NewsLocal News


"The Dolphin Whisperer": A Matlacha woman at the helm in a man driven industry

Charter boat captain Cathy Eagle has been navigating SWFL waters for 45 years and 'calls' dolphins to come and play
Dolphin jumping in the wake on tour with Captain Cathy Eagle
Posted at 7:43 AM, Mar 21, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-21 07:43:28-04

PINE ISLAND, FL — March is Women's History Month and it's the time of year where we have the chance to reflect on the accomplishments of women across history including women here in SWFL. It can be someone breaking barriers, a business owner making life better for all of us, a first responder — really anyone.

When I started thinking of women who are part of our history of Southwest Florida, so many people came to mind including longtime charter Captain Cathy Eagle. Navigating the waters in SWFL is a way of life for her. It’s something she loves to share with visitors and locals alike.

“I think I probably starting boating on my father’s lap when I was an infant,” she explains while navigating the waters of Matlacha on an overcast morning.

She’s become so at home in the 45 years on the water locally that she’s become pretty tight with some of the local wildlife. Her dolphin tour is one her most popular, in fact, she’s known by many as the “Dolphin Whisperer”.

The call she does to get them to show their beautiful faces and fins is more like a song but it seems to work time and time again.

“They can hear me,” she said and the odds of a dolphin interaction on one of her tours? “99.99999 percent,” she laughs.

“Those tours are out in the outer islands, Pine Island sound, Charlotte Harbor where we have a much larger population of bottlenose dolphin. They just come and play in the wake,” she explained.

While the wildlife definitely steals the show there’s a new topic and visual that is unavoidable. The change in her favorite fishing community since Hurricane Ian is drastic.

“We had a direct hit from hurricane Ian.”

Captain Cathy stayed in her Matlacha Isles home during the storm and the day after she was out on her boat helping people who were desperate to see what was left.

“People just showed up asking can you get us to Matlacha island, we just want to see if we have a house.”

She and other local charter captains worked tirelessly for days helping to shuttle people, household items, whatever was left for people who lost nearly everything. The sights and sounds of those days after Hurricane Ian are some she will never forget.

“You had national guard helicopters flying over taking jeeps to Saint James City, it was just leveled,” she shared.

As time heals, the view changes on Pine Island and Matlacha. The piles of debris left behind by the storm are getting smaller, the destruction is being replaced or removed but there are a lot of empty spaces that Cathy points out as we drift by on the boat in the heart of Matlacha.

“These were all homes cottages and businesses.”

Now, they’re empty lots with heavy machinery and men in hard hats working to repair the road. Piling that once held docks and parts of homes stand bare in the water with pelican and sea birds perched on top. She’s learned to dodge the debris still littering the water a year and a half later.

“That’s a pontoon under the water,” she says while she takes us past the area on the water where Hooked Island Grill used to stand.

While Captain Cathy is devastated by what happened here and how much things have changed because of Ian she says she’s hopeful that as the area is rebuilt the charm, the colorful cottages and the community feeling will remain.

“What I say is, build a $3 million cottage, I don’t care, but make it look like a cottage. Paint it the most obnoxious color you can think of,” she said.

That way, she can boat on by for decades to come showing people what she loves so much about her little fishing community.