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Tails Of Matlacha, Florida.

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On: Wed, Sep 22, 2010 at 11:29AM | By: Capt Gregg McKee

The tiny island of Matlacha is only a thirty minute drive from downtown Fort Myers and a fifty-year step back into Florida’s past. With less than eight hundred full-time residents, all with homes on the water, Matlacha is the very definition of Old Florida. Leave Cape Coral crossing the “World’s Fishingest Bridge” on Pine Island Road and it will be obvious to any visitor that the term “Sleepy Little Fishing Village” actually applies here. 

Waterfront bars and restaurants line the east side of the bridge and an eclectic group of shops and galleries line the main street to the west. In addition to its genuine Old Florida pedigree, Matlacha is quickly gaining fame around the state as a tranquil haven for artists from all walks of life. There are also a handful of published authors sprinkled in the mix of multi-generational locals and new retirees.

Little has changed in Matlacha over the years but no matter what the latest news or gossip, the talk around the breakfast tables and barstools always migrates back to the water. Fishing is the main engine for the island as well as its tourist-based economy. Almost everyone who lives on the island owns a boat and everyone who comes to visit either brings their own or makes plans to charter one while they’re here.

The fishing seasons on Matlacha blend easily into one another and there really is no down time, save for the few sharp, windy cold fronts of January. Winter is great for trout, snapper, and mackerel in Charlotte Harbor just to the island’s north. Spring is the start of snook season when the big linesiders begin stacking up under the mangroves. Huge schools of tarpon are here in full swing all summer and several world records have been caught in nearby Boca Grande Pass. And fall is all about the redfish, the real stars of the show on Matlacha’s endless shallow flats.

The island is also a hidden gem for anglers hoping to chase these fish with fly gear, especially the reds. They pour onto the flats in huge schools during the late summer and fall and this is when an 8-weight fly rod becomes the most effective tool in an angler’s arsenal. Sight casting to a group of orange tails glowing in the morning sunrise will burn Matlacha onto any angler’s conscience as a place to come back to over and over again.

Unlike the bustling Florida Keys, there are no high-end fly shops on Matlacha, but a few local guides specifically cater to the fly angler. And also unlike the Keys, Matlacha is perfect for the angler on a budget. A comfortable waterfront cottage, such as the ones at Fisherman’s Paradise or the Angler’s Inn, run well under $100 per night in the offseason. Room rates like that haven’t been seen down in the Keys for many years. The Matlacha-based fishing guides are generally more affordable than their Keys counterparts, too. Expect to pay around $450 for a full day on a flats skiff.

For the real back-to-basics angler, Matlacha is ground zero for some of Florida’s best kayak fishing. There is a handful of local outfitters that cater directly to this growing sport. During the fall and winter, when the tides can get especially low, a kayak is the perfect stealth vehicle for sneaking up on huge feeding redfish with their backs half out of the water. This is flats fishing in its purest form, with all the technological crutches stripped away, and a tiny, Old Florida fishing village as a launching point. Paddle out to a school of tailing redfish in the morning and the modern high rise condos of Fort Myers are easily seen in the distance. At the same time, they seem many years away from sleepy little Matlacha in the background.


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