Nestled in southern Florida is an untouched area of marshes, bays, and mangroves, boasting an underrated mecca for fishing in the Everglades.

While most focus on fishing the Gulf of Mexico to the west and the Florida Keys to the southwest, the Ten Thousand Island Wildlife Refuge houses some of Florida’s most sought-after species. Locals and tourists adore the best-kept secret of southern Florida fishing, from brackish to saltwater fish. And you, too, can discover your own gem of the Everglades.

Nevertheless, with so many ways to fish, varying depths, and different aquatic ecosystems in one place, knowing how to fish in this stunningly beautiful area can make or break a day out on the water. 

Here’s a breakdown of all the techniques and a few tips to remember when fishing in Florida’s unique Ten Thousand Island Wildlife Refuge.

Setting The Scene

Ten Thousand Islands is so vast that it engulfs 35,000 acres of oceanfront, marshes, flats, islands, seagrass patches, and protected mangrove forests. More so, 200 species of fish are known to inhabit or frequent the area seasonally. This means that anglers will never get bored with the ever-changing menu of target species.

However, few common species have anglers coming back season after season in pursuit of catching the big one. These include snook, red drums, spotted sea trout, tarpon, pompano, ladyfish, flounder, mackerel, and cobia.

Albeit, caution should be used in the refuge if opting to boat. Since manatees inhabit the area and no wake zones are strictly enforced. Yet, there is another predator for which anglers should watch out for; alligators and American crocodiles. And, believe it or not, the Ten Thousand Islands is one of the few areas where both species co-mingle.

Kayak/ Canoe Fishing in the Backcountry

Kayaking or canoeing offers the best way to see and fish the Ten Thousand Islands. With fluctuating water levels in and out, seasonally allows anglers to enjoy the backcountry undisturbed by others.

However, water levels should be checked in advance as some areas could not be reachable, but that’s more so in the northern marshes. Therefore, mid-summer to winter is the best time of the year to kayak or canoe here.

Yet, this is an excellent way for novice anglers to fish in the Ten Thousand Islands, with the kayaking trails being one of the biggest draws. Up for a challenge? See how many of the kayak trails you can complete.

Where to Kayak/ Canoe Fishing

Here’s a small list of areas to consider where to paddle to:

  • Any of the northern rivers
  • Any of the southern rivers
  • Chokoloskee Island
  • Western Everglades
  • Barrier Islands
  • Tidal water of the backcountry

What You’ll Need

  • Kayak with rod holders and/or straps
  • Paddle
  • Life vest
  • Small waterproof tackle box
  • Saltwater rod and reel set up (Spinning or fly set up, see below)
  • A small selection of light tackle 

Step One: Getting To The Put-In

Off US Highway 41, there are multiple canoe launches available. These areas are marked with a canoeing sign before heading down a dirt road to the put-in. Please note, some of these launches do not have designated parking.

Step Two: Launching and Safety

Put the kayak or canoe in the water, and bring all necessary safety equipment, skin protection, and snacks. Start paddling!

Step Three: Location and Gear Selection

A fly setup is a way to go if you plan to stay inland at the marshes or more north or south in the bayous, rivers, or around mangrove islands. This way, snagging is avoided, with flies being the better option to get in seagrass, around root structures, or areas of obstructions. Anglers can get lucky with small tarpon in these habitats.

Otherwise, when paddling out to the estuaries, keys, islands, or bays, go for a saltwater spinning rod and combo, with some areas being as deep as 20 feet. Once you know how and where you want to fish, cast your line and watch the bites come in! Oh, and don’t be surprised if you land red drums, snooks, or groupers.

Nearshore or Offshore Fishing With A Boat

When pursuing larger targets like cobia, mackerel, Kingfish, snapper, spotted sea trout, or Goliath groupers, fishing around the archipelago’s outer islands will introduce you to deeper water with structures. This also means bigger fish, like sharks, potentially swallowing up your fish. Can you say catch of a lifetime?

Where To Fish The Ten Thousand Islands With A Boat

To take some guessing out of where the fishing holes are, here are some areas anglers have been successful:

  • Barrier Islands into the Gulf of Mexico
  • The boundary of Ten Thousand Islands into Everglades National Park

What You’ll Need:

  • Boat with appropriate safety gear
  • Saltwater spinning rod and reel
  • Fishing line of choice (recommended is fluorocarbon)
  • Gear for jigging or bottom fishing (ex. three-inch paddle tails and jig heads)
  • Cut bait or live bait of choice (optional)
  • Circle hook (optional)

Step One: Getting To The Boat Launch

Two public boat launches are available to gain access by boat to the Ten Thousand Island Refuge. The first is the Port of Island Marina, easily found on US Highway 41, and the halfway mark between Marco Island and Everglades City. The latter is the Goodland Boat Park near Marco Island and the western edge of the Ten Thousand Islands.

Step Two: Launch And Set The Line

It should be noted that there is no right or wrong way to fish in the Ten Thousand Islands with a spinning rod and reel. Although, when targeting snook, red drums, tarpon, ladyfish, mackerel, snapper, and spotted seatrout, the best to go is by bottom fishing or jigging. 

To do so, take the tag end of the fluorocarbon line and feed it through the eyelet of a jig head, using a sturdy saltwater knot of choice. Feed on a paddle tail with the hook exposed. Drop your line, jerking it every so often to mimic a bait fish or injured fish to entice anything nearby.

Step Three: Live Bait (Optional)

Crab and shrimp are naturally found throughout the Refuge, making for excellent bait. Otherwise, cut bait or bait fish work just as well.

If you prefer live or cut bait, try these options instead of setting a line for jigging. Thus, utilize a good ol’ circle hook or drop shot setup. You’ll be glad you did.

In Closing

Florida’s Ten A Thousand Island presents some of the best fishing inland or nearshore fishing in the Sunshine State.  Even first-timers will enjoy the ease of fishing in this intricate archipelago chain. 

Enjoy fishing some of the most popular targets Florida offers, all while discovering your slice of undisturbed paradise. Cast your line and test out new techniques with the anticipation of something big or small hooking on. 

Oh, and don’t forget sharks and Goliath groupers are known to latch on to and steal an angler’s catches when reeling something in! So expect the unexpected and have fun.

Have you gone fishing in Florida? Tell us your favorite spots in the comment below!