Welcome to Englewood, Fl

  It's more than fishing ... it's a way of life.

Welcome to Englewood, Fl

Welcome to Englewood Florida Fishing

              There are two kinds of people: those who know they like to fish, and those who don't know they like to fish. Fishing is one of those fundamentals in life that ties everything together, nature, water, air recreation, etc. If more people fished we would need fewer prisons, hospitals, Starbucks, Disney Worlds and Las Vegas. My objective in writing this paper is to enable fisherman (and woman) who are new to our area, or those who just have realized they like fishing, to get out on the water, have a productive trip, and sit down to the best protein on the planet.

                 Englewood Florida is the fishing capitol of the fishingist State in these United States. We have it all. Salt and fresh water, Ocean (Gulf actually), beach, bay, close to shore, and miles away from shore. In addition to finny fish there are clams, oysters, crabs, shrimp, lobsters and more, if you know where to go and how to do it. You can fish with rod and reel, various kinds of nets and traps, gigs and spear guns, but, dynamite is really discouraged!!!

                 Englewood began mostly as a mullet fishing village. In those early days over one hundred years ago a rowing trip across the bay might require throwing mullet overboard because they often jumped into the boat. No one now knows where Englewood begins and ends. Because we have not made the mistake of incorporating, there is no Englewood Government; Englewood does not really exist except as a couple of Zip codes in two Counties; Sarasota (2/3) and Charlotte (1/3). To confuse matters more, South Sarasota County (Englewood) High school Students attend Lemon Bay High School, a Charlotte County School!!! We do not resent those who lay dubious claim to belonging to Englewood; like Rotunda, Cape Haze, Gulf Cove, Boca Grande etc. because we understand how strong the attraction is. We generously think of Venice as North Englewood, and North Port as outer Englewood. Port Charlotte is too far out for us to think much about.

                Manasota Key is mostly in Englewood. It is on that barrier island where the Englewood beaches are. There are no real beaches on the Bay or Harbor. All Gulf beaches up to the high water mark are open to the public, but access is private except at Stump pass State Park on the south end, Englewood Beach (Charlotte County Park),Middle Beach at Blind pass, Sarasota County Park, Manasota Beach Sarasota County Park. Once you get on the beach you have thirty miles to call your own. Fish wherever you want.

                On the northern end of Manasota Key, beyond the Gated Community, (Note, we tend to look at the gates as keeping them in) there is Casperson, Sarasota County Park, its unofficial nude beach, indecent exposure events, and the parking lot where lonely meet other lonely men to...... well, they don't go fishing!!!! Further North is Venice Isle, created by the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) dredging to better enable the world to reach Englewood by boat. There are beaches on all of the barrier Islands, Gasparilla, Don Pedro, Knight's, Palm etc. but all with very limited public access. (Perhaps they don't like us???).

                Lemon Bay extends about thirty miles from Shamrock, Sarasota County Park (where the ACE dredging began) in the North, down to the Gasparilla Swing Bridge at the south end. The Intracoastal Waterway {ICW) extends its full length and is well marked to keep boats in the channel. When the Corps dug the ICW, the spoils were piled up on the sides creating oyster beds, grass flats, and other marine habitat, and the navigation hazards most of us encounter at some time when we forget which side of the red and green markers we are supposed to be on. Lemon Bay, as an extension of Charlotte Harbor, has over 250 different species of fin fishes in it. Many of which can be taken with hook and line, all of which are subject to State Limits, and many are fun to catch and good to eat. The Bay is about a mile wide in the middle and narrower to the South. There are Islands, grass flats, oyster beds, access to the Gulf, boat ramps, marinas, gas, bait and tackle; all anyone could realistically want in life.

                Charlotte Harbor is the second largest harbor on the Gulf of Mexico after Tampa Bay. It extends up the Myakka River, the Peace River, the Caloosahatchee River down beyond Fort Myers and out to Sanibel Island and up along the Barrier Islands. Pine Island, near the south end of the Harbor is the largest island on the Gulf of Mexico, but is not a Barrier island and has no real beach.

                Charlotte Harbor is long, broad, and treacherous for novice boaters. When you see wading birds, miles from land, strolling around, it is easy to conclude the water is shallow. Traveling at speed, without planning ahead and using GPS and charts has provided a lot of boat repair business.

                The major bays off the Harbor (Turtle and Bull) are usually loaded with fish and at low tide just about un-navigable.  If you have an overwhelming desire to become a Coast Guard search candidate go far into Turtle Bay at high tide, fish happily for hours, and then try to find your way out. (Note, use of a cell phone or VHF radio spoils the fun). Warning, overnight stays near the mangroves may require supersized bug spray.

