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Summer season visit to Englewood Beach on Manasota Key

Red Grouper from the Gulf have magnificent markings and grow big.  Photo by Captain Rick Paolillo

Red Grouper from the Gulf have magnificent markings and grow big. Photo by Captain Rick Paolillo

Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf Islands like Manasota Key can be found on the Southwest coast of Florida. Summer is considered the off season in SW Florida, and great values and fun times can be found in this area between Tampa Bay and Fort Myers. Miles of mangroves and pristine waterways convey their commitment to conservation, and the saltwater fishing for grouper in the Gulf can be sizzling hot.
Punta Gorda is the only incorporated city
in this stretch of Florida, and the Charlotte Harbor waterway consists of two main rivers: the Peace River and the Myakka River. Besides the Gulf of Mexico, ample inshore boating options are present in Lemon Bay, which runs from Punta Gorda up to Englewood Beach. An Old Florida style hotel called Weston’s Wanna B Inn is positioned perfectly so that it has beach access with Gulf views out front, and a saltwater dock with private boat ramp on Lemon Bay out back.
With a long history of providing local families a beachy summer vacation, the Wanna B has a built-in audience. There are several separate hotel buildings, all of which are painted in a colorful 1950s style. Amenities include a swimming pool and a beachfront grilling station, and easy access to nearby Stump Pass Beach state park. The Wanna B Inn is
dog-friendly and the rooms offer a kitchenette and spacious living areas for any downtime between trips to the beach.
The natural world and wildlife sightings are just a part of the summer season, and I was pleasantly surprised at the high number of sea turtle nests present on the beach. Literally, right in front of the Wanna B Inn, a loggerhead nest hatched out during my stay, and all the early risers from the hotel formed two lines to watch as turtle hatchlings made their ancient trek into the Gulf. Birds like ospreys and brown pelicans are flying by during all hours of the day, and wading birds like egrets and herons abound.
You can pretty well set your clock by the afternoon thundershowers that exist in Florida during summer, but they serve to cool things down, and generally clear up well before sunset. And sunsets over the Gulf are famous with crowds gathering at public beach access points to celebrate the end of the day, with drum circles and beach dancing not uncommon on Sunday evenings.
Electing for a day of offshore fishing with Kingfisher Fleet, we left out of Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda for a two-hour cruise into the Gulf. Captain Rick Paolillo positioned our 35-foot vessel over live bottom, anchoring up so that our group of anglers could drop down a variety of baits looking for snapper and grouper. My rod received a mighty tug, and, just a few seconds later, my line became hung up on the underwater structure, causing my line to break off.
With Capt. Chris Fanelli serving as first mate, he told me that I did nothing wrong; but the next time a grouper bites, I shouldn’t hesitate reeling in, even for a split second. I credit his tip with helping me when the next big strike came, and I began heaving the rod up in a pumping motion, and then reeling in as I dropped the rod tip and dipped my knees for more power to hoist it up. The rod was doubled over as angler and
grouper entered in
a test of wills.
Fla sunsetThis time, I was fortunate to keep him out of any rocky outcrops, and the fish soon came to the surface of the Gulf and into a large dip net. This was the first Red Grouper I had ever caught, and the color and size of this fish make it a trophy not only for photos, but also for succulent table fare. Our group caught a few more red groupers, but most were under-sized and returned to the Gulf. The smaller Lane Snapper we also were fishing for were much more common and kept everyone busy baiting hooks and reeling in fish.
A long day on the water was followed up with a fresh fish supper at one of the many restaurants found on Manasota Key. The Lock and Key establishment welcomes anglers to bring their fresh catch with them so that the chef can prepare it either grilled, pan-seared, fried or blackened. The fellowship after a day spent on the water makes any angler thankful for the experience after encountering the productive bottom fishing found off of Southwest Florida.
Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (367 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com