Hooked on Paradise: Fishing Charters in Naples and The Ten Thousand Islands

By Eric Snider

What makes Florida’s Paradise Coast such a fishing hotbed? Charter Capt. Chris Turner provides a simple answer: “We have every type of fishing there is.”

Options for visiting anglers range from hunting giant grouper and sailfish 50-plus miles off shore in the Gulf of Mexico, to grabbing your own pole and leisurely dropping in a line off the beautiful Naples Pier, or casting from the beach at pristine Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park. You can fish in salt water, fresh water and brackish water, on big boats, little boats and kayaks. You can catch snook, trout, redfish, Spanish mackerel, tarpon, cobia, sheepshead, kingfish, mahi mahi, tripletail, large-mouth bass, peacock bass, and a host of other species.

Here’s an up-close overview of the main types of fishing experiences you can enjoy on Florida’s Paradise Coast.

Offshore — Deep Sea and Reef Fishing

Capt. Vic Vazquez of Fishybizness Charters offers half, three-quarter and all-day fishing charters in Naples. Half-day trips usually go out about 12 miles and fish off the many artificial reefs in the Paradise Coast. “We’ll catch all sorts — white grunts, snapper, Spanish mackerel,” he explains. “These are action areas where everyone gets to drop down at the same time and catch fish. It’s great for families and young kids. There’s no casting. You just drop straight to the bottom, let it sit for a bit, and more often than not you’ll get a bite pretty quick.”

Vic also caters to hardcore anglers “who want to fill up their fish box.”

“These are all-day trips,” he says. “We go out 30, 40, 50 miles to attract bigger fish. It’s deep water and we tend to go to structure wrecks. We catch big cobia, amberjack, snapper. We find that these trips are a bit much for little kids and families.”

Backcountry

The Ten Thousand Islands, a vast system of mangrove islets, is the ideal place for this type of angling. Charters will take you on comparatively small boats to hunt for fish in the mangroves edges, shorelines and rock jetties. Out in what Capt. Chris Turner calls “one of the last great wildernesses,” you can hook redfish, tripletail, tarpon, and — best of all — Snook.

Backcountry fishing takes some basic casting expertise. Snook, especially, congregate near the mangroves, so a good cast is one that lands just outside the leafy bushes. You can haul in some big ‘uns, but most fish you catch will be medium size, and provide a spirited, relatively short, fight. 

The mangrove islands are so plentiful here that a captain is apt move on to another spot if the fish aren’t biting. It’s just a short hop to the next place. One of the great things about fishing The Ten Thousand Islands is that it doesn’t involve long boat jaunts. “We’re fortunate to have a place like this in a metro area,” Capt. Chris says. “You could fish for months out here and not see a manmade structure.”

Fresh Water Fishing

Capt. Mark Rogers spent 15 years as a professional bass fisherman, traveling the country for tournaments. He settled with his family in Naples 30 year ago, and has been a fishing guide on the Paradise Coast more than a decade. His specialty is snagging bass in fresh water, but he’s not picky — he’ll help you catch just about anything you want.

On an early Tuesday morning, just before the late August heat really set in, he took us out on his boat into the Golden Gate Canal System, a few miles northeast of downtown Naples. After a short jog, he parked in an open lake area surrounded by homes. We were after large mouth and peacock bass. His kids Caitlyn and Brett came along.

Mark and Brett used a casting technique called “walking the dog,” where quick wrist action makes the live shiners dance side to side, attracting the fish. It didn’t take long for Brett to haul in a peacock. “The species has really exploded in this system,” Mark says. “But there’s also tarpon in here, some snook, large mouth bass.”

Mark will also take you kayak fishing at various locations around the Paradise Coast. He touts 1,500-acre Lake Trafford in northeast Collier County as a place to not only catch bass, crappie, bluegill and catfish, but mix in an eco-tour, with a bevy of beautiful birds, plants and the occasional gator.