel) little tunny (bonito), cobia, permit and sharks. Keep in mind when planning an offshore trip this time of the year, winter’s breezes can make for a sporty day on the water so you should plan accordingly. For those who wish to wet a line but stay ashore, numerous piers and bridges abound and provide cover for pompano, sea trout, sheepshead and jacks as well as Spanish mackerel and ladyfish as they lie in the shadows waiting to ambush an easy meal.
WHERE TO DOCK?
For those traveling by boat, Esplanade Marina lies on Smokehouse Bay in the heart of Marco Island. Here, four concrete floating docks feature 77-slips capable of handling vessels up to 60 feet. Each slip features water, electric, holding tank pump-out, cable TV, a telephone and a storage locker. Land-based amenities include restroom and laundry facilities and a lounge with television. Sailboats and sportfishing vessels alike have easy access to Esplanade Marina from the Gulf of Mexico because there’s no bridge to limit vessel height. Additionally, water depth from Big Marco River to Smokehouse Bay ranges from 6 to 20 feet at mean low tide.
Amid the beautiful tropical landscaping and coastal Italian architecture you’ll also find fine and casual dining among three restaurants including Mango’s Dockside Bistro, Chop 239 and CJ’s on the Bay. Dotting the promenade there are numerous upscale shops, specialty stores and designer boutiques.
GUIDES AND CHARTERS
Six Chuter Charters offers a variety of inshore and offshore charters and combination fishing trips. Their group of experienced guides are USCG licensed and have a wealth of experience fishing the vast landscape the Ten Thousand Islands encompasses. For more information, contact them at 239-389-1575 or visit sixchutercharters.com.
TACKLE TIP - DRAG SETTING
Whether you’re shallow-water angler or bluewater fanatic, an important part of tackle preparation includes a proper drag setting on the reel. A general rule of thumb is drag resistance should be set at approximately 25 percent of the rated breaking strength of the line. In other words, if your reel, whether spinning or conventional, is spooled with 30-pound test, the drag setting should be approximately 7.5 to 8 pounds. This will allow for enough resistance to tire your quarry while also preventing a broken line. Additionally, keep in mind as spool diameter decreases due to a large amount of line in the water, drag will increase significantly so you may need to back off on the drag during prolonged battles with large gamefish.
PRODUCT SPOTLIGHT: CUDA PLIERS
Taking inspiration from the barracuda, Cuda products include a line of high-quality fishing pliers that have been developed and tested by professional fishermen in fresh and saltwater environments to ensure the highest quality and reliability. All models feature titanium-bonded carbon steel and full-tang steel construction with nonslip Cuda scale pattern grips. Styles range in size from 6.75 inches to 11 inches and can cut through mono and fluorocarbon and, in some instances, wire and braid. For more information, visit cudabrand.com.