1. Where to Stay
Even if you’re here to get sunburned on a fishing boat, you still might want some pampering. The sprawling, newly revamped Naples Grande Resort & Club (from $329), just added an outpost of California’s renowned Golden Door Spa, where salt-singed skin can recover with a hydrating body scrub ($145). Splurge on a gulf-view room or a Zen-inspired bungalow, clustered around a garden of bamboo trees and reflecting pools, over lower-situated “Coastal View” quarters.
If you plan on renting a boat, stay at the cozy, group-friendly Vanderbilt Beach Resort (from $193; from $119 after April 30), which has five free boat slips for guests on the Vanderbilt Lagoon. Call ahead to reserve a parking space, as docks are shared with diners who boat to the resort’s popular Turtle Club Restaurant.
The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club (from $285; from $205 after April 15) provides access to seven miles of white-sand beach, a full-service spa, tennis center, and the hands-down best beach bar in town: the Sunset (open to nonguests, too). Penthouse wing rooms face the gulf, but you can save cash by booking in the airy, just-renovated “Florida” wing.
If you want to cook your catch, go for hotels with fully equipped kitchens and outdoor barbecues. Two good ones are the Park Shore Resort (from $140; from $80 after April 14), where lush grounds include a gazebo grill deck surrounded by a private lake, and the small, family-owned Bel-Mar (from $139), a homier option with a great downtown location.
2. Where to Eat
Leave the crabbing to the experts at downtown’s Truluck’s seafood, steak, and crab house. The Florida stone-crab season extends through May 15, and this is the place to get ’em: Truluck’s operates a fleet of twenty crabbing boats at its private fishery on the nearby Isle of Capri. Reserve well ahead, or just go for the early-bird dinner at the bar.
Fifteen minutes north of downtown, Naples Tomato incorporates ten varieties of its namesake fruit, including imports from San Marzano and now-in-season local heirlooms, into its seafood-heavy Neapolitan menu. Stop in the wine bar first and then tuck into one of 30 homemade pastas, like the truffle ravioli or always-popular lasagne.
Watch—and be watched by—pelicans at the open-air Dock at Crayton Cove, on Naples Bay. The Dock’s Caribbean- and Latin-spiced seafood is best enjoyed at lunch, when you can grab a grouper sandwich caught that morning (order it blackened). Even better: Catch it yourself, and they’ll cook it—any way you want, with two sides, for $12.95.
3. What to Do
Charter fishing trips are an easy way to get in on the action around Naples, but how do you choose one? Trust the vets. Captain Allen Walburn has been plying the local waters for 30 years; his fleet at A & B Charters offers both backcountry and offshore excursions. At the Port-O-Call Marina, Walburn’s Alabama ($85 per person for half-day; $160 for full) specializes in deep-sea hunts for kingfish, grouper, snapper, plus the big guys in the wrecks: cobia, permit, and barracuda.
Alternately, there’s kayaking. Saltwater Sports recently opened a new outpost at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, where you can rent a sit-on-top kayak and chase redfish, tarpon, and snook around the Gordon River ($15; catch-and-release is strongly encouraged). For access to even more species—including black drum, pompano, spotted sea trout, Spanish mackerel, even blacktip shark—drive twenty minutes south to the Isle of Capri for a four-hour kayak tour ($150 first angler, $50 each additional, up to three). At both locations, keep your eyes peeled for manatees.
After a day of sun and sea, a cold pint with the local youth (i.e., anyone under 50) is in order. On Fifth Avenue South, the decidedly un-swanky Paddy Murphy’s Irish Pub has live music and cheap beers. For more upscale digs, check out the new Boston Beer Garden and its 30 high-def TVs in North Naples.
4. Insider’s Tip
You don’t need a permit to cast out from the 1,000-foot-long Naples Pier. It has a free blanket license for the public, and the fishing can be quite good, with recent catches of Spanish and king mackerel, bluefish, pompano, ladyfish, and snook. For equipment, look to Capt. Pete’s Bait & Tackle (239-643-4466) at the Port-O-Call marina just across town. Besides rental rods, fresh live shrimp, lures, plugs, and jigs—many of which Captain Pete Rosko designed himself—you’ll find a man with a lifetime of fishing experience and, as they say, his ear to the pier. A general rule of thumb? Try to time your pier visit with a high tide that’s close to sunset. And watch out for pesky pelicans—they’re fishing, too, and are easily hooked or entangled.
5. An Oddball Day
Naples is just a half-hour north of Everglades National Park, and now through mid-May, you can get a spectacular bird’s-eye view of these immense marshlands by booking a 30-minute “flightseeing” tour ($65 per adult for two) on the four-passenger Alaskan float plane employed by Everglades Area Tours. Many would argue that the Everglades are best experienced up close on the water, but its glorious vastness can only be conveyed from above.
On your way back to civilization, stop in Everglades City for dinner at the famed Rod & Gun Club (cash only). The white clapboard lodge has hosted a number of VIPs—five presidents, Ernest Hemingway, Mick Jagger, Sean Connery—and still operates as a rustic hotel and restaurant. Snag a table on the veranda and order the swamp-and-turf combo, steak and frog legs.
6. Related Links
For information on Florida’s current fishing regulations, as well as on purchasing recreational licenses, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife site.
Check the species-availability guide at Fishing Naples for a monthly breakdown of what bites when. Going for the big guys? Shark and tarpon are both abundant in June.
Find the gear you need at one of the local bait-and-tackle shops listed at Salt Water Sports Florida.
The “Fish Tales” column of the Naples Sun-Times is updated regularly by local guide Captain Will Geraghty.