10 Tips for a Family Friendly Beach Vacation for Fishermen

When COVID-19 is finally in our rearview mirror, you’ll probably want a change of scenery. The author has a suggestion: A Gulf of Mexico family —and fishing! — vacation destination south of Tampa Bay, Florida, on Anna Maria Island.

10 Tips for a Family Friendly Beach Vacation for Fishermen

How romantic am I? To celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary I took my wife — who had never fished before we met — on a fishing trip. (FYI: This was pre-pandemic.) To add to the romantic vibes, we also brought our five- and one-year-old kids . . . and even my mom! You can imagine the look on my wife’s face when I pitched the idea by proposing that nothing screams “romance” like dragging small kids through the airport, untangling fishing lines and sharing a house with your mother-in-law for seven days.

Our family spent a week at a house rented thru Once Upon a Beach, a boutique vacation rental company on Anna Maria Island some 50 miles south of Tampa Bay. Along the way, we learned important lessons about maximizing a family fishing beach vacation. Without further adieu, here are my top 10 tips.


1. Develop Two Fishing Game Plans

My primary strategy was for fishing with my son, wife and mother. The goal was simple: Make it fun and catch the maximum number of fish with the minimum amount of effort, concentration or time required. Light gear, live shrimp and circle hooks were the keys to the game. With this approach, anyone can see a bite, grab a rod and start winding. Conveniently, our rental house had a private dock on a saltwater canal in our backyard where my family enjoyed fast action for multiple species.

In increments as short as 10 or 15 minutes, my family enjoyed the most relaxing form of fishing known to humankind: fishing off the dock.

The second game plan, arranged prior to the trip, was dedicating one afternoon for serious fishing with a guide, leaving the family back home. Guided by Capt. David White of Anna Maria Fishing Charters, we chased "big dogs" one afternoon and landed multiple redfish in the mid 30-inch range, plus a huge jack crevalle. It was an epic adventure and gave me several hours to fully concentrate on fishing. Throughout the week my family caught a ton of fish. I followed the game plan by making it fun for my son and focusing on family time rather than catching the biggest or most exotic species. When it’s both a family and fishing trip, identifying your goals and developing two different plans pays dividends.

The author with a 32-inch redfish caught during an afternoon with guide David White of Anna Maria Charters.
The author with a 32-inch redfish caught during an afternoon with guide David White of Anna Maria Charters.


2. There’s No Place Like Home

In today’s world of Airbnb and vacation rentals, there’s no need to cram into hotel rooms or pay exorbitant resort fees. With the benefits of a washer/dryer, fully stocked kitchen, backyard private pool and spacious rooms, renting a house lends a certain air of casual comfort and familiarity to a trip. Our Once Upon a Beach house was called “Salty Pirate,” but we called it “our Florida house” and I was surprised how dramatically it enhanced our entire vacation.

For anglers, renting a house offers numerous benefits. A kitchen equipped with cutting boards and knives for filleting fish, Tupperware for leftovers, an abundance of bedrooms so if you do slip out early for sunrise fishing you don’t wake the kids.

Hint: If your house, like ours, has a basement fridge where you can store bait and fish fillets rather than stinking up the kitchen, your wife will smile more.

I was especially fortunate because our house had such good fishing in the backyard. Twice my wife and mom took Joe on adventures while I stayed back to put Anna down for her nap. This still blows my mind, but with Anna asleep and the baby monitor on the back patio I was able catch dozens of ocean fish in our own backyard while on baby duty. Nice!

 

3. Bring Grandma or Grandpa

Those who know my mom can attest she is one of the most generous souls on the planet. Hence, I delighted in giving such a wonderful experience to a woman who gives so much to others. Mom reveled in her first encounter with the ocean, viewing manatees and paddling a SUP to explore the tranquil waters of Anna Maria Island.

Grandma and grandson caught grouper and snapper during a sunrise fishing session on historic Bridge Street Pier at Bradenton Beach, Florida.
Grandma and grandson caught grouper and snapper during a sunrise fishing session on historic Bridge Street Pier at Bradenton Beach, Florida.

My mom also loves helping people, especially her children, and our experience would have been far less enjoyable without Mom there to always lend a helping hand. Grandma’s presence afforded Jodie and me the best of both worlds: all-day quality time with the kids, paired with romantic dinners for two while Grandma stayed back with the kids at night.

Having a third adult to rotate who stayed back with Anna during naptime lent stress-free flexibility. Several times, Mom pushed Anna in the stroller back to our house from the main beach while Jodie and I spent another couple hours with Joe soaking up the sun and sand.

 

4. Explore the Ocean in Non-Fishing Ways

I knew my family wanted to explore the Anna Maria Island outside of strictly fishing, so I deliberately scouted the fishery and enjoyed the water during our non-fishing time. A three-generation dolphin boat tour via Paradise Boat Tours produced Mom’s first up-close-and-personal manatee encounter and Joe’s first (and highly anticipated) dolphin sighting while giving me the opportunity to learn broadly about the ecosystem and see the entire waterway all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

During my SUP ride with Jodie through our canal, I discovered multiple fishing spots to return to later. Going to the beach each day I always wore polarized sunglasses to spot fish as Joe chased me through the ocean — once even seeing a large snook.

The author and his family enjoying non-fishing time.
The author and his family enjoying non-fishing time.

