Marco Island hosts Mangrove Madness for outdoor writers

JoNell Modys
Special to the Sun Times

Scott Dahlem with Pacific Coast Sportfishing magazine has a life list for fishing that he pursues with similar intensity to many crazed birders.

If he hasn’t caught it yet, it’s on his list.

While fishing offshore recently during the large Mangrove Madness fishing and outdoor media event sponsored by the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau and some of the world’s leading boating and fishing product manufacturers, he reeled in a tournament-worthy kingfish that was a prized addition to his list.

Bandit, the Raymarine pro-staff boat.

It was a breezy day with a knee-knocking chop as the Bandit, a 40-foot Sea Hunter center console outfitted with the latest Raymarine marine electronics and Navionics chart plotting software, reached the “R” tower, one of the military radio telemetry structures known as the alphabet towers stationed across the Gulf of Mexico.

Conditions weren’t the best there so Jupiter-based Capt. Ron Mitchell followed his chart plotter to a spot that was one of several where he found kingfish in years past, including back in 2009 when his Team Bandit took Top SKA Boat in the Marco Island tournament on the way to winning Southern Kingfish Association Angler of the Year.

Ray Gardner, Capt. Ron Mitchell, Ted Elliott and Scott Dahlem with the gag grouper.

First up with a large kingfish was Sport Fishing magazine editor Chris Woodward. Chris is even shorter than I am, but her diminutive stature belies her experience and ability to quickly land large fish – this one a 39 pounder. Dahlem was next up, but this time reeled in a large out of season gag grouper on a Yo-Zuri 3D Magnum Deep Diver in the pink/orange pattern.

29-pound king

We moved again and I had a turn, reeling in a 29 pound king. Just as the captain announced it was time to head back, a bait was hit and everyone on board told Dahlem to go for it. Sure enough, it was a tournament-worthy 41-pound kingfish. Check that one off the list!

All of this was just a small slice of the exciting action that took place offshore, inshore and even on the fresh waters of Lake Trafford and the Everglades as 27 national journalists covering fishing, boating and the outdoors descended on Marco Island recently for a week of fishing with the latest fishing tackle and tools, marine electronics, navigation software and more.

Freshwater bass angler Travis Moran celebrates his first saltwater snook.

The combination of a large outdoor media press trip and a corporate retreat for some of the fishing industry’s top product manufacturers started with an invitation I extended last August to one tackle designer during the Florida Outdoor Writers Association’s annual meeting to bring his latest lures to Florida’s Paradise Coast for some on-the-water testing by the media.

Word filtered out to one of my fellow Florida outdoor writers corporate members, Paul Michele with Navionics. Paul let me know he had been interested for some time in putting together an event to pair a whole group of marine product representatives with their top targeted media outlets.

All he needed was a destination that the writers would be eager to fish and that could serve as the location sponsor.

Staging on Marco

After Paul and I scouted the region together, the Olde Marco Island Inn & Suites, Bistro Soleil restaurant, the Marco Island Princess and Calusa Island Marina proved to be perfect locations to stage the event that came to be named Mangrove Madness.

Sponsor companies Navionics, Raymarine, Yo-Zuri, Savage Gear, Okuma, and Cuda Tools sent product representatives and brought their sponsored “pro staff” boats and captains. Several Southwest Florida captains joined the visiting pro staff captains to provide story-worth excursions that will result in quality, in-depth media coverage of the area for many months to come.

Some of the publications represented include SaltWater Sportsman, Sport Fishing, Field & Stream, Florida Sportsman, In Fisherman, Bassmaster, Midwest Outdoors, On the Water, Western Outdoor News, Fishhound, Boat US, Texas Fish & Game, FLW magazine, Bass Angler, BD Outdoors, Boating, Pacific Coast Sport Fishing, Angler’s Channel, Soundings, Ontario Outdoors, Tackle Tour, Boating World, She Fishes 2 and more.

Some of the best fish stories are created when you take someone out of their comfort zone. For instance, James Hall, editor of Bassmaster magazine, took a day off from fishing for largemouth bass and crappie at Lake Trafford to head offshore with coordinating sponsor Paul Michele of Navionics.

Sport Fishing magazine editor-in-chief Doug Olander told the amazing story in a photo blog about Hall’s trip offshore, where he tangled with a Goliath grouper so big, he jumped into the Gulf in order to lift the behemoth beast’s head for a photo.

On the day I went inshore fishing, Mark Madowski of Field & Stream magazine, who spends a great deal of time chasing muskie, jumped a tarpon just off the beach on the Gulf side of Kice Island. He had tarpon on the brain for the remainder of the trip.

Marco Island received an influx of more than $200,000 in direct expenditures from the generous sponsor companies, who footed the bill for the media guests’ airfare, meals and accommodations as well as from the individual attendees.

Notes of appreciation and thanks have been pouring in from both media attendees and sponsors. The sponsor teams will reconvene soon to discuss a possible return to the region down the road for another week of mangrove — as well as offshore and freshwater — madness.

JoNell Modys is the public relations and communications manager for the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau, the tourism marketing organization for Collier County, where more than 1.8 million visitors annually provide an economic impact of nearly $2 billion. Check the destination website,, for more ideas on what to see and do in Florida’s Paradise Coast.