Southwest Parks & Preserves
Source: Karl Musser licensed under the Creative Commons
Most of Southwest Florida is within the vast area called the Everglades which covers one third of the southern Florida peninsula. Within the Everglades there are county, state, and many national parks.
Most of the area within the Everglades is a wild wet wilderness receiving 55 inches of rain annually. When we refer to the Everglades on this website we are referring to the rural areas outside of developed towns and cities.
With all this water comes a vast variety of fishing opportunities in freshwater, brackish and saltwater. Fishing by land and on the water is in designated area's within the parks. There are vast opportunities to fish by kayak, canoe, or small boat with hundreds of miles of marked and unmarked trails within the parks systems. Because this area is a wild wilderness, you MUST plan your trip and have all necessary gear at hand to ensure a safe trip.
Each park has it's own rules and regulations. All parks require fishing licenses and advise anglers to review their guidelines to ensure a safe and successful trip.
Freshwater species in the waters of the Everglades include largemouth bass, bluegills, sunfish, golden shiners, yellow bullheads, and Florida gar. You can also find snook, tarpon, and other saltwater species that have adapted to brackish and freshwaters. Saltwater species are abundant and the same ones found throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
Boating —As with most inshore and freshwater waterways in Southwest Florida, the water in the Everglades is quite shallow and you can ground your boat easily. In addition to damaging your boat, groundings destroy precious grasses and substrate that provide food and shelter for it's inhabitants.
Always refer to park maps and nautical charts, prepare a Float Plan, refer to tide charts, and check the weather before boating in the Everglades. DO NOT rely on your cell phone for communications in these rural areas as service is limited or unavailable in this area. Have a working VHF radio on board and a GPS will ensure your safety. Also remember to secure objects on your boat to avoid littering the waterways.
Fee Restrooms Concession Bait Rentals Pier or Jetty Boat Launch Drive On Dive or Snorkel Camping
by John Paul Holmes April 2012
If you are looking for one of the most convenient places to do some serious Florida fishing without the need of a boat then this is the place for you. The Bayshore Live Oak Park is a seven acre slice of paradise in Port Charlotte. True to its name it is nestled along the bay front of where the Peace River meets Upper Charlotte Harbor. The park is located at 23157 Bayshore Rd, Port Charlotte 941-235-5013.
The park features two very long fishing piers that extend far enough into the bay. The day I was there the fishermen and women told me they catch the same type of fish found by many of the charter boats that journey into the gulf. In fact you can easily see the Gulf through the mouth of the bay from the piers. I know I saw several Dolphins playing in the waters between the end of the pier and the shore.
Getting back to the convenience factor. This ideal place for fishing from shore is within walking distance of fast food, bait and tackle stores, marinas and motels along the main highway of U. S. Highway 41 which runs up and down the coast. But the beauty of this tree shaded park is that once you are there you do not hear any of the hustle and bustle of the commercial area.
In addition there is a real “olde” Florida motel with the whimsical name of Tropical Bay Inn right across the street that will provide a great base of operations for your journey back in time to the Florida of the 1940's and 50's. If you would like more up to date accommodations there is the Charlotte Bay Resort and Club in the next block. How is that for convenience?
The park itself is open from 6 AM to 9 PM but there are no gates or fences and the piers are open for fishing 24/7 and many fishermen and women enjoy the Gulf's fantastic tropical sunsets and then fish into the night. The giant moss laden Live Oak Trees provide ample shade for the grills and picnic tables available in the park. The rules that are posted rule out swimming, boats with motors (there is a place to launch kayaks and canoes) pets or other animals, fires outside of the grills, camping and solicitation.
When the fishermen and women were interviewed they were using all types of tackle. Some were using heavy rods and reels and others were content with lighter versions included several children. The main baits being offered to the fish included live and dead shrimp, cut bait fish, fiddler crabs and squid. The pier is very sturdy and the rails are well made to prevent anyone including small children from falling in the water. The upper rails are slanted in toward the fisherman/woman to give a smooth surface on which to rest their forearms.
There is ample parking and rest rooms are available. If you care to walk the grounds there are several walking paths that wander throughout the entire seven acres of the park. If you want to get a good cup of coffee there is a delightful little coffee shop within walking distance directly east from the piers on the far side of U. S. 41. Just be careful crossing the highway. May the weather be fair and may your lines not get tangled. Charlotte County's Website
Port Charlotte Beach Park
4500 Harbor Blvd, Port Charlotte 941-627-1628
Englewood Beach - Chadwick Park
2100 North Beach Road, Englewood 941-681-3742
Stump Pass Beach State Park
900 Gulf Blvd, Englewood 941-964-0375
Don Pedro Island State Park
8450 Placida Road, Cape Haze 941-964-0375
Gasparilla Island State Park
880 Belcher Road, Boca Grande 941-964-0375
Lovers Key State Park
8700 Estero Boulevard, Fort Myers Beach 239-463-4588
Lovers Key State Park encompasses a large area between Bonita Springs and Fort Myers Beach. You can access mangrove waterways on the back bay or enjoy their white sandy beach on the Gulf. The boat ramp area has a bait shop with convience items.
