Sanibel Island
by Bill Leuchten

What do Snook, Snapper, Redfish, Sea Trout, Ladyfish, Flounder, and Jack all have in common? They all live in Florida's Sanibel Island wildlife preserve and can be all caught in a single day on a fly rod.

Sanibel Island is a barrier island just off the southwest coast of Florida by Fort Myers. It is about 12 miles long and 4 miles wide. One of the first things I noticed once I crossed the causeway from the mainland was that the island appears very undeveloped. They have zoning laws aganst high-rises, so although it's an extremely popular vacation destination and know around the world for its shelling beaches, it still has a quiet and natural look to it. The nature preserve holds 70% of the island's land space and really gives the island its character.


Norm Ziegler, author of "Rivers of Shadows, Rivers of Sun", who recently did a book signing and presentation at Boulder Flycasters, splits his time between Sanibel Island and Dillon, Montana. Over Thanksgiving weekend, he let me tour his backyard fishery, and while we were at it he demonstrated the effectiveness of his invention, the "Crystal Shminnow". I spent a morning fishing in the nature preserve and found the mangrove bays not only teeming with fish and bird life but teeming with birders. I was fishing a quiet grove and having decent luck when several cars and vans parked right in back of me. Carloads of birders descended on the banks of the grove and furiously set up their tri-pods and called out light meter readings. The storky looking bird just off to my right appeared to be the subject. He did not mind the constant sound of shutters clicking and birding lingo yelled out describing parts of his body he was unaware of. These tourists were wearing those khaki colored vests that the overseas war correspondents wear when they are on assignment and they were covered with birding merit patches. The group appeared to be a national bird watching association that traveled a long way for this experience but they looked more like a photography outfit due to the immense lenses and associated gear that quickly set up. The goal did not appear to get the best view or that this bird was particularly rare, it was " how to get the best picture".

Norm's friend, Dave Ford, a member of the Sanibel Flyfishers Club, took me out in his boat into the inner bays of the preserve and we had good luck throwing flies in the banks of the mangroves. Depite the many varieties of fish caught, the highlight was a large fish, presumably a snook, snapping my 30# test line like it was 6/0 thread after about 15 seconds. The majority of smaller fish caught certainly lulled me into a rhythm that did not account for a fish of that size. That IS saltwater fishing to me. The wide range of fish had me jumping from 6wt. to 8wt.

This Thanksgiving I was thankful that local governments can win the battle over public lands to determine that they cannot be used for development and maintain reasonably large areas for wildlife preservation. I was also thankful that no matter how bad the hurricanes may strike Florida's beautiful coast, the fish really know how to take cover.

Anyone looking for more information about this destination please stop in to talk to me.