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March 30, 2012

10,000 Redfish

The mangrove country around southwest Florida's Ten Thousand Islands holds surprising promise.

The Beat Goes On
We finished out the day with a flurry of activity as the tide continued rising, tossing shrimp under popping corks back under the overhanging mangroves to snapper, redfish and, when we didn’t cast deep enough into the greenery, a rash of ladyfish. Then, as we were making our last few casts of the day, we brought to boat a surprising catch, one that may hint at seasons to come. From under the mangroves came not the arm’s-length snook upon which this region has built its reputation over the years, but snook nonetheless. Healthy, perfectly formed snook in miniature. Though only about a foot long, these were linesiders through and through, each with an underslung jaw, a belligerent look in its eye and an expression of fierce determination.

Ten Thousand Islands Trip Planner

Tackle is pretty straightforward here. Rig a light to medium casting outfit with 10- to 15-pound line and 20- to 30-pound mono leader for smaller fish, 25-pound line with 80- to 100-pound leader for tarpon. Rigging is simple: A Bimini twist or spider hitch in the line fastened with a five-turn uni-knot to a 3-foot piece of 30-pound fluorocarbon leader allows you to change to a lure, a jig, or a hook and live shrimp with a cork 18 inches above it to suit the species at hand.

Rods: Stout spinning and casting rods for tarpon; light to medium-light for reds, snook and trout.

Reels: Long runs aren’t likely, but strong drags to control fish in tight quarters are essential.

Lines: 15- to 25-pound braid for tarpon; 10- to 15-pound for reds, trout and snook.

Leaders: 80- to 100-pound fluoro for tarpon; 40-pound for smaller species.

Lures: Sinking plugs in white-and-red, white-and-green and baitfish colors.

Jigs: Bucktails tipped with shrimp; 14-ounce jig heads with soft-plastics; short piece of surgical tubing on pink or green jig heads.

Baits: Threadfin herring, scaled sardines, big live shrimp, crabs, cut mullet and ladyfish work for tarpon, snook and redfish.

There’s scarcely a time of year or a condition of wind and weather that prevents successful fishing in the Islands. April through June sees prime tarpon fishing, with fish running to 125 pounds. November to March is trout season; redfish peak around August but are reliable all year round. Snook, once the mainstay here, are scarcer than in years past but still a good bet from March through September, with the average 3 to 10 pounds and a big one scaling 30 pounds. Scout around, and you’ll find a mix of jacks, Spanish mackerel, snapper and grouper.

What: Mixed bag of inshore species.

When: Year-round.

Where: Ten Thousand Islands, south of Naples, Florida, which is well equipped to handle visiting anglers. We stayed at the GreenLinks Golf Villas at Lely Resort (888-992-2099;, on the south side of Naples, convenient to great restaurants and town amenities and just a short drive from the wilds of the Ten Thousand Islands and the boat ramp. Complete information on the area, including restaurants, attractions, hotels and everything a visiting angler and family could want, is available from the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau (800-688-3600;;

Who: This is serious local-knowledge country. Don’t take it on alone. If you bring your own boat, there’s a boat ramp near Goodland (Calusa Island Marina; 239-394-3668; Proceed with caution. Take someone with you who knows the area. Smart money goes with a guide.

Capt. Ken Chambers
Backcountry Guide Service

Capt. Kevin Merritt
Naples Backcountry Fishing

Capt. Stacy Mullendore
Backwater Fishing Southwest Florida