Fishing Stories of Southwest Florida

What makes our waters so special? Listen to the tales of those who know best: our savvy boat captains.

BY July 25, 2016


“If I fished only to capture fish, my fishing trips would have ended long ago.”

—Zane Grey, Tales of Southern Rivers


The silver king caused this. Back in 1885, a New Yorker named W. H. Wood caught a tarpon with rod and reel off the shores of Punta Rassa, an unknown feat at the time back when the so-called “silver king” of fish was normally harpooned. Suddenly, the waters of Southwest Florida were densely populated with boats dropping line into water. Word spread quickly worldwide and a tourist fishing industry developed, places like the Useppa Inn and Gasparilla Inn getting their start hosting well-heeled anglers. Thomas Edison was seeking a winter home when he came across Southwest Florida and saw for himself that some of the best tarpon fishing could be right outside his door. Sawfish and sharks, manta rays and manatees—the game was wide-ranging and exotic to many. Times change. Restrictions were placed to prevent overfishing. But more than a century later, it’s still a draw.

Why fish? Why here?

Writers like Zane Grey and Ernest Hemingway (left) fished Gulf waters then tried to capture the experience in words. Grey came back from a trip and wrote that he had witnessed a scene “indescribably beautiful.” Hemingway fished for tarpon and wrote in a letter that it’s a “thrill that needs no danger to make it real.”

For more insight, we asked the people who know fishing best—boat captains. They’re the ones who work hours on end yet still have the desire to go out on their own when they can. These are their stories of how they came here, why they fish and what makes these waters so special.

Chris Turner, Naples boat captain, tournament fisher and third-generation fisherman 

My grandfather came from the outer banks of North Carolina. He came in the early 1900s. They started in Venice. Ended up in Naples in the late ’30s, early ’40s. They came here on a houseboat. My dad didn’t like being under his dad’s thumb. So he started a nursery. But I got saltwater in my blood. I worked for his brothers. My Uncle Nick ran a fish house. I unloaded grouper boats and fishing boats, and I fished with my Uncle Nick.

Todd Geroy, Naples boat captain since 1981

Growing up in North Carolina, there was a mounted tarpon that my mom’s father had caught. I would just marvel at that thing. … As I got a bit older, 11, 12, I found a creek near my house. I spent most days I could up there. I got fascinated because I could see them in there, I could track the fish. I had friends whose parents had a lake home. They’d be off skiing, and I’d just stay on the dock to fish.

When I moved here it was a big transition. I was on my bike riding home and I saw a few kids my age and they had fishing poles. I stopped and asked, “Hey, where do you guys go to fish around here?” We went pond-hopping around Naples. We’d catch bass or juvenile tarpon that were landlocked. I couldn’t believe what was available.


All the kids hook-line fish. We fished on the pier. My parents would drop us off Friday night and pick us up Sunday afternoon. We were little terrors. We owned that pier.

Back in the late ’70s, you could catch four snook, big ones. We didn’t even tell anyone unless it was 25 pounds. You could catch four—because that was the limit—carry them back, and go back and catch four more. Sometimes we’d just throw them under a bench and put a wet newspaper on top. They’d be hard and half-cooked at the end of the day, but they tasted fine to us.

Geroy (left)

My obsession got pretty heavy. If my grades were good, I could go out on the weekend. I spent every weekend on that boat. I’d fish Naples to Marco, mostly inshore. If the weather was good, I’d go offshore shark fishing.

Back around ’77, there were a lot of spots around the bay front. There were places you could fish off the seawall. Nowadays it’s all built up. I became a fish bum. I’d fish the pier; fish the jetties. We’d catch snook and redfish, sheepshead, pompano; we didn’t care. I fell into a niche of guys who are fishing buddies to this day.


When we were kids we’d catch those tarpon and hang them up. We didn’t have smartphones or anything like that to take pictures. Who’d guess a 12-year-old kid caught a 150-pound tarpon? We’d have to drag that SOB home and weigh him. There was no thought of, “Oh, I’m killing this fish and it won’t be around for someone else to catch.” Hell, no. I’m keeping this to show my friends!


I had a fishing buddy, and one day in July we went shark fishing. Just about a mile off shore. We’re out in open water. The two rods go off at the same time. We bring these two fish up, goliath grouper. They’re huge, and we’re pulling them up in our 17-foot skiff. Two skinny kids, we get these things in the boat. We head back into the city dock where they had scales. We hang them up—250, 375 pounds.

You could sell them commercial back then. So, I get on the phone, start calling, asking if anyone would want them. Couldn’t find anyone, but then I get a guy from this place in Golden Gate. He asks, “Are they gutted? Are they iced down?” I look at these two huge fish just sitting there and say, “Uhh, yep.” So we head over to Kelly’s (Fish House) with these things, my buddy guts them and the boat is just filled with, well, you can imagine. I had to buy about 150 pounds of ice. So we head back, these fish and all this ice, and we’re almost sinking. We get back, and the pickup truck from this place in Golden Gate pulls up. Guys says, “You got them?” We say, “Yep,” and load them up. No sweat. 


