I don’t know what it is, but living here in Manila (6,000 feet elevation) creates a lot of tropical “sea level” plans for our annual anniversary trips each December.

Last year we traveled to Mexico but with COVID-19 still raising its ugly head, we decided to stay in-country and booked a trip to southwestern Florida instead.

Since this is a fishing column, let’s talk about fishing, but just know that fishing is only one of at least 100 things to do in the area.

We flew into Fort Myers, Florida, and stayed on Estero Island, just a quick 35-minute drive in our rental car from the airport. Estero is a wonderful destination. It is one of many islands connected by causeways and bridges much the same as the Florida Keys on the east side of the state.

The beaches were great. We watched hundreds of pelicans and various forms of sea gulls pound the surface of the ocean feasting on myriad bait fish. We found sea shells, walked endlessly on the white sand, and marveled at the relatively few people in the area.

As with all of our anniversary trips, we stayed to ourselves, avoided large or even small crowds, took in the sites, and in short, had a fantastic time together.

On the second of our six days spent in this Florida paradise, we found ourselves in a kayak watching manatees in the Orange River. We saw 60 or more of these docile sea monsters (averaging 1,000 pounds each) and had them within a foot or so of our kayak. Several times during our morning, manatees brushed up to the underside of our kayak.

During our stay, we booked a trip with Spencer Hobby, a local fishing guide that truly loves what he does. Just 26-years-old, Spencer grew up near the very water in which we fished. His knowledge of the local fishery and the countless small mangrove-covered islands within a few miles of the Gulf of Mexico was exceptional.

“The water temperature is in the mid-60s,” he said while on the phone when I booked the trip. “This time of year, the snook and sea trout are the prizes, while red fish, jacks or perhaps a tarpon or two might even be in the area.”

Spencer believes in strict catch-and-release on most all the fish he pursues. And, after our time with him, I assure you he cares about the fish and cares for them better than many other guides I’ve hired in the past.

Jeri and I boarded his 18-foot Maverick bay boat at 10:30 a.m. for a four hour trip and we caught our first 30-plus inch snook before 11 a.m.

Spencer provided us Shimano spinning rods and reels with 50-pound Powerline Slick braid and 30-pound fluorocarbon leader. A strong circle hook finished the tackle set up on which he threaded live pilchards that he netted earlier in the morning.

When we pulled into the second stop of the day, he noticed some snook in around two or three feet of water near a tiny island and told us to cast towards the shore. Within a few casts, I hooked and landed the first snook of my life. Jeri followed suit with her first snook and we didn’t stop catching fish for the next four hours.

In the course of the day, we caught close to 40 fish between us (we really couldn’t keep track) and I was able to catch the “grand slam” of Southwest Florida fishing. I landed snook, sea trout, red fish and tarpon.

Jeri caught three of the four “slam” species but didn’t catch a red fish. Without a doubt, outside of Alaska, this was the best guided saltwater fishing trip of our lives.

If you are looking for a fantastic getaway in December next year, look no further than Estero Island, and for a great fishing experience, reach out to Captain Spencer (239-728-8482, Spencer_hobby@yahoo.com).

Don Allphin can be reached at don@donallphin.com.

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