October 07, 2022
By Lynn Burkhead, OSG Senior Digital Editor
By now, you undoubtedly know that Florida is hurting, especially in its southwestern corner near Naples, Pine Island Sound, Charlotte Harbor and Fort Myers, a collection of gorgeous semi-tropical fishing paradises only a couple of weeks ago and a place where many spots are now ghost towns lying in ruins.
As this is written exactly one week after Category 4 Hurricane Ian—a storm that was only a few mph of wind speed short of Category 5 status—made landfall at Cayo Costa with 150 mph winds and a storm surge of 12 to 15 feet, the Sunshine State is reeling, struggling to pick up the pieces, and rebuild.
As of this writing, a search-and-rescue operation has turned into a grim recovery task with more than 100 now confirmed dead in Florida, making this the deadliest hurricane to visit the state since the infamous Labor Day Hurricane that swept through the Keys in 1935 and marks the nation’s strongest hurricane strike ever.
Homes and businesses have been lost by the thousands, with Fort Myers Beach utterly decimated and Sanibel Island sitting eerily emptied and in shambles after the island was [SD1] ravaged by a ferocious storm surge. With area fishing piers washed away, beaches eroded and gouged by the storm surge, and bridges and causeways destroyed for now, the toll on area businesses and infrastructure is mind-boggling.
That’s especially true on Sanibel Island, the spot where the first rod-and-reel caught tarpon was hooked back in 1885 in the aptly named Tarpon Bay on the backside of the 12-mile long and three-mile wide barrier island. The causeway to the island was washed away in several spots, most all of the buildings are damaged from the storm, and even the famed lighthouse on the island’s eastern end lost a support leg and its surrounding buildings.
Other spots in the region escaped the complete destruction that found its way to Fort Myers Beach, but the damage is significant in the Old Florida fishing village of Matlacha, on Pine Island, on Captiva Island, at Charlotte Harbor, Punta Gorda, Naples, and other spots lying on the state’s southwestern coastline.
Boca Grande, whose namesake pass is home to some of the most famous tarpon fishing in the world every year, suffered flooding and damage, but not the catastrophic damage that Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island did.
But even in spots where the damage isn’t complete, there’s another cost that is soon to be realized, and that’s the economic loss that currently exists and will carry well into the future as local businesses, marinas, guide services, tackle shops, and fly shops all try to pick up the pieces in more ways than one.
One of those, the Mangrove Outfitters fly shop in Naples, notes on its Instagram page that it is “Temporarily closed due to Hurricane Ian. But we are still around.” The social media page for the shop (@mangroveoutfitters) showed a collection of photographs that revealed the damaged goods swept into a large pile outside the store, as well as the work to clean up the interior and repair flooded drywall.
“As many of you know by now, Mangrove Outfitters and @brooksidebeermarket were severely impacted by Hurricane Ian,” said the store’s most recent Instagram post. “With that said, we are grateful for what we still have, knowing some have lost everything.
“We are thankful, all of our crew are safe and healthy.
“We are humbled by our community. People showed up, called, e-mailed and with the help of so many, we made a ton of progress on the shop in a very short amount of time and hope to be open in the physical location soon. Without their help, we’d still be cutting drywall right now.
“We thank everyone that has reached out and asked how they can help. The thing we need the most is for you to check out our website and see if there is anything you like! We still have a lot of good product to sell and will do whatever we can to get it to you, although it might take a minute. Please also feel free to reach out to the phone numbers in our bio, if there’s anything we can do for you.”
On Sanibel Island, the aftermath picture isn’t nearly as optimistic for Captain Whitney Jones, who opened Sanibel Fly Outfitters just this summer and Whitney’s Bait and Tackle shop back in 2012.
Reached by phone on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, Jones was on a boat helping to ferry people to and from the island as the massive relief and rebuilding effort unfolds.
“The whole island is destroyed,” said Jones. “Everybody does need any help (that anyone can give).”
In Jones’ case, the buildings of his fly shop and tackle shop still stand, but like nearly all businesses on Sanibel, there’s plenty of damage from the wind and the water that swept over the island and left it a wreck.
“I’m going to rebuild, but it’s going to be a while,” he said. “The bridge to the island is destroyed. It’s a mess and it will be six months or more before electric power even gets back onto the island.”
