Island visitors and locals surf cast for black drum and sheepshead; they take boats out in the backcountry mangrove flats to fish for tarpon, snook, and redfish; or they head into deeper water offshore for grouper, amberjack, snapper, and kingfish.
A number of species in the area have gamefish status, and are thus more exotic and often the most sought after. This means redfish, snook, tarpon, bonefish, and sailfish are illegal to buy or sell (that’s why you don’t ever see them on restaurant menus), and many of them have very low catch limits and specific seasons. For instance, in the Gulf of Mexico and the Everglades, open season for snook (the period of time you are allowed to harvest a fish) is now limited to the months of March, April, September, October, and November. Fish must be between 28 and 33 inches to keep, with one snook allowed per person. If you catch a snook during December–February or May–August the fish must be released alive. Don’t wet a line until you’ve studied up on what you can catch, how many, and when.
If you want to head out fishing with an expert, Marco Island, as with much of the Gulf Coast, has many specialists willing to show you the way. Specializing in light tackle and fly-fishing, Captain Gary Eichler (239/642-9779, $400-800, depending on the boat and location) has a number of boats from which to choose and lots of experience in the area. He does individual private charters (no split charters) with six passengers at the most.
Captain Bill Walsh takes visitors out with his company, Dawn Patrol (239/394-0608, $300 for 4 people for a half day), known for fishing the nearshore artificial reefs and ledges. Dawn Patrol specializes in family trips and will tailor a fishing trip to include a mix of shelling, fishing, and sightseeing so even non-anglers in your group are entertained.
Specializing in fly-fishing and light tackle angling is Everglades Angler (810 12th Ave. S., 239/262-8228 or 800/57-FISHY, $375-650 depending on the length and type of trip), which has a number of boats and captains from which to choose, lots of experience in the area, and is ORVIS endorsed.
If you want to go it alone, Marco River Marina (951 Bald Eagle Dr., 239/394-2502) rents out the largest array of boats on the island including center consoles, deck boats, and pontoons. Boats at Walker’s Hideaway Marina (705 E. Elkcam Circle, 239/394-9333) all come equipped with a bimini (sun top), plastic cooler stocked with ice and drinks, VHF radio, USCG equipment, and an easy-to-navigate color chart of the local waters. They’re endlessly patient with beginners, too. Deck boats are $285 for full day, $210 for half; pontoon boats $260 for full day, $195 for half; center consoles $260 for full, $195 for half. The Marco River Marina is also the debarkation point for Key West Express (239/394-9700, departs 8:30am daily, no sailings Tues.-Wed. June-Dec., round-trip $149 adults, $137 seniors 62 and over, $85 children under 12), a three-hour cruise to Key West; this is a very affordable way to explore Key West without having to fly.