We caught a lot of big sharks. Biggest probably a 500-pound bull shark. We’d catch huge fish off the pier. We’d tie a rope to the center piling of the pier, run it over the railing. We’d put a slip knot in the rope and put a Coke can in the slip knot. You’d drop the rope over with a chain or cable and you’d put a live jack or half a sting ray at the bottom. And we’d be lying there and fish would grab it and pull. It’d pull on that knot and you’d hear this Coke can just crunch and wake everybody up.

Another thing we’d do, you’d take a treble hook,  swing it under the pier and you’d get a fish. We’d snag big old drum, red fish. That’s how many there’d be out there. Not every time, but a lot of times you’d snag something.

Friends and I would go fish off the seawall off Turner Seafood. We’d snag a shiner, and we wouldn’t even take it off the hook. We’d just toss a line under the dock and catch snook. Or, what we’d do is we’d take a whole mullet or half a jack and cast off the dock way out there. Then we’d just wait with the rod propped on a piling and wait to get a run. The thing whirls. Pick it up, feed him some line turn around and we’d take off—you’d put the rod over your shoulder and run to set the hook. We’d get a big old tarpon.

The hard ones to catch were pompano. You’d see the old guys fishing for pompano because they’d taste delicious. Now that I’m an old guy, I like fishing for pompano. You have to (have) real finesse with the rod.

Paul Nocifora (right), owner of Captain Pete’s Bait & Tackle in Naples, fly fishing charter captain

I remember catching blue gills with my dad when we lived up in Kentucky. We’d just have worm on our hooks. My parents have a place in Marco, so I’ve come here a lot. When we’d come down we’d go out fishing. I moved here six years ago. This place was up for sale so I bought it. Going into charters was just natural. You get people from all over the world who want to fly fish. It’s very specialized. It’s difficult. It’s like golf; if you don’t practice, you’re going to fall apart. You need to stay consistent on it. We’ll catch snook, redfish, tarpon.


In the summer months, kids here love shark fishing. We catch them inshore in 3, 4 feet of water. They run a lot of line off the real; they pull hard. I still love to do it. They’re just big heavy fish. They’re badass. Caught a 10-foot bull once on a charter. Another time I got a 13-foot hammerhead hooked. I was in my 14-foot boat. I had to break him off. Too big. Kind of left me in shock. I had to go in after that.


I had a client who caught a 145-pound tarpon on a fly. Pretty cool. He had his 12-year-old son on the boat. They were from Alabama. The kid was taking videos on his phone. The whole time we’re with this fish the kid’s got this running commentary in his thick Southern accent. It was pretty amazing.

Snook are the hardest to catch. They’re super wary, super smart. They know how to get away from you. I’ve lost as many as I’ve caught. I have certain months I like to do it. Cold mornings, low tide, they have to come out to sun themselves. Caught one at 42 inches. She was so big and the water was so shallow she couldn’t go anywhere. There wasn’t anywhere to jump. It was a cold morning, maybe 45 degrees. She ran around a bit and that was it.


I love trying to figure them out. It’s not always about catching the big one. There’s so much in the inshore world. It’s just trying to figure them out. And then to take someone out who doesn’t have that skill—when they get something and you see their reaction, it’s an amazing feeling.


I get out as often as I can. I do the RedSnook, the Gene Doyle (tournaments), and a few others. People think, “Oh, he’s a fishing guide—he’ll kill us.” As a guide, you’re trying to catch as much as possible. In a tournament, you’re looking for a specific fish, like the biggest, fattest red fish. That requires some patience.


I’ve got a small group I fish with. We go look for new places. There are thousands of miles of shorelines. If you catch something, good. If not, that’s fine.


(Southwest Florida) is still a great place. I get my customers on the boat, some big mover and shaker from some big company and he says, “You got a nice office out here.” We take that for granted. I think we have more bad days than we used to, but we still have stellar days. Places I used to fish when I was a kid, you won’t see another boat for the whole day. Now there are Jet Skis cutting through. GPS has hurt; you have chart plotters with satellite overlay and all this stuff. Guys like me had to know how to do it. Local knowledge doesn’t matter so much more. Motors are bigger—what used to take a day now is a few hours. There are still a lot of places to fish. More people are relying on this resource, so it makes it tougher. I talked to someone the other day, he says he took a guy out and they only got two dinky snook and a red fish. But the day before that I went out, and we absolutely destroyed it out there. So you never know.

"After all these years I still have a love for it."—Chris Turner


I love watching someone who’s never caught. The way I fish is more like hunting than fishing. We’re looking for fish. To have a client make a good cast, have the fish come up, eat the fly and watch how happy they are when everything comes together, which doesn’t happen always, is a great feeling. The hunt and the payoff. Catching a fish on a fly, especially a fly that you’ve tied, is the biggest payoff.

This is world-class fishing. It’s the main reason to live here.              


I’m getting to the point of my life where you reinvent yourself. I’m phasing out gradually. My youngest son is 26. He’s got his captain’s license. He’s been in it three years. He’s like I was. He was always on the water, like I was.


From December to end of May, I’m worn out. I’m out every day. Now, I’ll drive by the boat ramp to see who’s working, like, “Why am I not working today?”

I guess it’s ingrained in me. It’s what I know how to do well. After all these years I still have a love for it. It’s the anticipation. It’s the next bite. You don’t know what’s the next bite.


Photography of Geroy and Nocifora by Brian Tietz.



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