Like Jones, who also runs a charter fishing service and fell in love with the magical spot and moved there earlier in the 21st century due to the weather, the beach life, and the fishing opportunities around southwestern Florida, others in the area’s fishing industry are hurting and in need of help and relief.
And that’s where Florida Sportsman Magazine and other Outdoor Sportsman Group readers, viewers, and outdoors enthusiasts can come in and help play a part in making such help and relief efforts happen now and in the future.
That latter is particularly necessary because hurricanes have three distinct phases—the buildup to the storm’s arrival, the storm and its actual landfall, and the long-term aftermath and recovery—which all adds up to many tiring and dark days ahead for residents, business owners, and fishing enthusiasts.
Those are the same people struggling now with the TV cameras filming and looking on. And they’re also the same people who will still be dealing with the aftermath of Ian long after the daily headline cycles move on to something else and the reporters and camera crews are long gone.
So, how can you help, both now and down the road?
Certainly, one of the easiest ways is by donating to the American Red Cross’ relief efforts for those suffering from the ravages of Ian. If you haven’t already done so, consider making a financial gift to the Red Cross and its work in the region.
Other ways abound, some local and regional, some national including Costa, the iconic sunglass maker which has enlisted the aid of country music star Luke Bryan to help produce a video and spearhead its “WE ARE #ONECOAST” effort.
The sunglass company notes on its website that “The coasts are places we ALL love to explore and places we strive to protect. The mission of #OneCoast is to bring relief to our coastal family and friends affected by natural disasters. Please join us as we seek to rebuild, restore and repair these areas we call home.”
If you’d like to help out this way, visiting Costa’s website provides the chance to purchase a #OneCoast t-shirt or bag, with the proceeds benefitting victims of recent natural disasters like Ian.
Another way to help provide relief and assistance is by way of the Miami, Fla. based Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, which has set up a relief effort and notes that:
“Hurricane Ian unleashed its fury of wind, rain, and surging seas across Florida’s Southwest Gulf Coast, leaving catastrophic damage in its wake,” said the BTT on its website. “Counted among those most impacted were our friends–the guides, anglers, and partners who make up one of the world’s finest fishing communities.
“We hope you will take this opportunity to support those in need. Fortunately, many are answering the call. Your generous contribution will help Southwest Florida’s fishing communities recover and rebuild.”
BTT also adds that: “All contributions are tax-deductible as allowed by law. Please contact BTT Director of Development Mark Rehbein with questions. He can be reached by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone: (786) 618-9479.”
If you’d like to help out through this avenue offered by BTT, do so by clicking here.
And there’s still at least one more way for outdoors enthusiasts to do what they can to help a hurting Florida and its fishing industry, thanks to a conservation group helping to provide relief even in the midst of the ruins in their own backyard.
That effort comes through the Fort Myers based Captains for Clean Water, which is helping to spearhead assistance through a disaster relief fund for those living in the wrecked region. In fact, at least one recent report indicates that Chris Wittman and Daniel Andrews, co-founders of the group fighting for clean water in Florida, were out in their own boats and vehicles helping in search-and-rescue operations.
The group quickly created a fundraising avenue to help those in the fishing industry severely impacted by the horrific tempest that swept in from the Gulf a week ago.
“Hurricane Ian has taken a major toll on Florida communities, delivering devastating impacts, destroying homes, and displacing families,” said the group’s website.
“We’ve set up the Hurricane Ian Relief Fund to help get people back on their feet. 100% of funds donated will go directly to providing supplies and operational support to the ongoing relief and recovery efforts, including support to the local guide community, whose businesses have been impacted tremendously."
“Make a contribution today to provide critical support to thousands in need.”
If you’d like to help out Captains for Clean Water as it works for relief in its own zip code, you can do so by clicking the organization’s webpage link here.
The bottom line today is that there are many thousands that are suffering right now in southwestern Florida and need help and relief. That includes many in the fishing industry that is such a big part of the region.
And while no one would ever wish such a catastrophe on anyone, it’s in moments like these that the outdoors community can rise to the occasion and help those who love quiet sunrises on the water and in the woods.
If you can, why not consider playing a part in the recovery and relief efforts for those impacted by Hurricane Ian? You can rest assured that there will be someone in Florida who will ultimately be grateful that you did.