The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 1 - September 24, 2008

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Punta Gorda: Old Florida charm, modern convenience

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PHOTO/RUSTY CHINNIS Captain Brad Brown and
C. Boyd Pfeiffer with a redfish that was landed and
released at the FOWA outing in Charlotte Harbor

Punta Gorda has been just off my radar. I pass it regularly on I-75 on my way to the Keys and Pine Island Sound. Its modest skyline lies to the west, at the foot of the Route 41 Bridge, where the Peace River meets Charlotte Harbor. As an outdoor writer and avid saltwater angler I’ve spent many days on Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf Islands, chasing the tarpon, snook, redfish and trout that make it a premier destination for anglers worldwide. A decade ago Captain Jonnie Walker introduced me to the wonderfully wild river, one of Florida’s most scenic and prolific water courses.

As I crossed the bridge on Sept. 10, Punta Gorda was my final destination. Over the next four days, during the Florida Outdoor Writer’s Association Fall Conference, my wife Chris and I would be introduced to a special, unassuming and richly rewarding area of Florida. We would learn about an off-the-beaten-path city that holds a wealth of opportunities for naturalists, birding enthusiasts, boaters, music lovers and fishermen alike.

Punta Gorda’s first settlers came to the shores of the Peace River in the late 19th century, a decade after the close of the American Civil War. Less than 10 years after the first settlements were established, the railroads rolled into town bringing with them the first land developers and southwest Florida’s first group of tourists.

We arrived on Wednesday afternoon, checking into the Best Western Waterfront Hotel just in time to change and make the opening event. The membership had assembled to honor our long-time mentor and outdoor legend Mark Sosin. It was a wonderful evening at Benedetto’s Steakhouse and Martini Bar, a time when friends reacquainted, met the hosts from the Charlotte County Visitor’s Bureau and shared stories from the field.

The next day featured a power packed line-up of craft improvement seminars that included some of the best talent in the industry. Members learned photography tips and tricks, how to write meaningfully and with intention, how to publish guide books and an introduction to Adobe’s new photography software, Lightroom.

After dinner we heard music coming from Gilchrest Park adjacent to the hotel. We decided to take a walk to investigate and were rewarded with several groups of musicians playing along the waterfront. It was a wonderful introduction to a city that still retains a small town charm. Old Florida-style homes line the park and river, while art galleries, ice cream parlors, a historical park and a small community center are just a short walk away. Punta Gorda exudes an ambiance that beckons back to by-gone communities.

Friday began with a fun half-day fishing tournament from Fisherman’s Village, a thriving business that includes a marina, a shopping mall, and The Captain’s Table, this area’s premier waterfront restaurant. I had the pleasure of fishing with one of the FOWA’s special guests, C. Boyd Pfeiffer, an award winning outdoor journalist, fly fishing expert and the author of over 26 books. We were paired with Captain Brad Brown, of Fort Myers, a tournament red fisher, marine mechanic and experienced guide on the waters of Charlotte Harbor, Pine Island Sound and Estero Bay. We started the day by catching ladyfish on almost every cast with jigs and top water plugs before heading to the myriad islands that line the south western shoreline of Charlotte Harbor in search of redfish and snook. We managed to jump a snook and catch another, finishing the morning with a nice redfish. However, the highlight of this trip was undoubtedly the tales we shared of how fishing had become such an important part of our lives.

For those who chose not to fish there was a guided wading trip to Ponce de Leon Park with the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center and kayaking with Grande Tours in Placida. That afternoon members had the option of either riding a swamp buggy on a tour of Babcock Ranch or attending a shooting event sponsored by the Cecil M. Webb Shooting Range. From the beginning of the event on Wednesday until the final awards dinner on Saturday night, Executive Director Tommy Thompson and President Captain John Kumiski kept the membership tightly scheduled with a wealth of interesting and informative events and seminars. With the help of Jennifer Huber, from the Charlotte Harbor Visitor’s Bureau, and many other sponsors, the Punta Gorda Conference was one of the best I’ve attended in almost 20 years as a member. Despite the schedule, Chris and I managed to take walks and bike rides around this old Florida community on the Peace River. It was a thoroughly enjoyable visit and we’re sure to return soon to explore one of Florida’s small, secluded, sparkling gems.

When You Go:

The Charlotte Harbor Visitor’s Bureau
The Best Western Waterfront Hotel
Babcock Wilderness Adventures
Grande Tours
Fisherman’s Village
Captain Brad Brown:

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