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May 17, 2010

Mastering Marco Island

Sample a summer smorgasbord of fishing in Southwest Florida

In fewer than 10 casts, we had caught an inshore slam: snook, tarpon and redfish. My watch read just 9 a.m., but already Marco Island had delivered a summer beachfront reward.

Some may consider that quick score a fluke, but it can be typical for this gateway to the Ten Thousand Islands - if you're willing to play by Marco's rules.

Marco lies at the edge of the Everglades National Park, about 30 minutes south of Naples, Florida. Locals call the fishing style here "mobile, agile and hostile" - running and gunning proves the most productive path. Just when you feel the sweltering summer heat and the bite wanes, it's time to move to the next spot.

While Marco fishing can be good year-round, the island pulls out all the stops during summer when species such as snook, tarpon and a whole host of inshore and nearshore fish keep anglers busy. Summer also means fewer crowds on the water.

Hit the Beach
Pristine Gulf Coast beaches do draw tourists during summer, but they're outnumbered by the hordes of spawning snook, which also love the sugary, white-sand shores. Snook prowl the beach from late spring into early fall, offering great sight-casting opportunities to boating anglers and surf fishermen.

Native guide Capt. Ken Chambers typically begins a summer morning looking for rolling tarpon right at sunrise along the beach. Armed with medium-heavy spinning tackle loaded with braided line in 20- or 30-pound-test and long fluorocarbon leaders of 60- or 80-pound-test, Chambers slings scaled sardines (pilchards) or mullet pegged to 3/0 to 6/0 circle hooks.

"As the sun gets higher, my time is spent sight-casting to schools of snook with small white bucktails or lipped lures in natural baitfish colors," Chambers says. "A high tide just after sunrise can be optimal for the beaches and will push snook right to the shallowest water they can swim in. Structures like downed trees, rocks or even small depressions are snook magnets."

Midday heat chases most anglers indoors, so many, including local guide Capt. Danny Fabian, fish the first four or last four hours of daylight. "It's better to fish Marco Island really early or really late, and even at night," says Fabian. "Fishing after our typical everyday thunderstorms is prime time when the air cools and the fish really come alive."