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June 08, 2009

Visiting Boca Grande

Visiting Boca Grande

Despite its tremendous angling reputation, Boca Grande seems blissfully unaware of the country's obsession with time and technology - at least in the slightly "off-season" period I visited. The village, which sits at the south end of Gasparilla Island in Lee County, features long stretches of beach with low-profile condos, quaint residential areas where locals commute by golf cart and a resort-style main street with shops that close by suppertime.

I've fished this region on a handful of occasions and can quickly and easily say it's one of my favorite Florida destinations - not only for tarpon and snook, but also for redfish. Within the region lie glorious sea-grass flats, productive passes and beaches, and mangrove-covered islets.

For non-fishing family members, the calm Gulf waters provide great swimming holes, and the wide beaches call for exploration. Just south of Gasparilla Island, the Cayo Costa State Park represents Old Florida habitat and features excellent bird-watching opportunities. A little farther south, Captiva and Sanibel islands attract seashell hunters who spend hours combing the water's edge.

On this visit to Boca Grande, I stayed in a two-bedroom condo in Sundown Colony that directly backed up to the dunes and the Gulf. It reminded me of a much nicer version of some of the summer cottages my family rented when I was growing up in Tampa, Florida. Whether you bound down the back stairs with a fishing rod or a bucket and shovel, the kid in you always comes out at the beach.

The condo was just a five-minute drive from the guide docks and a good stretch of the legs from the village shops and restaurants like Temptation, where I dined my last evening on surf and turf.

Rates for condos and villas on the beach range from $1,420 to $2,400 per week, including all fees and taxes. Rooms at the Island House Inn at the Boca Grande Resort begin at $175/night. Contact Boca Grande Real Estate at 866-302-0338, or visit www.bgre1.com.

Many airlines fly into the Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, about an hour away. If you drive, you'll find Boca Grande off Interstate 75 about an hour south of Sarasota.

For more information on Boca Grande and Lee County, contact the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau at 800-237-6444 (www.fortmyerssanibel.com), the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association (www.bocagrandefishing.com), or the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce (www.bocagrandechamber.com).

To book a charter with Capt. Phil O'Bannon, call 941-964-0359, or visit www.obannonscharter.com. Rates for July through April are $450/half day; $550/full day. In May and June, O'Bannon fishes split days, taking anglers in early morning and late-afternoon sessions; cost is $700/day.

For specific angling rules for Boca Grande Pass and Cayo Costa, visit www.myfwc.com/rulesandregs/saltwaterrules_index.htm.