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May 17, 2010

Mastering Marco Island

Sample a summer smorgasbord of fishing in Southwest Florida

Proven Weaponry
The Marco tackle arsenal generally includes light to medium-heavy spinning or baitcasting rods in the 7-foot range. Most local anglers spool up with 10- to 20-pound braided line and fluorocarbon leaders of 30- to 50-pound-test.

Be ready to target the southwest Gulf Coast's summer smorgasbord with live and artificial bait. Live bait can be evasive but usually provides the most action. Marco's favorite baitfish is the scaled sardine, or pilchard. Depending on water temperature, bait can range from a barely usable 2-inch pilchard to an 8-inch, full-meal deal. Fabian employs two different mesh sizes when catching bait.

"I almost exclusively use 10-foot nets with a 38-inch mesh," he says. "That net allows me to catch bait in almost any location or situation where I might find it, even offshore."

Anglers who want a blackout in their livewells should start looking for bait along the beaches. Look to the sky for clues to a wealth of bait. "Look for pelicans diving along any sandy beach, as they will likely lead you to bait," says Fabian, who sometimes employs a mini-mesh cast net of 14- or 316-inch mesh for smaller late-summer baits.

Schools of threadfin herring may also gather just off area beaches and can be cast-netted or caught with gold-hook rigs. Fabian credits channel markers leading into Marco Pass as another good place to locate bait. However, excessive rain and freshwater influx may drive bait as far as 10 miles offshore.

Baits such as mullet or ladyfish work best for tarpon. Cut ladyfish in half and soak them on the bottom outside one of the passes. But don't be surprised if you attract sharks, and if so, change locations. Set up where you see rolling tarpon.

An absence of live bait shouldn't shut down fishing. Begin the morning throwing top-water, walk-the-dog-style baits and transition through the water column, switching to small, lipped lures or jigs. Chambers' favorite beach lures for snook include hard baits such as Yo-Zuri L Minnows or Rapala X-Raps. "These work fast and can be very productive in low-light beach fishing," he says.

When casting to mangrove shorelines, paddle-tail lures such as the local-guide-favorite Hybrid Flurry Minnow can produce amazing catches. Target tarpon with upsize versions of crankbaits and swimbaits like the Calcutta Flash Foil Swim Shad.

Marco Island's varied summertime fishing and run-'n'-gun style reward fishermen who possess an aversion to patience. Successful anglers modify tactics quickly to compensate for the dynamic changes thrown at them. To truly master Marco, anglers need only adapt and change with the conditions.


Gulf Bounty for Offshore Anglers
While Marco's myriad mangrove shorelines and sandy beaches harbor a bounty of shallow-water species, the nearshore and offshore Gulf waters produce migratory and reef-dwelling gamesters. Captains look for schools of Spanish mackerel smacking the surface or clouds of fish arches on the sonar.

Catch macks seasonally on jigs tipped with shrimp and cranked fast at the surface for light-tackle fun. Or vertically jig for them over wrecks and artificial reefs that also hold grouper, snapper, kingfish, permit and gargantuan goliaths. The bigger fish go for liveys weighted near the bottom.

Productive structure lies 30 to 40 minutes from port; even closer, buoys and markers hold cobia and tripletail. Summer's seas mostly remain calm, though afternoon thunderstorms can stir up a chop. For more information, contact Capt. Rich Russell at 239-269-7192, or visit