Footprints in the Sand; Fishing in SWFL

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I began fishing along Clearwater Beach in the late 50’s. Our family didn’t have a boat so on foot was the way to go and I spent quite a bit of time doing just that. The beach fascinated me. There were the birds and shells, but most of all the mystery of what I might hook up with after casting my bait into the water. The possibilities were endless.

After cancer forced my retirement from my career as a fishing guide, I was suddenly without a boat. That’s what happens when those very lucrative sponsorships and client relationships go away. As it worked out, it forced me to return to my roots at the shoreline and start doing what I had learned to do many years ago, fish from the beach. In a way it was a good thing. A very good thing.

There are approximately 920,000 registered boat owners in Florida. The population of Florida is about 21.4 million. That means that 20 million of us can theoretically be on foot fisherfolk. I think it’s time for me to give this group some beach fishing tips.

Beach fishing in Southwest Florida is unique to almost any other shore fishing in the country. While most anglers in other locales like to place fishing rods in beach spike holders and kick back in a comfortable chair to wait for a bite, we fish on-the-move. This calls for a different approach to fishing equipment. It’s OK to build a basecamp with a chair and cooler, but keep it simple. You’re going to be mostly on the move looking for a bite.

For the spin fishing angler, bring one rod. A seven footer works well. Make sure it’s fast action and I’d go with a medium heavy. A rod of this caliber will handle most any fish along the shore, except for big sharks and tarpon. The reel should be of medium size and spooled up with 20 pound test braid. Why braid vs. monofilament? Because it’s thinner and it will allow you to put more line on the spool. That could help stop a big fish that’s headed to Texas after setting the hook. After all, you’re on foot and it’s probably not a good idea to swim after them.

Instead of a tackle bag, I wear a fanny pack. There are all kinds of them made especially for anglers, so be sure to do some shopping for the right one. The one I use is medium-sized with enough room for a small lure box, soft plastics, fishing pliers, line cutter and a small first aid kit. It also has a place on the outside to hold a water bottle. I put my cellphone in it too, but I put it in a plastic sandwich bag just in case I wind up in the water. Hey, you never know.

There are many great locations to fish on foot close to Fort Myers Beach. Lovers Key is one of my favorites. There’s a tram you can board after parking that will take you out to the beach. I also fish at both New and Big Carlos Pass. Bowditch Point Park on the north end of Estero Island is also good with access to the Gulf and Matanzas Pass.

Captain Rob Modys beach fishing. Photo by JoNell Modys.

I personally don’t use live bait while at the beach. My targets are mostly snook and I prefer to go after them with artificial lures. My favorites are Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnows and Mirrolure Suspended Twitch Baits. For soft plastics I’m very fond of Z-Man and Gulp. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of other fish hitting these offerings. Jacks, ladyfish, seatrout and redfish all like to cruise the beaches too.

Just like I do.

Captain Rob Modys is a lifetime Florida outdoorsman, retired spin & fly fishing guide and host of REEL Talk Radio on ESPN 99.3 FM from 7-10 a.m. every Saturday morning. He is past president and board chairman of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association and serves on the board of the Florida Guides Association. Capt. Rob also shares his fishing knowledge in a series of fishing classes at Bass Pro Shops.