Found: The perfect location for those who enjoy a variety of recreational activities.
By Doug Kelly, member of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association
Our interest in visiting Charlotte County for a few days seemed simple enough: We wanted to do everything in just three days! That's a tall order for any vacation destination, so I admit to being dubious about our chances for success. But when it came time to pack the suitcases, we were whistling Zippity Doo-Dah all the way home.
This sweet stretch of Southwest Florida features freshwater rivers that converge with the Gulf of Mexico, forming a 270-square-mile horn of plenty. Throw in 219 miles of natural shoreline, barrier islands and mangrove forests, and Charlotte Harbor shines brightly as an aquatic paradise.
We decided to go kayak fishing first, and fortunately Dave Loger of Grande Tours in Placida recognized that we're novices. After his orientation quelled our qualms, we gently paddled through the hidden coves of Coral Creek and silently fished along mangrove shorelines. While casting, our eyes took in the splendor of blue skies, green waters and white birds. At one point Dave caught a nice snook, and we paddled back to the dock a few hours later with a vow to return soon.
That afternoon found us on a sunset cruise aboard Boca Boat Cruises & Charters. We enjoyed a narrated tour by Capt. Craig and Kathleen Wolcott about Gasparilla
During a sightseeing cruise, it's possible to see porpoises cavorting in Charlotte Harbor.
Sound and the White Pelican Refuge. As interesting as it was to learn about the colorful history of the area, the most enjoyable experience was simply watching porpoises frolicking in our boat's wake! They kept us entertained for miles with full jumps, half jumps and rolls.
Our second day began at Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area, a 79,000-acre morass of lovely ponds and lakes. We immediately caught bass in the one- to two-pound size, and soon a small alligator surfaced to eye what was disturbing its pond. Babcock/Webb WMA offers excellent bird watching, and hunting season is popular due to plentiful resources of deer, hog and game birds.
We also dropped by the charming Peace River Wildlife Center in Punta Gorda, an organization dedicated to nurturing injured native wildlife. The majestic bald eagles, great horned owls, hawks and other birds receive a little help from their human friends here with the aim of returning them to nature's chain of life.
What with so many birds viewed thus far, the nature cruise up the Peace River aboard the King Fisher Fleet's guide boat still amazed us. Narrated by members of the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center, we passed rookeries laden with wood storks, ibises, egrets, herons, ospreys and more. What a wonderful photo op!
Our last day began in a swamp buggy at Babcock Wilderness Adventures, where we witnessed modern cowboys – with cell phones hanging from their belts, not six-guns – as we rode through cypress swamps and hardwood hammocks. Did you know that alligators have 80 teeth and three sets of eyelids? You'll learn many interesting tidbits like those during the tour.
The finale involved a half-day fishing trip with Capt. Ralph Allen of King Fisher Fleet. We flew across the bay in his skiff to a protected creek chockfull of snook. Using live bait, we released one snook after the other for a solid hour before the fish wised up. What an awesome time we had.
In only three days, we did everything planned and had a ball. Yet we never felt rushed, with plenty of time for dining – two of our favorites were Harpoon Harry's waterside restaurant in Fishermen's Village and The Fishery restaurant in Placida, location site of the film Out of Time, which starred Denzel Washington – and to buy souvenirs (check out the trendy little shops at the dock in Placida).
One If By Land, Two If By Sea
By Lynn Waddell
Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands' reputation as an outdoor lovers' utopia lured my husband and me there. Its tropical bike paths, backwater canoe trails and calm sailing waters made us want to stay and take advantage of the area's good nature. Here's our itinerary for an invigorating, three-day getaway:
As premium bird watching begins before the rooster crows, we leave at daybreak for the 79,000-acre Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area. Driving slowly into the slash pine forest, we spot a red-cockaded woodpecker and park for closer inspection.
We hike, bird watch and search unsuccessfully for the ridged back of an alligator in the boggy flatwoods that flank the former railroad trail. Instead, I see two mounted quarter horses trotting our way. After a little sweet-talk, I persuade one of the riders to let me mount his steed. Atop the buckskin mare, I can see beyond the scrub into the towering pine forest.
With a shooting range and wild boar, hunters share the space, but their activities are within a safe distance from hiking and mountain biking trails. Freshwater fish are also abundant; the 395-acre Webb Lake has record-sized bluegill, huge freshwater snook and largemouth bass. In all, the wildlife area is home to more than 250 species of fish, 300 birds, 40 mammals and 50 species of reptiles.
In the afternoon, we rent bicycles from Grande Tours in
Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands' 53 canoe and kayak trails – nearly 200 miles of waterways – appeal to novice and expert paddlers alike.
Placida and cross the Boca Grande Causeway over to Gasparilla Island for sun and sightseeing. A 14-mile bike trail traverses the island; we opt to tour the northern half, where trails are flat and smooth enough for even a novice cyclist like me. We peddle along an old railroad trail through lush greenery. The trail circles around the tip of the island and gives us beautiful views of Placida Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico.
The Blueway Trails of Charlotte County are heralded for their excellent backwater fishing, colorful birds and 53 canoe and kayak trails – nearly 200 miles of waterways –that appeal to novice and expert paddlers alike. Anglers from around the globe come here to compete for trophy fish during televised tournaments held throughout the year.
The King Fisher Fleet in Fishermen's Village in Punta Gorda offers fishing trips and Grande Tours in Placida offers both kayaking and fishing trips in the 270-square-mile protected aquatic preserve of Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands. We rent a canoe from Grande Tours and arrange for it to be delivered to Englewood Beach (our car doesn't have rack for transport).
The canoe accommodates our fishing gear, cooler and a beach bag of towels and sunscreen. We are intermediate paddlers, but neither of us has ever combined a self- propelled excursion with fishing. I am a little worried that a big catch would pull us to it, rather than the other way around. But as I reel in my first redfish, adrenaline washes away those fears.
The 4.9-mile canoe trail offers us a chance for great fishing and birdwatching along the marshes of the backwaters. Around us a kaleidoscope of birds perch in the trees and wade the shores.
It doesn't take an expert sailor to understand why Charlotte Harbor has ranked among the top 10 sailing locales by SAIL Magazine. Being 20 miles long and 10 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, the harbor's course options seem limitless. There's wide open sailing protected by barrier islands and no low-hanging bridges.
I've always loved the romantic idea of sailing and have even passed a beginner's class. However, I must confess that I had yet to acquire my "sea legs" on open waters. Therefore, I board a Martin 16 rented from B&D Sailing with some trepidation. My nerves ease when I learn that the 16-foot sailboat cannot capsize and has a power assist system that electrically assists sheeting and steering, when needed. It's no wonder B&D Sailing specializes in neophyte sailors like my husband and I. They also teach sailing courses to the disabled.
I discover the waters of Charlotte Harbor to be much calmer than those of the Gulf of Mexico; wooded barrier islands protect the harbor from Gulf winds. I take my turn at the rudder and even find myself liking the speed and tilt of the boat as it slices through the wind. My hair tussled, waters glistening; I discover the real love of sailing.
Captions Taken From Picture Identifications in Article:
Twenty miles long, Charlotte Harbor is wide open and protected by barrier islands, making it ideal for easy sailing.
Birdwatchers flock to Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands.
Two Interesting Articles by Authors Detailing Their Day Trips
Punta Gorda on the Internet.com
All information deemed reliable but not guaranteed.