Trailering Magazine Archives - Destinations
Naples Paradise Coast
Naples got its name from the Italian city when visitors remarked that the new land's waters on the Gulf of Mexico surpassed those along the Italian coast. During the 1920's, it became a winter resort for the well-to-do including Thomas Edison (he visited here often from his nearby home in Sarasota), Gary Cooper and Greta Garbo, but it began as many waterfront communities begin: as a fishing village. Today, Naples is a destination for recreational fishermen across the country in search of snook and tarpon. It's a place often described as "paradise," an adjective found in many of the brochures urging people from the north to see what the city has to offer. They come to fish and boat and play golf. Lots of golf.
There are more golf holes, not just courses, per capita in Naples, Florida than anywhere else in the world. Both PGA and LPGA tournaments are played here and many of the more than 50 Naples-area public and private golf courses are surrounded by communities devoted to the game.
But water, not greens, is what made the city.
Built in 1888 as a freighter and passenger dock, the 1,000 foot-long Naples Pier continues to be the city's landmark, despite a number of disasters that leveled it. A 1910 hurricane destroyed the pier but it was quickly rebuilt, only to burn down in 1922 after a wind-whipped fire broke out. Two more hurricanes, one in 1926 and another in 1960, just about leveled the structure again but the city was quick to put it back together. Today, Naples Pier is used for fishing, people-watching and is considered a good place to do absolutely nothing. Located midway along the six-mile-long Naples Beach on the western end of 12th Avenue South, the pier is open 24 hours a day and is free to the public. If you are observing the pier from your boat, maintain a distance since many of the folks you see are casting fishing lines.
Naples has one of the top 10 beaches in the country, according to a 2005 Travel Channel survey. North of Naples Pier are a number of other much-touted beaches-all part of a 10-mile expanse of sand and shells. Barefoot, Vanderbilt, Clam Pass (a very shallow inlet from the Gulf that you can wade across so no boats go through here) provide both ample civilization requirements (bathrooms, showers, snacks) as well as solitude, should it be desired. If visitors aren't in Naples for boating or golfing, they come for the beaches.
On the eastern end of 12th Street South is the Naples City Dock, owned by the city it is a BoatU.S. Cooperating Marina offering Members .25 cents/foot off transient slips (fuel is sold here but no discount is available---instead go to nearby Naples Boat Club Marina-also a Cooperating Marina) located farther north along Naples Bay). Dock keeper Glenn Carr says this end of 12th Avenue South is the place for boat-watching, as the ten transient slips are in constant demand for everything from a runabout to 100-foot cruisers. If you are going to fish from a charter boat in Naples, chances are good you'll leave from Naples City Dock.
"People pull in to buy bait for fishing-shrimp and thread herring mostly---and we have snacks and ice," he says. "Many of our customers arrive in trailer boats, launched from Naples Landing, which is just three blocks north of here." Naples Landing is a city-owned boat ramp with metered parking (there's a change machine since the meters take only quarters) that costs $1/hour. Know the tides because Naples Landing can be tricky if launching or retrieving at low tide.
Farther north (at 5th Avenue South), you'll find the Tamiami (Highway 90) Bridge which should pose no problem for boaters without flybridges. The clearance, depending on the tide, is about 10 feet. Once again, know the tide if you're venturing this way.
"There's plenty of water here," Carr adds, "and most of the folks that tie up are going to do some fishing. In fact, you'll see folks fishing when they leave here and they'll fish all the way out to the Gulf through Gordon Pass. I always suggest they try Cuban Reef, which is an old Cuban boat that was sunk about two miles out."
"We have a list of fishing sites here in the store," says West Marine Naples Inventory Manager Bill Fenwick. "You can do Cuban Reef or go five miles off Naples Pier or I always go to "the Tower" which is an actual tower used for navigation by boats and aircraft. It's 26 miles out and stands 60 feet high but this is a great place for snapper, grouper, even barracuda."
Gordon Pass is the largest---and southernmost---of three outlets to the Gulf from Naples and is located about three miles south of the pier. Along the way from the dock through Gordon Pass, the most common sight, besides water, are homes. Huge homes. The other two passes are Doctors-the "middle pass" connecting to Venetian Bay and the northernmost Wiggins, which connects to the Cocohatchee River (there's a boat ramp just inside the pass in Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park). Unlike Gordon Pass, both Doctors and Wiggins have narrow entrances but like Gordon Pass, condos and homes are common sights going in and coming out.