                So you want to go fishing. Good. Some of the fresh water fishing you enjoyed "up north can be done here just about the same way you did there. Largemouth Bass act the same way here, as do crappies, sunfish etc. They can be found in rivers, creeks, ponds and canals. No special equipment required. But, a license is needed for most people (better check). Alas there are no Walleyes. If you are a salt water fisherman from up north you may find that your gear, your terminal tackle, your lures and bait, your techniques, your knowledge of regulations, and your ability to identify your catch may all be wrong. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Law Enforcement Officers have the same authority as State Troopers plus they enforce all those complicated fishing regulations which you are responsible to know. Florida does a good job of trying to make it easy to stay within the law by providing free handouts and online identification assistance (myflorida.com ) but there are many opportunities to make mistakes. For example a thirteen inch black drum (14 inch limit) may look like legal sheepshead {12 inch limit) until you check its mouth, body shape, fins etc. That they both have vertical stripes will not carry any weight in court. You may also be confused by common names like sea trout; which is perhaps more closely related to a walleye than to a northern trout, which is really more a salmon. Another example is the Gulf flounder. In northern waters winter flounder feed on worms in the mud, whereas the Gulf flounder, which in the North might be called a fluke, feed on shrimp, baitfish, cut bait etc. Better buy a chart, and/or a book, and in the tackle shop where you got your license, and study it, because mistakes can be costly.

                So, lots of fish, lots of fishing, regulations to learn, identification challenges, what else? Gear!!!! The simplest and most straightforward approach to getting the right gear is to go to a tackle shop and ask. This is not going to be the cheapest, but chances are high you will be able to talk with a person who actually knows something about fishing. At Wally-world finding a salesperson in the sporting goods department is the first hurdle, but finding one who can actually answer your questions is a bigger hurdle.

                An alternative is to spend time where people are fishing, and maybe even catching fish. The old pier by the Tom Adams bridge (Beach Road),or the Jetties in Venice, Sharky's Pier, the trestle at Placida, El Jobean trestle etc. usually have fisherman trying to catch fish. They may be friendly, but too busy to answer novice questions, so take a look at what they are using. Most medium weight spinning gear with twenty pound test line can be used for most of what they, or you, can catch in those places. Most of them will be using bait. Most of the bait used will be live shrimp.

                One of the most knowledgeable speakers I have heard giving advice on fishing in our area says, If you are using artificials you are fishing, if you are using bait you are catching." Shrimp is eaten by almost every one of the hundreds of area species. Unfortunately some pesky fish like pin fish, hardhead catfish, pig fish etc. are very good at finding your bait before the sport fish get to it. Very large pinfish can be fun to catch and can be eaten; smaller pinfish can be very good Snook, trout, and redfish bait, either whole or cut. Pinfish and catfish avoid structure where predators lurk, they are much more common elsewhere.

                Hardhead Catfish have toxic barbs. If you get stabbed you will not die but the pain can be intense. Ice does no good, the best treatment is heat; it will stop the pain quickly. If untreated, the pain will probably subside within an hour. Worst case, your hand will swell and you may lose interest in fishing for a while.

                Once you get a sense of the gear you need and have been successful catching fish, adding usable tackle can be most cheaply accomplished at yard sales. Fishing rods (poles to some of us) can be easy to spot at a garage sale driving at around fifteen miles per hour. At yard sales I seldom pay more than ten dollars for anything, and often less. I will even buy damaged rods to either repair or to strip off the guides and tips to repair other rods. If I think the stuff is being sold because of a death, or worse (nursing home), I do not haggle; I either pay the asking price or leave.

                Where to catch lots of fish is your next challenge. With the exception of sheepshead with a limit of 15 fish 12 inches or larger, and mullet; which few people know how to catch with anything besides a cast net (and many of us don't care to eat unless smoked) there aren't good eating fish legal to catch in any quantity. Overall, bay and harbor are best for sport fish like Snook, redfish, sea trout and other species which have strict limits, and may even be out of season. If you want to stock up on fish the Gulf is where you want to go.

                The fish that "party boats" go after so they can send customers home with table food, is the white grunt. Known also as a Key West grunt, they are abundant offshore fish that can be as big as eighteen inches, but average around ten inches. Restrictions limit a catch to one hundred fish. They are very good eating and fun to catch. They are found on "hard bottom" often with red grouper. Fishing for grunts with a medium rod, perhaps a (/meat stick" type can help you keep grunts and grouper from dragging you down into the hard bottom where they hide. Because they are down in the bottom in limestone holes they often do not show up on fish finders. Also abundant in the Gulf, and good eating, but smaller than grunts, are tomtates. They are generally reef fish, and can be caught two or three at a time on small hooks, but are very good bait stealers. Spanish mackerel are also abundant Gulf fish, but are not as much bottom feeders as are grunts and tomtates, they are usually caught near the surface on a small silver spoon rigged with wire leader, bag limit is 15 fish. They are also not as universally liked on the table because they are a bit oily and stronger flavored. They are, like mullet, good smoked. They are excellent fighters and can bite through mono or braid easily.

