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The Good Old Days

Heyday over but southwest Florida fishery still producing

The Good Old Days
Versatility characterizes the 35-mile stretch of fishing abundance that includes Sanibel and Captiva Island, Ft. Myers, and the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. (Cash Lambert photo)

SANIBEL, Fla. -- Ah, the good old days. Jim Burnsed remembers them well.

Fish were everywhere around Sanibel Island in southwest Florida three decades ago, and the local guide recalls one spectacular day in particular.

"I caught so many redfish that day that you could have filled up the bed of a pickup truck with them," he said.

Comparing that day to the current fishing around Sanibel and Captiva Island, Burnsed believes overfishing has severely thinned the fishery. But as late spring and early summer fishing season kicks into gear, the area still boasts great quality bites and quantities. Although not in its heyday, the fishery doesn't seem depleted.

"It's just that time of year when everything is coming out and turning on," said Wes Skinner, captain of Fish Skinner Fishing Charters.

If you want a grand slam -- a redfish, snook, trout and tarpon -- Skinner says you can score one in the 35-mile stretch that includes the Islands, Ft. Myers and the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River.

During this season, Black Drummond and Seatrout are inundated along Blind and Redfish Pass, large schools of tarpon are migrating through the area, and the Caloosahatchee River is teeming with redfish moving downstream toward the mouth of the River.

"This area is just a huge estuary, from rivers to saltwater; there's just so much bait out there and so much fish life," said Jeremy Stewart, captain of Catch Me If You Can Charters based in Ft. Myers.

If this season's catches are remnants of what the Southwest Florida fishery had to offer 30 years ago, captains and fishermen can only dream of what it was like for Burnsed.

Follow the action below as Burnsed, founder the Santiva Saltwater Team, takes a charter through the Islands exploring spring and summer abundance.

Click the image for Sanibel photo gallery

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