This section is from the book "American Game Fishes", by W. A. Perry. Also available from Amazon: American Game Fishes: Their Habits, Habitat, and Peculiarities; How, When, and Where to Angle for Them.
Some three or four years ago, owing to the severe and annoying colds which the great and sudden variations in temperature of our Kentucky winters subjected me to, I found it desirable to seek a more equable climate for several, at least, of the more disagreeable months of the cold season. I was attracted to the south gulf coast of Florida by the glowing descriptions given me by friends, of its balmy atmosphere and the splendid sport which awaited the angler there. Investigation showed that the reports I had received had not at all partaken of the extravagant. Charmed with the equableness of the climate, the superb fishing, and the winter surf-bathing, with its re-invigorating results, I constructed a snug winter home at Naples-on-the-Gulf, which, with my family, I have greatly enjoyed during the past two winters. Others, likewise delighted with the locality, the wonderful climate, and the sport, have built cottages there; a hotel has been erected, and Naples gives promise of becoming a popular winter resort. From Jacksonville the little village upon the open gulf is reached via the Jacksonville, Tampa & Key West, and Florida Southern Railroads, which convey you as far south as Punta Gorda, on Charlotte Harbor. From there it is a trip of ninety miles by steamer to Naples-on-the-Gulf, sixty of these down the harbor and Carlos Bay, and thirty out in the open gulf. A railroad to Naples, which is to be built in the near future, will bring it within two hours of Punta Gorda.
Naples is one hundred and twenty-five miles south of Tampa, and is about on the parallel of latitude which extends through Matamoras, on the Mexican side of the gulf, and through the Bahama group, to the southeast of Florida. The vegetation is tropical; and the seasons, in contradistinction to our own, are divided into "wet" and "dry." The latter corresponds to our winter, and the former to our summer. During the past winter (1890) rain has not fallen on more than three or four occasions, and during my previous sojourns the rule has been beautiful days, full of health-giving sunshine, with rain not oftener, on an average, than once a month, and a health and life giving breeze from the gulf that makes the atmosphere delightful beyond description. Here the Tarpon abounds-here is the angler's paradise.
Prior to my first trip to Naples-on-the-Gulf, my fishing experiences had been confined principally to angling for Black Bass in Lake Erie, with an occasional visit to the rivers of Northern Michigan and Wisconsin in quest of Brook Trout. I had heard of the Tarpon, but had little conception of the real character of the sport afforded by the salt waters of Southwestern Florida. Many anglers have, as I had, the idea that the average fish of southern waters is sluggish in temperament and lacking in the spirit and fighting qualities which have made famous his kindred in the cooler waters of the North. This is, however, an error of large dimensions. The Tarpon is beyond all doubt the king-aye, the "Silver King"-of game fishes, as the lion is the king of beasts; and the smaller varieties of fish, with which the bays and inlets of Florida abound, furnish as lively sport for the devotee of rod and reel as can be had in the wide world. For one who does not care to battle with big fish, the combative Cavalli, Spanish Mackerel, Grouper, Kingfish, Mangrove Snapper, Jackfish, Pom-pano, Redfish, Sea Trout, Sea Bass, etc., furnish abundant sport of the highest order.
At Punta Gorda, at the head of Charlotte Harbor and at the mouth of Peace River, a locality up to this season never frequented by Tarpon fishermen, the sport is reported to have been excellent. Passing there on my return home, I saw half a dozen fine specimens which had been caught there, and mounted by Mr. Thomas Hartigan, a skillful taxidermist of that place. Thus it would seem that the Tarpon is whimsical in the choice of feeding-grounds, especially so far as concerns the northern places where he is caught. Natives of the gulf coast south of Naples have frequently told me that they had never been to the inlets of Caxambas and Chokoliska without seeing Tarpon in large numbers. At Naples I have found Tarpon each season in great numbers, though there have been, apparently, fewer this season than in previous years. This I attribute to the unusually dry weather in the fall of 1889. As a rule the waters of the Bay of Naples and its tributary, Gordon's River, are brackish, but the drouth left them this season almost as salty as the gulf, and the Tarpon were later in making their appearance.
The Tarpon seek this brackish water for sport and food; and it is probably due to this fact that they were running as far north as the mouth of Peace River so early in the season this year. I have frequently noticed, in the early winter months, large numbers of Tarpon of all sizes sporting in the water at the mouth of Gordon's River, when they could not be tempted to take the hook. Mullet, at this season, are much more abundant than later, and this may explain their tardiness in taking the bait. At all events, as the season advances they bite more frequently, and in April I have had the best fishing. May and June, i am told, are even better months, the fish running in large numbers and becoming ravenous. By midsummer the natives say the Tarpon becomes lean, losing much of his firm flesh and hearty appearance of the early winter. At this time, too, they are said to fight with less spirit, and are comparatively easily handled. As I have never fished later than April, however, I cannot vouch for these statements. Undoubtedly the spring is the superior season, though by far the majority of Tarpon anglers choose their outing when they may escape the rigors of a northern winter. This necessitates more time, and generally much tedious waiting, to secure the prize; but the delights and pleasures of a wonderful climate may be regarded as ample compensation.
The time necessary may be inferred from a statement I saw published in Forest ami Stream, to the effect that up to the latter part of April, 1889, the total catch at one of the principal fishing-points on the Florida gulf coast was only forty-two; and this with a score or more fishermen hard at it during the major portion of the season, commencing in January. At this same point, during the past season, I believe something in the neighborhood of seventy or eighty have been captured. Many sportsmen, loth to bestow so much of their time in quest of one variety, content themselves with an annual fish, devoting the rest of their spare moments to the smaller varieties.