The Great Calusa Blueway, a 190-mile saltwater paddle trail along the mangrove islands and sugar-sand beaches of Lee County, has long been an international destination for sea kayakers looking for adventure.
With its myriad creeks and hidden bays, the Great Calusa Blueway also draws its share of birdwatchers. Excellent on-the-water signage coupled with readily available GPS coordinates have also made this well-marked paddling trail a veritable playground for geocachers hoping to hone their navigational skills.
But perhaps the greatest kept secret about the Blueway is the fishing. Light-tackle anglers in kayaks ply its waters every day in search of trout, redfish and snook. Few come away disappointed.
Josh Harvel used to fish out of a boat. Then a friend introduced him to the fastest-growing water sport in the United States: kayak fishing.
“Once I started fishing out of a kayak, I couldn’t go back,” said Harvel, who now runs YakNitUp Kayak Charters out of Cape Coral. “The fishing was so much better.”
The 33-year-old Harvel doesn’t make idle boasts. On a cool November morning, Harvel slipped his plastic sit-on-top kayak into the water and paddled toward the mangroves in search of redfish near Matlacha Pass.
The name comes from the Calusa, the “fierce people” who once plied these waters in dugout canoes, and means “water to the chin.” But Harvel is heading to an area where the water is just calf-deep.
“The great advantage to fishing out of a kayak is that it enables you to get into spots where fishermen in powerboats cannot go,” he said. “The only fishermen these fish ever see are in kayaks.”
Gliding silently along the mangrove-studded shoreline, Harvel scanned the water ahead for the tell-tale signs of red drum, a small wake, pushed up as the fish move through the shallows.
Harvel spotted a school of reds heading across his bow and let loose a soft-bodied plastic jig flying through the air. The artificial lure landed in front of the school and, in seconds, his fishing rod bent toward the water.
“Got one,” he said. It took the angler 10 minutes to bring the brute along side the boat. The jack crevalle weighed close to five pounds. “Pound for pound, you won’t find a better fighting fish."
Harvel, who charters exclusively out of a kayak, usually fishes the northern third of the Great Calusa Blueway, the Matlacha and Pine Island Sound area. The northernmost marker, number 99, is located at Annie’s Creek.
As you head south on the trail, the numbers on the markers get smaller. “The area near Annie's Creek has some of the best fishing our area has to offer,” Harvel said. “There is a large shoal that runs parallel to the mainland that lots of gamefish use as an ambush point. Fish anywhere between markers 99 to 89, and you will have luck.”
Other areas to consider include near the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River, just a bit southeast of Pine Island. During weather, fish can be found near Shell Creek. In Estero Bay, the lower third the Blueway, Hell Peckney Bay near mile marker 40 is the best place to get the kayak grand slam – a trout, redfish and snook – all in one day.
As far as tackle goes, a simple two-piece spinning rod, light-to medium action, rigged with 12- to 15-pound test line and a basic assortment of artificial lures – topwater and sinking hard-bodied plugs, soft-bodied jigs and gold and/or silver spoons – will work under most conditions.
Be sure to pack sunscreen, a good hat and sunglasses, a rain slicker and plenty of water. You might plan to fish for only a few hours, but once they start biting, you won’t want to go home.
For information on local tides, click here.
For information on fishing license requirements, click here.
For more fishing ideas, from pier fishing to pursuing tarpon, click here.