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Boca Grande Pass, which sits at the mouth of Charlotte Harbor, is an approximately 2,200-foot waterway separating Gasparilla and Cayo Costa Islands. Inside the main 40-foot channel of the pass, there are several deeper ledges, with the "Lighthouse Hole," which plummets nearly 80 feet, being the deepest.
By 1870, several small fishing camps sprang up to take advantage of the area's natural abundance, including massive schools of mullet. In 1885, the discovery of large pockets of phosphate rock in the Peace River basin turned the pass ? one of the deepest natural inlets in the state ? into one of the busiest ports in Florida.
Local fishermen realized that the natural geography made it the ideal staging ground for tarpon before they head offshore to spawn. In 1908, Barron Collier founded the "Tarpon Inn" on Gasparilla Island. He is credited with coining the Pass as "Tarpon Capital of the World."
The fish, with their behemoth size and aerial acrobatics, became prized trophies, attracting big-game enthusiasts from around the world such as Teddy Roosevelt and Babe Ruth.
By the 1950s, Boca Grande was a central hub of shipping. Huge vessels traveling the pass helped create a groove that acted as a funnel during changing "hill tides." The stiff currents pulled entire schools of bait fish and crustaceans into the pass and into the deep ledges where thousands of tarpon were waiting.
By 1979, the phosphate and shipping industries had moved operations to the nearby ports of Tampa and Manatee, leaving the tiny village ? the total population was 664 in 1980 ? to focus on the tourism industry that revolved around fishing and the many high-purse tournaments staged there every year.
Boca Grande is a favorite vacation retreat for presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush and their family.
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