Whether you’re a tourist trying to increase your fishing knowledge of the area or a local wanting to learn a few pointers, this article will give you the best Marco Island fishing tips for beginners to experts.
We consider ourselves native Marco Island fishing guides; We’ve been fishing these waters for 35 years. Our captains have fished all around the world. As you know, fishing is a geographical thing. Different locations around the United States and the world for that matter have different techniques. In essence, none is better than the other, but the local systems have been refined over the years. For example, fishing walleye in the Detroit river, hand lining is the preferred method. Forty miles north in the St. Clair River, twitching plugs are most common. So to be clear, we’re going to be talking specifically about the waters surrounding Naples and Marco Island down to Key Largo.
We are speaking about backwater fishing, not offshore. We’re talking about fishing the rivers and tributaries, and small bays of the 10,000 islands. This area holds 200 species of fish, but probably more so, 20 main species of catchable game and table fair. These waters are extremely shallow, which means that the air temperature can change the water temperature extremely fast. Most days we’re fishing in five feet of water or less, the exception would be fishing deeper holes in a low tide where fish would migrate to.
First, let’s talk about preferred gear
As a charter captain, my choice of rod and reel is a 6 or 6 ½ foot graphite rod with an open-face reel. The shorter rod length allows for ease of casting on a boat with inexperienced anglers. The open face reels allow me to monitor line tangles with ease. The choice of line although cumbersome on windy days is always braid. We will get to baits and lures in a bit.
All the Marco Island charter fishing and the fishing in the Ten Thousand Islands is pretty much in a specific manner. There is no such thing as trolling, think more of bass fishing, parking the boat or slowly moving its position along the mangroves while casting into the strike zone off the mangrove roots is the preferred method. If your boat does not have a trolling motor, don’t be alarmed. In a moving tide, it’s very easy to skirt along the islands with the natural movement of water.
The Best Time To Fish On Marco Island
We do not fish the clock here in the 10,000 islands; we fish the tide and moving water. Look for a slow down in the fishing and a slack tide when the direction is turning around. Marco Island fishing is some of the best I’ve seen anywhere in the world, providing that you fish efficiently. Nearly every fish down here is predatory. Everything has teeth. Every pole should be leadered the last two feet with fluorocarbon. This will prevent a toothy fish from cutting the line. If you don’t yet know how to tie braid to fluoro, you must learn this. Do not use swivels, its just an added element for the fish to see. Further, you run the risk of taking out your rod tip guide.
The Technique You Should Be Using
Let’s begin with technique; you’ll be fishing mangrove islands, mangrove island perimeters. Outcropping points and cut-ins should be a focal point. This next sentence is probably the most important of this entire blog, ingrain it in your brain. There is a strike zone off of these mangrove root systems that only extends two to ten feet off the shoreline. That’s where you’re going to get your fish strikes. In a high tide, you will notice the water receding into the root system. You will get most of your fish within two feet of those roots. Snook, redfish, and jacks back themselves up into those roots into a pounce position waiting for pray to swim by. This is very important, as the tide drops the fish move out of the roots and position themselves two to three feet off the shoreline in the falling waters.
Therefore, keep this in mind, as the tide drops your strike zone will move further and further towards your suspended boat. As a Marco Island charter boat, I can tell you that inexperienced casters will be entangled in the trees, and the root systems inevitably. I would far rather lose baits and braids along with expensive lures by trying to be in the strike zone then to not be in the correct area to catch fish. The loss is part of the trip. Keep this in mind and ask the charter captain before you book. Be sure to check the baits, lures, and lines that you’ll be using for the day. Pretty much we all charge the same price, but if all you’re getting for your money is a hook and a sinker, chances are you won’t be as successful as you could be.
Types of Fish You’ll Catch
I’m often asked about what type of fish we catch in Marco Island and the Ten Thousand Islands. The more popular question is when is the best time to fish… and what part of the year. The answer to that is it’s always good to fish. The different seasons and water temperatures make certain fish more predominant, and we can still catch all the species all year. Our monster tarpon which migrates from the Keys north are generally around in the Spring to Summer, but that’s not to say we can’t catch resident tarpon slightly all year. For myself and my Marco Island fishing charter boats, during the summer, we hit Snook, Redfish, Pompano, tons of sharks. During the winter months, we tend to get more sea trout, sheepshead, and tripletail.
Our Favorite Marco Island Fishing Spots
My areas of choice to fish in the 10,000 islands is to head south. South down the coast and turn into the island tributaries, usually snaking back in about four miles into any given direction will get me away from other boats. In my opinion, regardless of what anybody says, if you’re fishing where boats are racing by, jet skis are tearing up the water, it’s not going to be anywhere as good as finding solitude. Fish get spooked, and if you can get away from the people, you’ll be fishing for fish in their natural state.
Fishing In Windy Conditions
This analogy works best, think of deer in the woods on a windy day, they’re both stressed and spooked. My greatest success happens when I get on the leeward side of an island hiding from the wind. In waves and current, fish are fighting for their survival. Fish will not eat unless they’re in a relaxed environment, that is usually only in calm water. Add this factor to your thinking, and it will always provide a better success rate. Now let’s talk about water temps, the shallow waters in the Ten Thousand Islands easily are controlled by the air temperature. It’s not as stable as offshore, while it cools down much faster in opposite the temperature rises midday. As a basic format, hot fish strike faster, cold waters slow down a fish’s metabolism, and they’ll strike slower as the temperature decreases. Keep this in mind when fishing in unstable waters in the Winter.
The Type of Bait We Use
Hands down, the best bait you can put on the end of a line is what you pull in from your cast net. During the winter months, this is much more difficult, but the summer is the time when you should be on top of your game for throwing a net. Live shrimp at the end of a Cajon popper rig is our go-to bobber style fishing which is extremely efficient and gives the angler a visual on strikes. An additional choice is jigheads, at times we tip them with a small piece of shrimp for scent, be sure not to use too big of a piece as it may look unnatural. The fish is actually biting the lure. A very effective method of those jigheads is to add a bucktail classic. Our choice is Gulp, and these can be bought in any tackle store. As for the choice of color, we still hold to the thinking of dark water, dark bait, clear water, light bait. Color is a matter of fishermen’s choice, and fishing the 10,000 islands is no different. Whatever the angler feels will get the most fish, try first.
If and when you have the ability to find flat pond water for positive, swim baits are going to be most productive. Causing a ruckus across a flat top or a shallow diver will attractive every fish from 50 yards out. On every Marco Island fishing charter that I do, my goal is to find that kind of water. When we begin our day, and it’s almost to the point where we say we shouldn’t have fish that day because the wind is so high, this is your smartest choice. Tourists and anglers really want to fish the woods, deep into the 10,000 islands. It feels untouched. But in the wind that I’m talking about, my best bet has always been to fish the canals of Marco Island, that water is sheltered by homes and canals, and it’s always productive to pitch baits underneath the sheltered docks. That’s where every fish in the area heads to. So, while not as attractive as fishing deep into the Everglades, I asked the client, “do you want to catch fish, or do you want it pretty?”