Florida Smart Studio 370 Park ave P.O. Box 865 Boca Grande, FL 33921 1-941-964-9372

THE SMART STUDIO, opened in 1981, celebrates its 29th season in the heart of Boca Grande, Florida.  Easily recognized by the bright lime green awnings on a sunflower yellow building, the gallery has convenient entrances on both Park and West Railroad Avenues.

Boca Grande is a small residential community on Gasparilla Island, in southwest Florida. Gasparilla Island is a part of both Charlotte and Lee Counties, while the actual village of Boca Grande, which is home to many seasonal and some year-round residents, is entirely in the Lee County portion of the island. Boca Grande is known for its charming authentic downtown, sugar sand beaches, blue water and world class fishing.

There are no gas stations in the village of Boca Grande, so many local residents use a golf cart as their main mode of transportation. On any given day in Boca Grande, you will see golf carts, as well as some automobiles, making their way throughout downtown.

Gasparilla Island‘s first known inhabitants were the Calusa Indians. They were living on nearby Useppa Island by 5,000 B.C. and on Gasparilla Island by 800 or 900 A.D. Charlotte Harbor was the center of the Calusa Empire, which numbered thousands of people and hundreds of fishing villages. The Calusa were a hunting and fishing people who perfected the art of maritime living in harmony with the environment. They were a politically powerful people, dominating Southwest Florida during their “golden age.” Since the Calusa had no written language, the only record we have of their lifestyle and ceremonies comes from the oral history of the (much later) Seminoles, from written accounts of Spanish explorers, and from the archaeological record. The first contact the Calusa had with the white man came during Spanish explorations at the beginning of the 16th century. By the mid 18th century the Calusa had all but disappeared, the victims of European diseases, slavery and warfare.

Just like the Indians, the earliest settlers came to Gasparilla Island to fish. By the late 1870s several fish ranches were operating in the Charlotte Harbor area. One of them would later be at the north end of Gasparilla Island in the small village called Gasparilla. The fishermen, many of them Spanish or Cuban, caught huge catches of mullet and other fish and salted them down for shipment to Havana and other markets. In the 1940s the Gasparilla Fishery was moved to Placida across the bay, where it still stands today, and the fishing village died out. Today, many of Boca Grande’s early fishing families are still represented in third, fourth and even fifth generation descendants who pursue many different vocations, including fishing.

A typical 80-day Florida season in Boca Grande Pass produces an average 5,000 tarpon landed. As a result, it is one of the world’s best tarpon fishing holes and yields more tarpon than any other location in the world.

Tarpon congregate and spawn out of passes along most of the entire rim of the Gulf of Mexico. The massive attraction to Boca Grande Pass is unknown and subject to many theories. In the spring, it appears that many of the fish’s habits all along the coast are in orientation to Boca Grande Pass. With depths reaching near 80 feet, it is the deepest natural pass in Florida. It is the only major outlet of Charlotte Harbor that is feed by two major rivers, the Peace River and the Myakka River. As the bottleneck of the harbor, the currents are strong and serve as an underwater highway for many species of fish and bait.

Harpooning tarpon is documented back to the late 1700s by British settlers. There is some debate among historians on who caught the first tarpon on rod and reel in Florida. The fish gained fame from an 1885 story published in the magazine Forest and Stream. The article detailed an event that took place on March 12, 1885. On that date, a New Yorker named W.H. Wood landed a 93-pound tarpon at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. While it may have not been the first tarpon caught on rod and reel, the fish’s capture generated much publicity and is at least credited as exposing tarpon fishing to the world. Soon after, tarpon were given a game fish status to protect them from harpoons (known as “striking” or “graining”) and nets that were common methods of taking tarpon.

In the late 1890s, a then modern railway system was completed that gave the area access to the outside world. Soon sportsmen from the north as well as from Britain flocked to the area in quest for giant tarpon. Southwest Florida and the Florida Keys soon became the new headquarters of the sport fishing world. Fishing tourism grew even bigger when in 1908, Barron Collier built a “Tarpon Inn” on Gasparilla Island and made the island’s town of Boca Grande world famous as the “Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World”.

Gasparilla Island is one of the best places to shell in Florida. In the winter months storms wash up many treasures onto the beaches. Beach combers are likely to find many species including Sharks Eye Snails, Lightning Whelks, Florida Horse conchs, Fighting Conchs, Alphabet Cones, Florida Cones, Lettered Olives, True and Banded Tulips, various scallops and other bivalves, along with Sand Dollars, Star Fish and once on a while a Sea Horse. The lucky few will bring home the much prized Junonia, Scotch Bonnet or Lions Paw. After hurricanes many large (24″) Horse Conchs and Lightning Whelks can be found washed up on beach or out on the sand bars. The best time to go out is during the low tides, when more of the beach is exposed.

The bay offers a great chance to view live specimens. Take a walk on the sandbars or mudflats and you will find assorted sizes of Lightning Whelks and Horse Conches crawling around; but remember it is illegal to take live specimens.


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