I’ve traveled to quite a few places in my life and I have to thank my parents for giving me a very serious case of wanderlust. While I grew up in Clearwater my grandparents lived in Virginia and New Jersey. As a family of five, and sometimes just us kids, we traveled northward each and every year via car or train to visit both places. The car was a Ford station wagon loaded to the gills with coloring books, small board games and munchies. We also played out-the-window license plate games, I Spy and we counted cows. You lost all of yours if you passed a graveyard. Kids today use smartphones and watch movies. They must miss a lot by not looking out those windows.
Growing up in Florida was a travel adventure in itself. The state is hundreds of miles long from top to bottom with as much to see and do as some small countries. I loved our trips to Busch Gardens long before the epic rides it has now. We also visited the Bok Tower in Lake Wales, Cypress Gardens, Weeki Wachee and Silver Springs. That old Ford wagon had some miles put on the odometer.
As time passed my travels took me farther away. I’ve visited all but a handful of states here in the U.S. and made my way to the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Mexico and Europe. But the one place I hadn’t been until moving back to Southwest Florida twenty-something years ago was right here in our own backyard, the Ten Thousand Islands.
Located just to the south of Marco Island it encompasses a vast watery wilderness area that includes Cape Romano in Collier County south to Lostmans River in Monroe County. It’s a magical place where wildlife far outnumber people and access is difficult unless you own a boat or hire a guide.
The Ten Thousand Islands has an amazing history that dates back thousands of years to the Calusa Indians, a tribe that managed to make what would now be considered inhospitable, a home. In the late 1800’s Chokoloskee Island began to be settled and soon became known as a hideout for outlaws, the most famous being Edgar Watson. The authorities couldn’t get to him deep in the islands, so when he made a supply trip to Smallwood’s Store in Chokoloskee the locals took the law into their own hands and killed him. Yes, the area is still remote and somewhat inhospitable, but that’s what makes it so attractive to anglers like me.
Just about every inshore species that anglers have on their bucket list can be caught. There are snook, redfish, tarpon, seatrout, cobia, grouper, snapper, tripletail, sharks and even the elusive sawfish. Best of all there’s no worry about finding an angler in your favorite spot. Heck, you’ll be lucky to see another soul in the Ten Thousand Islands.
I’ve ventured there many times on my own, but I caution anglers to make sure you are prepared for the inevitable breakdown. After all, it is a boat you are relying on and we boaters all know that they love to disappoint you when far away from the dock. Make sure you have safety equipment, enough water and food to last several days, and most importantly file a float plan. Cell phones don’t work there so don’t depend on that as a rescue tool.
Getting lost is also an issue. All those little islands look the same and becoming disoriented is very easy. Here’s a tip. Know your tides before venturing in. An outbound tide will run west towards the Gulf of Mexico, while an inbound will move basically eastward. If you know the timing of the tide you can find the way out to the Gulf and then head north to home. You’re welcome.
And that brings me back to recommending a guide. Just do it. It’s much easier, and you’ll be able to entertain your pals at the local beach bar with great fish stories and then sleep in your own bed instead of the deck of your boat in the middle of nowhere.
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.