5. Pack Light (And Here’s the Bare Essentials for Tackle)

Less is more. Leave 99 percent of your tackle at home, pack only the following and you’ll be set. A variety of hooks (you don’t know how big the shrimp will run), a handful of split-shot weights (smaller weights give more flexibility and can be doubled as needed), and a half dozen jigs. To me, Northland Fireball jigs with stingers are great to help catch short strikes. Throw a couple lures and soft plastics in for fun and casting for bigger fish; don’t forget the pliers, and pack two fingernail clippers in case one goes MIA.

Roll up a stringer (which doubles as a bait bucket tie off the dock) and everything should fit in a single plastic case. For gear, in my checked bag I brought four reels with a range of fluorocarbon line and one Eagle Claw Trailmaster four-piece rod in a 23-inch carry case.  Once in Florida, at the local tackle shop I bought two low-priced Shimano rods for a total of three active rod-and-reel combos (the two purchased rods and one packed Trailmaster going with three of my reels), with one back-up reel spooled and ready if needed.

The two rods I bought in Florida cost a total of $40. I certainly got my money’s worth over the week before tossing them as we packed for the flight home.

The collapsible Eagle Claw Trailmaster rod fits easily into a suitcase and extends to 7.5 feet when assembled.
The collapsible Eagle Claw Trailmaster rod fits easily into a suitcase and extends to 7.5 feet when assembled.

Between car seats, carry-ons and kids, we couldn’t have carried one more thing through the airport, so this was a happy compromise. The only thing I’d do differently next time is bring one reel with even stronger line. My setup was good most of the time, but when we fished off the pier I was helpless to keep several fish from running under the pier into pilings from which they couldn’t be retrieved.

 

6. Indulge in the Island Life

I love a vacation where I put on my swimsuit when I wake up in the morning and don’t take it off until I go to bed at night. Rinse and repeat the following day.

Do yourself a favor and unplug. Slow down. Listen to the ocean waves.

I have no doubt I spend too much time in front of a screen each week, so a family fishing vacation at the beach is chicken soup for my soul. One caution I’d mention for serious anglers like myself at a paradise like Anna Maria Island: Don’t get too wrapped up in the fishing, in the X’s and O’s of which spots you’re going to fish tomorrow, in squeezing in one last cast and then one more.

Embrace the island life. Eat outside. Get a drink and soak up the views. We accomplished this our first night at one of the island’s best restaurants for both families and fishermen, Island Time Bar and Grill. We feasted on coconut shrimp, fresh grouper (tip: get it Oscar style with lump crab, asparagus and tequila cilantro hollandaise) and — in true islander fashion — a margarita and piña colada.

 

7. Fish a Variety of Ways

Variety is the spice of life, and of fishing. Despite losing a few fish, we loved fishing on the historic Bridge Street Pier on Bradenton Beach the morning of our Paradise Boat Tours ride — the 9 a.m. tour departed from there so we went early to catch the sunrise and fish from the pier. This complemented the entirely different experiences of guided fishing and angling on our backyard dock.

Yet another angling approach, and a surprise highlight of the vacation, was fishing in the ocean at sunrise from our kayak, once with Mom and once with my wife. We caught another half dozen new species of fish, saw dolphins and witnessed pelicans soar overheard while watching a breathtaking sunrise.

The point is, you never know which type of fishing will produce the biggest highlight for your various family members, so mix it up. The ocean lends itself to variety, so take advantage of it and fish multiple ways to maximize the memories.

 

8. Dedicate Plenty of Time for the Beach and Pool

The reality is, I have only a precious and finite number of years when my kids are kids. In my opinion, these are the cherished days to treasure. We made going to the beach every day our No. 1 priority because it was Joe’s favorite vacation activity. He couldn’t get enough of the island’s beautiful beaches, while Anna loved crawling after the shorebirds.

Devote numerous days to leisurely enjoy the beach. Scheduling multiple days, or going every day, removes the pressure to make it a marathon, all-day beach session.

 

9. Go Somewhere Family Operated

There’s nothing wrong with being an anonymous guest at a large-scale resort, but chances are you’ll enjoy a better experience with a more personal operation. In our case, Once Upon a Beach was recommended by a friend who saw our crowd-sourced Facebook query soliciting recommendations. As corny as it sounds, the owners at Once Upon a Beach — husband and wife Mike and Nicole Kaleta — treated us like we were friends and stopped by multiple times to check in.

Mike Kaleta (left), co-owner of Once Upon a Beach, showing the author some top fishing spots around Anna Maria Island.
Mike Kaleta (left), co-owner of Once Upon a Beach, showing the author some top fishing spots around Anna Maria Island.

10. Catch and Release, but Catch and Cook, Too!

The vast majority of my fishing is catch and release. However, no meal is more satisfying than a fresh fish dinner with fish you caught mere hours before eating. Another benefit to eating your own catch? Cost savings. By selectively harvesting a few fish each day you can cut way down on meal costs.

Dinner! Most days the author caught fish from the dock for his wife and him to eat fresh that night.
Dinner! Most days the author caught fish from the dock for his wife and him to eat fresh that night.

Besides, it creates special memories. Most days I filleted a few fish, then after the kids were in bed Jodie and I walked to an oceanside restaurant which prepared our fish with a couple of sides and bread. We sat out on the beach celebrating our 10 years of wedded bliss, eating fresh seafood as the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico.

How romantic is that?

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.


Discussion

Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.