Cortez is one of the last remaining commercial fishing villages in southwest Florida by the Gulf Coast. It is located on Sarasota Bay in Manatee County and is just west of Bradenton. The census-designated place is also included in the Metropolitan Statistical Area of Bradenton, Sarasota, and Venice. The village is situated in a safe harbor between the barrier islands of Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, which shelter Cortez from strong winds. In the late 1800s, Cortez was founded by several families from the waterfront town of Beaufort, North Carolina who settled in the village and to this day are still represented there.
From 900 CE until the 1700s, present-time Cortez was part of the Safety Harbor culture region, an archaeological culture observed by Native Americans who resided on the central Gulf Coast of the state peninsula. The village is a living remnant of Old Florida, consisting of a small living community of worn-down old houses, fish companies, and all kinds of boats, old and new. Though it may not be a typical trendy place, Cortez boasts possessing a rich maritime heritage, showcased in it being the home to the Florida Maritime Museum, the Cortez Nature Preserve, and to FISH (Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage). Its historic working waterfront is close to beaches, fishing piers and shops, giving easy access to any angler looking to visit the village. Aside from fishing, it’s also the spot to go jet skiing, kayaking and parasailing.
As fishing has been the primary industry in Cortez for decades, it’s very easy to find several fishing opportunities there. Anglers looking for a laid-back yet educational fishing experience will find Cortez’s Old Florida spirit, antiquated charm and preserving legacy a wonderful find for their next trip. The area is also an ideal spot to learn how to fish because its surrounding deep waters are buffered by barrier islands.
Cortez is known for its saltwater deep sea fishing with many local charters offering to assist anglers on their fishing ventures. Local providers also offer affordable daily or weekly rates for any or all water equipment an angler may need. Offshore fishing is the most practiced in Cortez due to its commercial fishing roots but anglers can find fishing piers and beaches for inshore fishing. The causeway from Cortez to Anna Maria Island is a popular fishing area, offering game fish as well as eating fish such as tarpon, mangrove or gray snapper, sharks (black tip, black nose, spinner, lemon, bull, hammerhead, and bonnet head), flounder, snook, redfish, sea trout, grouper, cobia, permit, kingfish and mullet.
Different species of shark inhabit the local waters and are caught in different ways including sight casting live pilchards or casting dead bait. Snook can be found near mangroves or docks where the water is shallow. Redfish are also commonly targeted around docks and oyster bars. Sea trout are best found where there are shallow grass flats. Gag and red grouper can be caught in the causeway offshore, normally congregating in places where there are nearshore structures or where there is debris on the bottom of the ocean. They are best caught using a heavy duty tackle and strong line. Cobia can also be found gathering in near structures or where there is debris. Light tackle fishing for permit can be done where the water is shallow or around wrecks which Cortez has plenty of due to its history of having suffered from a hurricane in 1921 which completely destroyed the now repaired waterfront. Kingfish can be spotted many miles offshore but at certain times can be found in nearshore rocks and wrecks as well.
Bradenton City Beach Pier is a common spot for inshore anglers to fish from. It is 550 feet in length with restrooms, benches and shaded areas available to the public. Species such as redfish, snook, Spanish mackerel, pompano, and even sharks can be caught from the pier. Another great inshore fishing spot is the Palma Sola Fishing Pier which is 60 feet in length and managed by the Manatee County Parks and Recreation. At the pier you can fish for red drum, snook, sea trout, crevalle jack, black drum, gafftopsail sea catfish, mangrove snapper and sheepshead seabream. Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton also attracts a variety of fish from grouper, pompano, snook, redfish, flounder, snapper, ladyfish and more. Some describe the Rod and Reel Pier as the best in the area. It attracts plenty of bait fish that in turn attract mackerel, snook, sheepshead, and snapper.
If anglers want to try their hand in some surf casting, Cortez is home to many beaches where one can fish and do many other water activities including kayaking, jet skiing, and parasailing. Cortez Beach embodies the Old Florida-style atmosphere the village has retained. It is also the location of South Pier. The beach can offer anglers a picturesque fishing experience as it looks out the Gulf Coast from an undeveloped clean, brightly-colored sandy shore. Many of the mentioned fish species that liked to gather near the shore or on shallow waters can be caught from the beach.
Cortez’s prolific and rich fishing industry has made it abundant in seafood restaurants mostly situated along the village’s coast. Most offer dining areas that look out at the waterfront, providing a scenic dining experience.
Cortez also hosts an annual fishing festival called the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival which was first held in 1981. It plays a part in preserving the village’s maritime heritage. Another festival that’s held in the village is the Ben Gullet Mullet Invitational, which is a cast net only tournament that assists in raising funds for FISH and the Cortez Historical Society. The event is named after well known cast net fisherman and mullet smoker, Ben Gullet of Bradenton.