Rivers meet the ocean and salt marshes, seagrass flats and dense mangrove beds provide nature’s nursery for hundreds of fish and shellfish species in Charlotte Harbor. At 270 square miles, it’s Florida’s second-largest aquatic preserve with nearly 84 percent of its 830 miles of shoreline protected from development. The protected waters of Charlotte Harbor are a boater’s dream whether a sailing excursion on the calm waters, power boating to a nearby island, or fishing the area’s bountiful waters. Small pleasure boats can be rented from area marinas such as Holidaze Boat Rental in Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte. Or, since Charlotte Harbor is recognized as one of the top 10 places to sail in the U.S., according to SAIL Magazine, take advantage of the tranquil waters and charter a sailboat with Paradise Sailing or learn how to sail with them or with B&D Sailing.
Often referred as the “tarpon capital of the world,” the area has worked hard to keep an eco-friendly, no-high-rise profile while attracting visitors. The wealthy discovered Charlotte Harbor in the late 1800s; notable anglers included financier J.P. Morgan and Teddy Roosevelt.Since then, word has continued to spread as John F. Kennedy and later the Presidential Bush family made it a favorite destination. Most recently, several Tampa Bay Rays players were known to try their luck when not on the field at their new spring training home at Charlotte Sports Park. Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands teems with 256 species including, Snook, Redfish, Sea Trout, Yellowtail, Cobia, Snapper, Shark, Grouper, Barracuda, Kingfish, Mackerel and Tarpon. How and where to catch them presents challenging opportunities.You can whisper-glide into the cast-demanding mangroves on a kayak, surfcast along Charlotte Harbor's 830-mile shoreline, or board a charter to search for the "muds" out in the Gulf.Dozens of guides are available to hire including those with King Fisher Fleet.
Several sightseeing boating excursions are offered throughout Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands. King Fisher Fleet which departs from Fishermen’s Village offers harbor cruises, trips to Cayo Costa State Park and Cabbage Key along with a sunset cruise. Punta Gorda Riverboat Tours offers historical and wildlife tours up the Peace River departing from Laishley Marina. Nature Education and Science Explorations departs from Port Charlotte on an intimate pontoon boat offering garden and nature-themed boat tours. Grande Tours in Placida cruises into Gasparilla Sound for a Watchable Wildlife tour and Captain Marian’s Choice tour in which passengers explore the waters for sea life living beneath. Boca Boats on Boca Grande offers cruises to Cabbage Key and into Gasparilla Sound for sunset viewing.
The 193 miles of Charlotte Harbor Blueway Trails (in and around Englewood, Placida, Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda) have recently become part of the Florida Greenways and Trails System, with a trail for every interest and skill level. Kayak outfitters including Grande Tours, It’s Time to Kayak & Canoe, and Phoenix Rising Kayak Tours offer guided trips. The mangrove tunnels of the Woolverton Trail near Placida are a favorite with local paddlers.
Boaters looking to dock overnight while being kind to the environment should consider Fishermen’s Village Yacht Basin. In 2008, Marina Dock Age magazine named is “Marina of the Year” and is a Florida state-designated “Clean Marina.” Additional Clean Marinas in Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands include Laishley Park Municipal Marina and Palm Island Marina.
For a complete list of boating opportunities in Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands visit www.CharlotteHarborTravel.com or call 1-800-652-6090. Information and Photo provided by Jennifer Huber, Charlotte Harbor Visitor & Convention Bureau.