"When you come out of Gordon Pass, hang a left and you'll come to Keewaydin Island," suggests Don Crane of TowBoatU.S. Naples. "People will pull their boats up on shore or anchor out and walk in and have a picnic on the secluded beach." Keewaydin Island is a gathering place on the 4th of July for boaters to watch fireworks from either Naples or Marco Island. It's also part of the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve so boaters are encouraged to leave no trace of their visit (i.e. garbage) behind. The island is reachable only by boat, which makes the experience all the more special.
Crane also suggests a trip from Naples south along the Intracoastal Waterway to Marco Island and, if the weather is cooperating, doing a run along the Gulf back to Naples. The distance is about seven miles one way. A stop at the Snook Inn on Marco Island provides a good lunch break, and there is plenty of dock space for patrons.
South of Marco Island is the area called "Ten Thousand Islands," aptly named because it's a myriad of canals and bays and the scene of many stories about a kayak or canoe paddler getting lost in the maze of mangrove trees. But it's also a stop for many of the charter and recreational fishermen. The water is murky here as a result of tannin released from the slowly decomposing mangrove wood in the water. Trailer boaters can launch from Everglades City for the first time this year now that channel dredging has been completed since sustaining damages from Hurricanes Wilma and Katrina. No jet skis are allowed in the Ten Thousand Island area.
"Ten Thousand Islands is something you have to learn," says Bill Fenwick at West Marine Naples, "because everything can look the same. But if you stay in the markers, you'll be fine."
The southern edge of the Ten Thousand Islands is the Everglades National Park, the third largest national park in the United States (only Death Valley and Yellowstone are larger), occupying more than a million acres. This was where John James Audubon did many of his drawings and paintings of waterfowl; it is home to more than 300 species of birds and more than 1,000 different kinds of plants. Tours can be arranged via airboat, and canoes can be rented for firsthand views of the park.
Since June, "red tide" has been an unwelcome visitor to southwest Florida (it appears elsewhere during warm weather, including Maine and Cape Cod). Described as algae blooms that appear "red" on the surface of the water, red tide emits toxins that can be fatal to fish and turtles while also being linked to respiratory trouble in human beings. While there have been a number of fish kills along the beaches and a few miles offshore, boaters continue to report good catches of the prized snook, tarpon and redfish.
Usually, if the red tide is along the shoreline, fishermen move two to 12 miles offshore and try their luck at the many reefs and wrecks. Most of the time, the Gulf's calm waters allow this to be done with no problem. The rule is a simple one: Don't take fish in red tide waters-go where the water is clear.
When not fishing or exploring or beaching or golfing, there's always shopping. Fifth Avenue South is the "Main Street" of Naples with a good number of high end stores (Gucci, Tiffany to name a couple) as well as restaurants and specialty shops. A cross street, 3rd Street South (streets run North and South while Avenues run East and West in Naples), is also a big shopping location. Another part of Naples with unique stores is Tin City, which was originally both a boatbuilding and a clam and oyster processing area that has been restored to look the way it did in the 1920's. Today Tin City is on Naples Bay at 6th Avenue South and features waterfront dining, one-of-a-kind shops and jewelry stores.
'When I think of Naples," muses city dock keeper Glenn Carr, "the word 'quaint' comes to mind. It's as close to old Florida as you are ever going to find."
Efforts are underway to maintain the city's old Florida feeling. While Naples is at ground zero of marinas being sold to make room for dockominiums and condos are under construction on the canals and waterways, the city sponsors an annual Old Florida Festival, as a way to make sure residents and visitors don't lose sight of life before cell phones and SUV's. Old Florida still exists.
It's no wonder why the "Paradise Coast" has had a following for all these years.
Launching in Naples?
Collier County boat ramps require either a $60/year permit or a fee of $3/boat. Boat launching permits can be obtained by calling 239-353-0404. County boat ramps are located at:
1500 Danford Street 2 lanes
Cocohatchee River Park
13531 Vanderbilt Drive 4 lanes
909 South Collier Court 2 lanes
Collier Boulevard Boating Park
State Road 951 at County Road 952 4 lanes
(operated by the city)
1101 9th Street South 3 lanes