Visit Florida State Parks for more information and a great site map.
8600 Estero Blvd, Bonita Springs
Dog Beach is located on the west side of Estero Blvd just outside of Lovers Key State Park. The size of the beach varies with the tides and is a very popular destination for dogs on the weekends. It is advised you wear water shoes as you have to walk a long way through a tidal marsh to reach the beach. There is a porta potty and new doggie shower.
Visit Dog Beach
Collier County provides a large network of county parks that allow fishing. These parks offer bank fishing, pier fishing, and boat launches for fishing in freshwater lakes or rivers or in the saltwater Gulf of Mexico. Amenities may include rest rooms, picnic pavilions, and concessions. Collier County has a nice printable PDF document "Facilities at a Glance" listing all park facilities and available amenities.
Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve
Located at the western edge of the Everglades on the Gulf coast of Florida, the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve encompasses 110,000 acres of native habitats in the 10,000 Islands including pristine mangrove forest, uplands and protected waters. The Reserve provides unique opportunities for education and interpretation of the estuary through hands-on marine study programs, trail walks, and the Environmental Learning Center.
Fishing the mangrove islands within the reserve is both productive and limitless. Keewaydin Island is the most popular destination for weekend worriers who want to camp, fish, and float down the "lazy river". Over 90% of this un-bridged 8-mile-long barrier island off the coast of Naples is managed by Rookery Bay. Tigertail Beach at the entrance to the Marco River and Cape Romano are two other popular island destinations within Rookery Bay Preserve with great fishing at the edge of the Gulf.
Keewaydin Island is located between Naples Gordon Pass and Marco Island. This 8 mile long barrier island is the home to multi-million dollar properties except at the very end it is owned by the county thus open to public use. This is a very popular weekend camping, fishing, and boating destination where boats beach on the IWC side of the island. Surf fishing on the Gulf side is excellent and fiddler crabs can be caught right on the beach and put on our hook for some free bait. Be very cautious on the ICW side when beaching your boat and swimming, the tides fluctuate greatly and currents are very strong. Read Barrier Island Camping Disasters to get some tips on camping this island.
The 1,500 acre Lake Trafford is the largest freshwater lake in Southwest Florida and is located in the northeast corner of Collier County in Immokalee. The lake provides anglers with a wide variety of fish including Largemouth Bass, Bluegill, Shellcracker, Bream, Black Crappie, Redear Sunfish, and large brown Bullhead Catfish. Lake Trafford has the best Crappie fishing in the region with the winter month being best. The FWC has been stocking the lake recently with Largemouth Bass, so to help this species re-populate there is a minimum limit of 18 inches on this lake.
The best fishing on this lake is by boat, although there is a public fishing pier and some bank access for landlubbers. You can access the lake at the public boat launch area or fish from the 200 foot pier, both of which are owned by Collier County. Most of the land surrounding the lake is privately owned, so please respect private property. Click here for an interesting account of the history of this lake. The park is located at 6001 Lake Trafford Rd, Immokalee, FL 34142.
Collier-Seminole State Park
There is a 13.6-mile canoe trail that flows down the twisting Black Water River through a mangrove forest. The 7,271-acre park lies in one of the worlds largest mangrove swamps. There is a boat ramp with access to the Blackwater River, where anglers can fish for both saltwater and freshwater fishing. Check out their website for more information.
Anglers boating, canoeing or Kayaking down the Black Water River enjoy both freshwater and saltwater fishing. A primitive canoe campsite is also available and accessible only by water.
Big Cypress National Preserve
Big Cypress National Preserve is a flooded upland and forest within 2,400 square mile basin. The Preserve has 729,000 acres that contains deep ponds, cypress swamps, and a long slough. The entire southeastern portion of Collier County is inside the Big Cypress National Preserve. Water flowing from Big Cypress empties into Everglades National Park, the 10,000 Islands, and Florida Bay creating brackish water ecosystems along the way. Check out their website for park entrances, canoe trails, and an excellent Map of Big Cypress.
The National Park Service has tips and regulations on paddling thru this area if you plan to take one of their 5 canoe paddling routes. The best paddling season is from November to March when insects are at their minimum, temperatures are tolerable, and the water levels are low.
Turner River Canoe Trail is located at 33100 Tamiami Trail East, Ochopee, FL 34141 (239) 695-2000. The Turner River Trail goes from US 41 south to Chokoloskee where it meets the Halfway Creek Canoe Trail.
Anglers can pursue largemouth bass, bream and crappie in the canals, rivers, and creeks within Big Cypress and bordering Everglades National Park.
Everglades National Park
The Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States covering 1,506,539 acres and is in Collier County, Miami-Dade County, and Monroe County. The Park borders the southern coastal portion of Collier Count. Fishing opportunities in both freshwater, brackish, and saltwater are vast within this park. The park encompasses sawgrass marshes, hardwood hammocks, mangrove swamps (more than 500 square miles), lakes, and Florida Bay. The park has a wonderful Trip Planner which will help you plan your trip.
