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Estero Bay

The Estero Bay is one of the most popular and consequently heaviest fished inshore areas anywhere in southwest Florida, and with good reason. Unlike its neighbors to the north, Pine Island Sound and beyond that the world famous Charlotte Harbor (the home of Boca Grande Pass), it’s small size and close proximity allows for easy access. This fact is not lost on the tens of thousands of locals and tourists alike from Naples, Bonita Springs, Estero, and Fort Myers that all at one point or another spend some time floating around in the Estero Bay. It’s convenience, amazing scenery and wildlife,  and reputation for world class fishing are just some of the reasons that people flock to this bay, particularly on weekends and during the tourist season.

 

Despite its immense local popularity, the Estero Bay still holds many secrets and treasures for the angler willing to seek them out. Because most of the bay is less than 3ft deep during all but the highest of tides, a huge portion of the bay is all but inaccessible to anyone without a shallow running boat. The only people who typically stray outside the safety of the channels are inexperienced boaters hell bent on destroying their motor and experienced local anglers who have a very good mental map. While the channels, beaches, and passes may be bumper to bumper on a busy weekend, it’s not hard to find a secluded area with a nice oyster bar if you know what you’re doing and what you’re looking for.

As for a bit of the geography, Estero Bay is the general name for the large body of water roughly from Big Hickory Pass (link) to the south all the way to Matanzas Pass to the north. It is actually composed of a bunch of smaller bays (from the south): Big Hickory Bay, Ostego Bay, Rocky Bay, Hell Peckney Bay, and Hurricane Bay. Each bay offers a slightly different experience and set of tactics, but big fish can and have been caught in all of them. There are 4 passes of varying size, Big Hickory Pass, New Pass, Big Carlos Pass, and Matanzas Pass, all of which are teeming with fish much of the year. Estero Bay is also fed by 5 rivers to the east, the Imperial River (from the south), Spring Creek, Estero River, Mullock Creek, and Hendry Creek (North). In the long line of misleading names, Hendry Creek is actually the largest while The grand sounding Imperial River is relatively narrow.

Fishing the Estero Bay can be an angler’s dream or a snap-your-rod-in-half-and-quit-forever experience, depending on your level of knowledge and skill. It’s not like fishing offshore where you dial  up a set of numbers, anchor over top of them, drop down a bait and wait. Fish in these back waters are constantly on the move based on the conditions. Just a few of the major factors to consider when fishing the Estero Bay are season, tide phase, wind direction, current, temperature, time of day, bait/lure selection, presentation, water depth, moon phase, and the color of your underwear. If any one of these variables is askew, your spot may turn from non-stop action to a veritable desert… covered in water. So that summertime new moon early morning 80 degree 3ft of water pinfish under popping cork while wearing polka dot underwear spot you found may be on fire during an east wind, but completely dead during a west wind. Or maybe it won’t—that’s the beauty of it, and the horror of it.

 

Now, my intention is not to make you think catching fish in the Estero Bay is damn near impossible (although sometimes it can feel that way). There are a number of spots where fish can be caught consistently with the right tactics. For instance, most anywhere you find 3-5ft of water over a grass flat, you can drift along with live shrimp on circle hooks under a popping cork (link) until you find a school of trout. When you do, anchor down, and you’re likely to catch more than one until they move on. Additionally, the passes hold fish during most tide phases. Get a live bait close to the bottom and wait, or drift along until something picks it up and repeat. You’re unlikely to catch any lunkers this way, but it does take the edge off what can be an incredibly difficult task. 

 
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