When I was a young lad, my family decided that Florida sounded like a good spot for a winter vacation. Back then, all I cared about was swimming in the ocean, playing in the hotel arcade, and visiting Disney and other area attractions. All the way into my early 20's, I visited Florida regularly. Most of the time lying on the beach, eating fantastic food, parasailing, and drinking pina coladas.
Priorities have changed.
I booked a family trip for December of 2015, and started digging into "off the grid" adventures. I knew from social media that I could probably have some success fishing the Gulf of Mexico with several guides, and I quickly booked a day with Tenacity Guide Service out of Cape Coral, FL. It would be the final adventure on our trip, and the most anticipated part of our vacation.
We flew from Minneapolis to Tampa, and spent the night in the Clearwater area. Our first full day was spent visiting the rescued wildlife at the Clearwater Marine Aquariam
. Mostly known for rescuing Winter the dolphin, star of the Dolphin Tale films. We also found a hidden gem, a public fishing pier where anglers spent their days catching a variety of fish. Trout, cobia, and Spanish mackerel hung from stringers in the clear blue sea below the pier. I spoke to several anglers, and they reported great success. Next time we go, I'm packing a travel rod and reel and some tackle.
The next day we drove over the beautiful Sunrise Bridge, connecting St. Pete to the Bradenton area, checking out the fishing piers that lined the bridge, and continued down to Punta Gorda, stopping at Siesta Key Beach to enjoy time in the ocean and on its shores picking shells on the #1 beach in America.
Our 4th day was a mix of great food at Fisherman's Village, sitting right over the ocean, with gulls and pelicans at our feet, and gators and lizards at Myakka River State Park
. A truly incredible park to walk around in, and get up close and personal with wild gators. Another thing that's highly overlooked, but was enjoyed by all.
Day 5 arrived, and we were up early to meet power couple Deidre and Bo Johnson, owners of Tenacity Guide Service, as well as several off-shoots that include guiding off-shore for deep sea fish, as well as bowfishing adventures for stingray. Captain Bo slid his 24' Bluewave into the ocean, and began tossing a net for mullet, which would be our bait for the day.
After netting roughly 20 mullet, ranging in size from 1-4lbs., we were off to chase goliath grouper. We pulled up to some old pilings, and full mullets were threaded onto a 20/O hook, rigged up to 650lb. test monofilament, with a few ounces of lead to keep the bait down. Incredible boat control kept the bait in the zone, and within minutes I was tied into what turned out to be a 350lb. grouper. The largest fish of my life. The battle of these awesome fish is intense, and hard fought. When asked what I would compare the fight to, I could only compare it to almost being pulled out of the boat by another smaller boat, then trying to reel that boat in. Our group of three all caught nice groupers, and it was time to change things up.
Next up, sharks. We traveled a few miles off-shore, and found ourselves drifting over a shipwreck, which was intense to view on Bo's Lowrance HDS 12 with structure scan. We spotted a 50 pound cobia, and hooked one more goliath grouper, but the sharks eluded us.
Bo told us that it was time to move, and we pulled up on to a large flat and within minutes of our drift, we were tied into a double on black tip sharks. The screaming drag and sheer power of these fish in truly incredible. That, teamed with the worry of what you're going to do when the fish comes into the boat makes for an intense experience! My wife cared more about sharks than grouper, and had her moment of glory when she hoisted a 7' black tip shark into her worn out arms.
While the fishing was amazing, the company was just as good. Bo was great, and didn't only show us some giant fish; he also got us close to some friendly dolphins, making my wife's trip, as well as some rays and manatees. Truly one of the best fishing trips I've been on.
While Florida may be a destination for warm weather, beaches, and tons of tourist attractions, I'd suggest getting off the beaten path a bit, and exploring some of the other adventures that await you in sun country. Southwest Florida is a gem, and the fishing is top notch. Be sure to check out Bo and Deidre at fishtenacity.com for some fishing that you'll never forget.
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