                The simplest and easiest way, to begin is to head to one of the public fishing bridges or piers. Bait is often sold close by, as is tackle. A second option is the beach where a light rod can be fun, or use a meat stick for the big stuff. Lures are easy to fish on a quiet day on the beach, but bait is probably more dependable for action. Essentially the same thing can be said for wade fishing in Lemon Bay. Just make sure you have shoes that won't come off your feet in mud (Wally-world lace up cheap sneakers, about $13.00,last me about a year before they are useless). You may want chest waders in January, but blue jeans work fine for naturally insulated bodies, except in the coldest water. In summer swim trunks work. There are things to step on that may not be fun, like sting rays, oysters, pen shells etc. hence the sneakers, but most fishermen go unscathed.

                One more really good way to get started is to book a trip on a charter boat. If you have the budget, a day on the water with a charter captain can save you money in the long-run because you will get an education that might take you years to get on your own. Finding the fish, rigging gear, the gear itself, technique etc., are things you can learn and adopt. The boat provides most everything but food and drink. (Note; do not assume that anything alcoholic will be allowed.) Bring your own sun screen, dress appropriately; take anti motion sickness tablets if the water is going to be choppy. Get a good night's rest, take it easy on breakfast and coffee drinking, expect that the boat will not have a head, and your trip may advance your learning curve dramatically.

                Also, consider attending an Englewood Fishing Club meeting at Lemon Bay Park, the second Thursday of every month at 6:30pm. It is one of the most successful fishing clubs in the State. Attendance is often close to, or over, one hundred people. Anyone can attend a meeting, but members have privileges and membership is only $40.00/year. There is a speaker at every meeting, often charter captains who generously share their expertise with attendees.

                On the second Saturday of the month a marine biologist conducts a 9:30 am program at lemon bay park kayak launch on the biology of the bay. Small seines are used to sample fish and other fauna and questions are answered. The stuff that gets caught in the seine is the stuff that the sport fish depend on. If it is not there, the fish you are after will not be there.

                Spend a little time in any of bay or harbor and you will see striped mullet jumping. They can be confused with sport fish by a novice and probably account for a significant part of tackle sales. "Wow you see all those Snook jumping?" They can be over twenty inches long and weigh a few pounds. They are strong, smart fish. Legally they can be taken with cast nets and certain kinds of seines. In the winter the females are targeted because the processed roe sells in Asia for a lot of money. Some professionals are after them at other times of year for a limited fresh and smoked market. Watching the pros throw a net to form a twenty eight foot circle can be entertaining. I'm okay with a cast net half that size. Mullet are selective feeders. Contrary to general knowledge they are not exclusively vegetarians. They feed near the surface on the stuff living and swimming by swimming along with open mouths, often in schools of hundreds of fish. Cast a piece of night crawler on a number six, or smaller hook suspended a foot below a tiny bobber, and have some fun with a strong fighter. Mullet also feed on the bottom. They stir stuff up that redfish grab. If the water in the area of the bay you choose to fish shows no sign of mullet jumping and roiling-up the water, and if the water is crystal clear, you may want to look elsewhere for redfish and Snook. Don't crowd the mullet and spook them. If they get frantic the sport fish with them may pick up the message and shut down or leave.

                There are many happy fishermen who do not own boats. Either they fish from shore, on piers, wading, or they have neighbors and friends with boats, or they pay for an occasional outing. Some of us are happy with a kayak, canoe, pram, open rowboat, whatever floats and can be fished from. Some go for flats boats, shallow draft, close to the water, and very stable. Others chose pontoon or deck boats so they can picnic, party, and fish. V-hull bay or offshore center console boats are the most popular. Skilled captains can get them into skinny water, and take them offshore on a suitable day. The center console allows unobstructed movement around the entire boat. If a Bimini top is used to provide shade the free movement is compromised. My Bimini is in the attic. A Coast Guard approved Safe Boating course is a must for some captains to legally operate a power boat and is recommended for everyone to help prevent disasters. The Englewood area waters are patrolled by State and County law enforcement, and there is also City law enforcement in the Venice area. They take their responsibility seriously.

                I have been fishing for a lot of years. I have fished all over the East Coast, in Alaska and Europe. I am hooked. I also have been for the past eight years a volunteer with the FWC doing fish surveys all over Charlotte Harbor, the Myakka, the Peace, the Caloosahatchee and Lemon Bay. I have handled most of the over 250 species of fish in those waters. I have personally not found a better place for a fisherman to live.

                One last bit of experience to share; I know some sad stories about people who moved here expecting to be very active fishing. They focused on the house to buy, with minimal regard to location in regards to fishing, caused them to choose a very nice house where they could not keep a boat, which was too many miles away from water they could fish, or near canals that they thought went somewhere, but didn't. My wife Carol and I are Realtors. We have been successful in finding very nice houses for fellow fishermen the location of which facilitated actually doing the kind of fishing they came here for. Location, location, location; is a factor which determines just how easily you get out on the water and actually catch fish. Any questions you may have can be addressed to my email address bel

 By John Halvorsen


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