Check out these four best shipwrecks to fish and dive offshore
One of the best-kept local secrets whispers around a graveyard trail of more than 20 ships, barges and other vessels that squiggles offshore our coastline. The treasure fleet shipwrecks of Florida’s East Coast, they’re not, but these drowned vessels hold booty of a different sort for fish, sea turtles, divers, fishermen and seafood lovers. Divers, in fact, claim the water quality and clarity comparable to the Florida Keys. The Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau recommends the following four artificial reefs for the best underwater sightseeing.
¦ USS Mohawk
In 2012, this 165-foot World War II cutter was purposely sunk about 28 nautical miles off of Sanibel Island. It quickly became the region’s premier dive site, especially once divers reported sighting whale sharks hanging around. Giant sea turtles also consistently populate the novelty reef. Before reaching its final watery resting spot, the Mohawk, commissioned in 1935, served illustriously. It survived 14 attacks by German U-boats and rescued 300 torpedoed ship survivors. Outfitted with original and replicated engines, equipment and artillery that divers can explore, she boasts a smokestack and crow’s nest that rise 55 feet off the bottom.
Built in 1927, steamer Pegasus worked for most of her life in New York Harbor, eventually converted into a floating restaurant there. She ended up in Fort Myers Beach as the ticket office for American Casino Cruises. When she became derelict in 1999, the county sank the ship in 88 feet of water 200 feet from where the Mohawk now rests in an area known as Charlie’s Reef. Like the Mohawk, Pegasus’ deep-water lie insures a great variety of large fish including goliath grouper. The supersized fish, which some believe was the actual Biblical “whale” that swallowed Jonah, grows to 8 feet and more than 500 pounds. Law requires fishermen to release goliath grouper, but Charlie’s Reef attracts plenty of edible species, including red grouper, flounder and Spanish mackerel.
What’s most fantastico about this 115- foot former-life fertilizer freighter? Every August through October, as if conjured for a Walt Disney film, hundreds of 8-foot goliath grouper congregate for spawning season. Taken down in a hurricane in 1993 as it made its way from Miami to Tampa, Fantastico languishes in 115 feet of water about 37 nautical miles from shore. Year-round, the ship swarms with dolphins, snapper, amberjack, parrotfish, redfish and more than 250 other species.
¦ Bay Ronto
It survived a German U-boat attack in 1918, but hurricanes proved a worse enemy the following year, when one slapped it to the gulf’s sandy floor. The years have taken their toll on the old 400-foot freighter. It may be upside down and broken in half, but still recognizable and a great dive. Loggerhead sea turtles are no strangers to the wreck, which lies about 27 nautical miles off Fort Myers’ famed bank of barrier islands. ¦
— For more information about The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, visit FortMyers- Sanibel.com.