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From air to sea: Helicopter tour offers access to world-class saltwater fishing at Useppa Island

February 14, 2024

Home to Florida’s deepest natural pass, Boca Grande draws silver king enthusiasts from far and wide to the ‘Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World’ 

Saltwater fishing enthusiasts have long known that Gasparilla Island on Florida’s Gulf Coast is home to the state’s deepest natural pass – and with it some of the finest tarpon, grouper, kingfish, snapper, snook and redfish angling around. 

Whether by land or sea, reaching the narrow spit of sand is no small feat – and in the case of the 100-acre, private Useppa Island, a bridge-free haven void of vehicle traffic that has essentially been inaccessible to the public – until now.  

More than a century after hosting such boldface names as the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers and Rothschilds, Useppa Island and its private club can now be enjoyed by non-members through a chartered helicopter tour from Elite Jets of Naples. 

Elite Jets is a member of Useppa Island Club, a unique partnership that extends membership privileges to passengers. The club recently reopened following an extended closure due to damage from Hurricane Ian. 

Forget about throwing a cooler and your fishing rods in the back of a pickup truck. Passengers headed to Useppa Island will take off from Elite Jets’ private terminal at Naples Airport aboard a luxury Bell 407 helicopter equipped with leather seats, air condition, snacks, drinks and other creature comforts.  

The excursion cruises past multi-million-dollar beachfront mansions on the Naples and north Collier County coastline on its way to Estero Bay. There, the chopper maneuvers just 300 feet above the water, low enough to spot dolphins, manatees, exotic birds, coastal marshes and other environmental wonders. 

The eco-flight then passes Fort Myers Beach, the Sanibel Causeway and Pine Island before crossing Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve, home to multiple species of wading and diving birds. 

Once on the island, numerous options await anglers, from sight casting to fly-fishing. Fishing kayaks are available for rent at Joseffa’s store, while those who prefer to go offshore into the Gulf of Mexico can schedule a fishing charter with a local licensed captain by calling the Useppa Club Harbormaster at 239-283-1061 for referrals, or Elite Jets concierge service can make the reservation for you. 

Among the most alluring spots to fish: 

  • Boca Grande Pass, which separates Boca Grande from the barrier island of Cayo Costa. 
  • Lighthouse Hole, a part of the pass that reaches depths of 80 feet. 
  • Charlotte Harbor, the state’s second-largest estuary that sits between Punta Gorda and Boca Grande Pass. 

Peak tarpon season begins in March or April, with a migration that extends into the summer and lasts into early fall. Several tarpon fishing tournaments are scheduled for 2024, including a Ladies Day Tarpon Tournament and the World’s Richest Tarpon Fishing Tournament (with a $100,000 first-place prize) scheduled on May 23-24. Visit the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce online for more details, including registration. 

The Useppa Island Club also rents out several guest rooms for overnight stays, offering unmatched access to a unique slice of Florida history: Before the club’s current owners acquired the property in the mid-1970s, it endured a World War II closure and multiple property-damaging hurricanes, even serving a stint as a CIA training base for Cuban exiles preparing for the Bay of Pigs invasion. 

125 Aviation Drive S.
Naples, Florida 34104
Tel: 239.900.9000
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