The Mudville Grille was the place to be if you’re a lure angler in the waterways of Northeast Florida. Captains
By Ted and Nathan Miller
Last month was spring break. With the kids out of school for a week and their sports activities put on hold, it was the perfect time to tell them to pack a bag and take off to a favorite destination for a much needed break.
Our great state of Florida offers many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. From fishing to hunting and camping to canoeing, it is virtually impossible to get bored around here. There are activities and destinations for everyone — and many spots are just a few hours away. Let’s take a quick tour from the northeast to the south and back up the west coast.
Amelia Island is a about a 2.5-hour boat run from Jacksonville. Free dockage at the city dock allows you and the family to jump off the boat for the one minute walk to the historic district of Fernandina Beach. Kids will enjoy window-shopping and catching a scoop or two of ice cream at one of the several parlors in the city center. There are many great places to grab lunch as well.
From Fernandina Beach, you can run south down the east coast of Florida to our nation’s oldest city — St. Augustine. At this historic waterfront stop, you can enjoy an inexpensive stay at one of several marina resorts. With a late afternoon walk along the docks, you will witness boats unloading the day’s catch and watch the sun set behind the tuna towers.
Next, we head further south through Crescent Beach, Matanzas Inlet, and Ponce Inlet and into Cape Canaveral. The fishing in this region can be the best in the Southeast. This time of year offers an incredible bull-red run off the coast where the sea turns red with thousands of redfish or you can chase packs of free-swimming cobia heading north for their annual migration.
Looking for a longer trip? Travel further south to Stuart, Vero and Palm Beach. These areas offer a wide range of lodging from 4-star resorts to quaint little fish camps and marina resorts with private dockage. With more than 100 inshore spoil islands in the ICW and the gulf stream being only minutes away from the inlet, this part of Florida offers some of the most accessible inshore and offshore fishing around.
Then there’s Miami and the Keys. With its gin-colored water and local restaurants and marinas, the area boasts some of the freshest fish tacos and cold beverages you can find. When you are through exploring the Gold Coast, travel up the west coast past the Everglades, 10,000 Islands, Naples and Ft. Myers. This gorgeous part of the state offers some of the most beautiful inshore angling in the world. Be sure to use the tracking devise on your GPS: with every canal and mangrove island (over 10,000 of them) looking the same, it can be difficult to find your way out of there.
Heading up the west coast, you will find one of the greatest cheeseburgers the state has to offer. Travel a little further north up the Cultural Coast past Sanibel and Captiva to Cabbage Key at mile marker 60 along the ICW. The dock masters are friendly and will work hard to squeeze your boat into a slip (and they do accept tips). After lunch, head northward to Boca Pass and spend a few hours watching the mayhem and the cluster of agitated anglers tarpon fishing jockeying for position over “The Hole”. This is an area in the pass where the depth goes from 35 down to 74 feet, holding hundreds of fish.
Next — it’s Boca Grande, an area a few miles north of the hole. There, you can leave your boat at the city dock and take a walk into Boca Grande for some ice cream. Golf carts are available for rent as well. Boca Grande is full of great places to eat. A little further north is Gasparilla Island. You can only access the island by boat and truly has one of the most beautiful inlets around.
Traveling further north we enter into the scallop capital of the world in Steinhatchee (STEEN-hat-chee) and Keaton Beach. This family activity has been referred to as ‘easter egg hunting for grown-ups’. I tend to agree. A few recommendations: Pay someone to clean your scallops. Eat dinner at Fiddler’s Restaurant. Buy a koozie at the Sea Hag Marina. Heading further north and west along the panhandle you reach Apalachicola, Port St. Joe, Panama City, Destin and Pensacola. These areas offers some of the whitest beaches, one of the best cobia fishing migrations and some of the best bottom fishing in close proximity to the inlets around. You can fill a fish box full of snapper and grouper (when it’s open) only a few miles offshore. And if you search hard enough, you may be able to find a local restaurant to prepare your catch for you.