Canoe Trails — The park has many kayak and canoe trails to choose from and maps are available on their website. There are marked water routes on the Wilderness Waterway that can be accessed via Everglades City or Chokoloskee. The Wilderness Waterway run 99 miles (160 kilometers) from Flamingo to Everglades City. Boats more than 18 feet (6 meters) long or with high cabins and windshields should not attempt the route because of narrow channels and overhanging foliage in some areas.
It is free and easy to launch kayaks at the Everglades National Park Ranger Station in Everglades City, which is a southern gateway for exploring the Ten Thousand Islands. The physical address is 815 Oyster Bar Lane, Everglades City, FL 34139.
Regulations — The Everglades National Park has it's own fishing regulations which differ from Florida's, please review them before wetting your line in this vast national park. You can also pick up a copy of the fishing regulations at any ranger station. Spear fishing is not allowed in the park. Boat, kayaks, and canoes are allowed, but personal watercraft, such as jet skis, Wave Runners, and Sea Doos are prohibited.
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park
One of the most popular seaside destinations in Naples, the mile-long stretch of white sugar sand at Delnor-Wiggins has been rated one of the best beaches in the nation. The 166-acre park is a tropical paradise for beach lovers, boaters and divers. The beach is a popular spot to sunbathe, swim, beach comb, snorkel and picnic. At the beach along Wiggins Pass, where swimming is not allowed, fishing is a popular activity. Boaters can launch their vessels into Water Turkey Bay and travel to the Gulf or up the Cocohatchee River for both saltwater and freshwater fishing. Kayakers can enjoy paddling through estuaries and scuba divers can explore the hard bottom reef in the Gulf. At the north end of the island, a tower gives visitors a bird's-eye view of Wiggins Pass and the surrounding coastal habitat.
Beaches-- A pristine beach on the Gulf of Mexico, Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park has some of the best shelling opportunities on the Gulf coast. Live shelling is prohibited. Two beach wheelchairs, one in area 1 and one in area 5, are available and free for use to the public.
Boat Ramp-- The boat ramp empties you into Water Turkey Bay, which runs via the South Channel into the Cocohatchee River. The docks at the boat ramp are ADA accessible. The boat ramp fee is $5.00 + tax. This is in addition to the Admission Fee. Boating From the Cocohatchee River you can go north via the back bays up into Estero Bay, east up the Cocohatchee River or, as most visitors do, head west into the Gulf of Mexico through Wiggins Pass
Fishing-- Fishing covers a wide area around the park. You can fish from a vessel in the Gulf, Water Turkey Bay and the Cocohatchee River, except within 300 feet of the park beach along the Gulf of Mexico. This area is buoyed off for swimming. No vessels are permitted to anchor with in 100 feet of the designated fishing area, which encompasses the pass. You may fish from the shoreline along Wiggins Pass or wade fish in Water Turkey Bay. Fishing is prohibited in the swimming areas of the park.
http://www.estuaryconservation.org/index.html - This link shows a huge aerial map of the entrance to Wiggins Pass with way points and depths.
One of the most beautiful parts of Everglades National Park is Florida Bay. This large body of water, which along with the keys it contains constitutes one third of the park, is located south of the park beyond the tip of the Florida peninsula. The supply of fresh water to the bay occurs primarily from flow through Taylor Slough.
Florida Bay itself covers about 800 square miles, a substantial portion of the park. The bay is quite shallow, averaging only about 4-5 feet in depth and reaching a maximum of only about 9 feet. The bottom of the bay is actually composed of mud banks interspersed with deeper holes or "lakes."
There are a about 100 small islands or keys in the bay, most created and covered by mangroves. They serve as nesting area for many of the park's wading birds, ospreys, and eagles, and because of this important role are closed to park visitors.
The waters of the bay support more than 50 species of fish.
US 41 Canals (Tamiami Trail)
If you can find off road parking along US 41 in the Everglades, there is some great fishing along the roadway canals. There are many small picnic areas along US 41 where you can setup your base camp. You can almost always find Peacock Bass in these canals.
15 to 20 foot long bamboo cane poles are often seen being used by local anglers along US 41 targeting panfish. Cane poles are an old native fishing pole that is rumored they were originally created to get fishing lines over the alligators that commonly lounge on the banks of these canals.
Tours of the Florida Everglades are available off Highway 41 towards Miami. A number of small Seminole Indian villages offer visitor access. Some have large airboats - shallow-draft scows propelled from the rear by a massive aircraft-type propeller in a mesh cage. Such airboats take several passengers at a time for tours to spot alligators and other swamp life.
CONSUMPTION ADVISORY: Relatively low levels of mercury in largemouth bass have been found to occur in Lake Okeechobee and in canals throughout southwest Florida. All individuals should follow Department of Health (DOH) guidelines. Florida Fish Eating Advisories