Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Charlotte Harbor is a shallow water angler's gold mine

Fishing guide Josh Harvel, with a hard-pulling jack crevalle, explores the nooks and shallows of Charlotte Harbor by kayak.


Fishing guide Josh Harvel, with a hard-pulling jack crevalle, explores the nooks and shallows of Charlotte Harbor by kayak.

CAPE CORAL — Like many kayak fishermen, Josh Harvel used to fish out of a boat. Then a friend introduced him to the light, shallow-running crafts that have become the fastest growing segment of the nation's water sports market.

"Once I started fishing out of a kayak, I couldn't go back to a boat," said Harvel, who now runs YakNitUp Kayak Charters out of Cape Coral. "The fishing was so much better."

Harvel's success is partly due to skill, partly due to location. Like any good fishing guide, the 33-year-old is on the water almost every day. The big schools of red drum move around, and the key to successful fishing is to know where the fish will be.

But Harvel also lives and works near one of the best kayak fishing areas in Florida — Charlotte Harbor. The 700-square-mile estuary, fed by the Peace, Myakka and Caloosahatchee rivers, is a major breeding ground for snook, redfish and trout.

Harvel usually fishes near Matlacha Pass, which in the language of the Calusa translates to "water to the chin." But a more accurate translation for the area Harvel fishes would be "water to the calf."

"The great advantage to fishing out of a kayak is that it enables you to get into spots where fishermen in powerboats cannot go," he said. "The only fishermen these fish ever see are in kayaks."

Sight fishing

At low tide in the backwaters of Charlotte Harbor, even a beginner can see the "head" wakes of moving redfish.

Gliding silently along the mangrove-studded shoreline, Harvel scanned the water for drum, then let loose a soft-bodied plastic jig. The artificial lure landed in front of the school, and in seconds Harvel's rod bent under the pressure of a hooked fish.

"Got one," he said. But Harvel knew from the way the fish pulled that it was not a red.

Ten minutes later, he brought the brute alongside the kayak. The jack crevalle weighed close to 5 pounds. "Pound for pound, you won't find a better fighting fish," he said.

Harvell, who charters exclusively out of a kayak, gets inquiries from kayak fishermen from all around the state.

"Kayak fishermen know this area is the kind of place where you can spend a couple of days," he said. "I've been at this for years and still haven't fished everywhere that I want to."

The Blueway

Harvel fishes the northern end of a well-marked kayak trail called the Great Calusa Blueway. This 190-mile saltwater paddle trail winds through the mangrove islands and along the world class beaches of Lee County.

With a myriad of creeks and hidden bays, the Blueway is a place where an angler can spend a day casting the grass beds and never seen another fishermen.

Part of a greater, 1,600-mile paddling trail that runs the entire length of Florida's coastline, the Blueway has dozens of great day trips for paddlers with all levels of experience. Paddlers can log onto the trail's Web site and download maps and GPS coordinates. The trail is well-marked and easy to follow, which eliminates much of the guesswork when planning a fishing trip.

The trail is divided into three sections: Estero Bay, Pine Island Sound and the Caloosahatchee River.

Estero Bay, Florida's first aquatic preserve, hasn't changed much since the ancient Calusa paddled their dugout canoes through the maze of mangroves more than 1,000 years ago.

In Pine Island Sound, a favorite destination for boaters and fishermen, you won't have any problem finding a beach all to yourself on one of the Blueway's undeveloped barrier islands.

The trail's most recent addition, the Caloosahatchee, is another great place for light-tackle fishing, and if you are so inclined, bird-watching.

Harvel said learning to fish the Blueway is easy. The northernmost marker (No. 99) is located at Annie's Creek. As you head south, the numbers on the markers get smaller.

"The area between Annie's Creek and Big Dead Creek has some of the best fishing," he said. "There is a large shoal that runs parallel to the mainland that lots of game fish use as an ambush point. Fish anywhere between markers 99 to 89 and you will have luck."

fast facts

If you go

Charlotte Harbor and the Great Calusa Blueway paddling trail are about 2 hours south of St. Petersburg. The harbor and Blueway offer great inshore fishing. For more information on the paddling trail, visit To reach area guide Josh Harvel, call (239) 233-0655, e-mail or visit

Charlotte Harbor is a shallow water angler's gold mine 03/19/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 20, 2009 6:36am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Florida State sees plenty of upside in Dade City native Jacob Pugh


    TALLAHASSEE — No, Florida State senior Jacob Pugh is not as versatile as teammate Derwin James.

     Florida State Seminoles linebacker Jacob Pugh (16) and Florida State Seminoles defensive end DeMarcus Walker (44) celebrate after sacking the Miami quarterback Saturday October 8, 2016 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.
  2. 247Sports: Berkeley Prep's Nicholas Petit-Frere top OT in nation


    Berkeley Prep offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere already is widely considered the best player in Tampa Bay.

    Berkeley Prep rising senior defensive end Nicholas Petit-Frere (78) performs a pad drill during spring football practice at Berkeley Prep in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, May 12, 2017.
  3. Full disclosure: My AP Top 25 ballot


    Now that you've seen the preseason AP Top 25, here's what I submitted in my first year as a voter. The AP doesn't give us many guidelines in the preseason. I didn't try to predict how …

  4. AP Top 25: Alabama first, FSU, UF, Miami and USF all in top 20


    As expected, Alabama will start the season at No. 1 in the AP Top 25.

  5. HomeTeam 25: Football rankings for Tampa Bay


    Armwood High School quarterback Devin Black (7) hands the ball off to running back Larry Anderson (13) during the Spring Football Jamboree in Seffner, Fla. on Thursday, May 18, 2017.