By Nicki Collett
Located on Florida’s Treasure Coast north of Palm Beach and south of Vero Beach, Stuart draws boaters because of the terrific inshore fishing and easy access to offshore fishing. It’s a must-see for boaters and anglers, and even though it’s known as the Sailfish Capital of the World, you can enjoy ocean, river, bay and freshwater fishing.
Just south of Stuart is Manatee Pocket. With a wide variety of restaurants and marinas in the historic fishing village of Port Salerno, it’s the perfect waypoint on your way out of the Intracoastal Waterway to do some offshore fishing. You can troll for dolphin (mahimahi, not Flipper), blackfin tuna or wahoo. Bottom fishermen can load up on grouper, triggerfish, snapper and amberjack. Head out on your own or pair up with one of the many charter companies in Stuart. For the really adventurous, Stuart is a popular point from which to embark for the Bahamas.
If you prefer just to admire the aquatic life, book a tour aboard the Sunshine Lady and enjoy up-close views of bottlenose dolphins, manatees, sea turtles and all kinds of birds. The 40-foot tour boat sets sail on the Indian River Lagoon, home to more than 4,000 species of plants, birds and fish; visit sunshinewildlifetours.com for more info. With a world-class oceanographic center and midnight sea-turtle egg-laying expeditions, there are plenty of chances to get up close and personal with the wildlife surrounding Stuart.
Stuart holds a special spot in boaters’ hearts for another reason. The Ralph Evinrude Test Center is located there, and much of the history of outboard propulsion was centered in this top-secret facility.
That storied history began in 1905 when Ole Evinrude was on a picnic at Okauchee Lake in Wisconsin when his beloved Bessie had a craving for some ice cream. Rowing back to shore to retrieve it, Evinrude was inspired by the melting ice cream to design an engine that would replace oars. (Just in case you’re wondering, even though Bessie’s sweet treat melted, their love didn’t, and they were married the next year.) Fast-forward a century and Evinrude Outboard Motors is one of the top contenders in the highly competitive outboard propulsion market.
If it’s family fun you’re looking for, at the south end of Hutchinson Island everyone can enjoy Bathtub Reef Park. The reef has become a favorite of snorkelers thanks to the honeycomb of reef rocks that have been created by Sabellariid worms cementing together sand and bits of shell. The best time to snorkel is at high tide, and the rocks block the surf, so it’s safe for kids to get out and enjoy some underwater discovery.
Stuart has something for everyone — great fishing, miles of peaceful coastline, wildlife, charming streets with galleries, cafes and shops. Offshore or on dry land, there are plenty of memorable gems to be found on this stretch of the Treasure Coast.
Nicki Collett’s work has appeared in Garden Design, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, ISLANDS and Boating magazines.