We all have those favorite vacation spots that keep bringing us back. It’s that feeling of peace and comfort that draws us again and again. That’s the way it is for me and Pine Island. I’ve been there four times and still want more.
There are any number of reasons to visit laid-back Pine Island off Florida’s Gulf Coast near Fort Myers. There is solitude and relaxation. Art galleries, fresh seafood, peace, and quiet are in abundance. There are no beaches, no hi-rise condos, not much traffic. But the biggest reason people come here is to fish!
Shake off the buzzy East Coast and nuzzle up to some Old Florida charm
If travel isn’t front and center yet on people’s agendas, there is a solution. Try rediscovering your own backyard for a little easy, close-to-home getaway. These small-town destinations will take you just down the road—but into some other worlds entirely.
An artists studio in Matlacha. Photo: Don Johnson.
This impossibly bright little artist colony in Lee County between Pine Island and Little Pine Island off Cape Coral on the mainland is just short of three hours from Boca, but may as well be on another planet. Matlacha was once a fishing village, in the South Florida days people made a living fishing for mullet instead of selling real estate. When a 1992 ban on net fishing was enacted, those days were over. The mullet fishermen burned their boats, and the town reinvented itself as“a funky arts community that likes to fish,”according to one descrip- tion. This is a place to wander through the art galleries and little boutiques, maybe rent a paddle- board, stay overnight if you have a hankering. A popular choice is the modest and comfy Bridgewater Inn with its big porch, or go a few miles north on Pine Island to the Tarpon Lodge in Bokeelia, which is the top pick for both food and lodging. Other people like Sandy Hook Fish & Rib House, Bert’s, Blue Dog Bar & Grill—but there are plenty of places to get your fish on. This is tiny, laid-back and a great day trip.
Plan your escape to these off-the-beaten-beach-path gems, from wild mangrove islets to salty stilt-house hideaways (coordinates included!)
26.5958° N, 82.1115° W
THE GOODS A half hour from Fort Myers and a world away with a dose of Old Florida charm including brightly colored cottages, fruit-tree nurseries, and seafood dives. BEST ESCAPE Long weekend (book a day of fishing) at Tarpon Lodge; tarponlodge.com.
This is an excerpt of an article by Tracey Minkin which originally appeared in Costal Living.
Sunsets, waterfront and Old Florida shine at Tarpon Lodge on Pine Island
Tarpon Lodge’s almost 100-year-old Pine Island setting still stuns with its Old Florida charms, and with a local, seasonal menu that’s always fresh.
The genteel setting of Pine Island’s Tarpon Lodge calls to mind scenes of old Florida — gin and tonics on the porch, fresh fish on the menu, elegantly dressed diners looking up from their plates to catch the last rays of sunset.
Which is exactly how co-owner Rob Wells wants visitors to feel.
There are so many reasons to visit Florida’s lower Gulf Coast — all those beaches, the calm, warm water, the sailing, power boating, kayaking, diving, SUPing…. But hey, my linebacker legs don’t do well on SUPs. No, all those things are well and good, but I come here for one reason: to fish.
Driving onto Pine Island is like stepping back in time to Old Florida. There’s still just one way on and one way off this largest of Florida’s barrier islands, passing through the tiny fishing hamlet of Matlacha with its funky shops, galleries, and open air bars, then over a draw bridge – affectionately nicknamed “The World’s Fishingest Bridge”.
If you sail in on your yacht, you might never know you’re just a stone’s throw from the bustling coastal city of Ft. Myers, but the rest of us will navigate the bustling traffic over bridges, causeways, and through Cape Coral to get here. That’s OK, the better to appreciate the slower pace.
We were on our way to Tarpon Lodge, Pine Island, one of the last remaining Florida-style sportsmen lodges in this part of southwest Florida. And as we headed north on the island’s one main road, I had the feeling I’d been here before, with fleeting memories and treasured photographs of my grandfather on his annual fishing trips to Florida coming back to me. Pine Island is 18 miles long from Bokeelia at the north end to St. James City at the southern end, and just 2 miles wide, and is close to Sanibel and Captiva Islands as the crow flies. We drove miles of mango orchards and palm tree nurseries before arriving at Tarpon Lodge just after lunch.
We were guests of Tarpon Lodge during our stay, however as always, all opinions are ours alone based on first hand experience.
MY HUSBAND, JACK, desperately wanted to hook a big snook, which was the motivation behind our three-night DIY kayak-fishing trip around Pine Island, the largest landmass in the archipelago which includes southwest Florida’s seaside resorts of Sanibel and Captiva. There was only one problem, as far as we knew an inn-to-inn paddle-trip in that area had never been done before. It wasn’t exactly a heroic off-the-grid adventure. During the day we’d weave in and out of mangroves and across shallow bays, then come ashore at dinnertime, check in to a waterfront lodge, then paddle and fish again the next day.
“I think it’ll work,” Jack said, after researching some nautical charts and regional websites. “We’ll need to paddle about eight miles each day, which should leave us plenty of time to fish.”
Eight miles in the ocean? What if we got lost? What if the sun scorched our pale northern hides? But we might catch snook! A month later, we launched our boats at Tarpon Lodge on the west side of Pine Island.
At our dock at Tarpon Lodge, amid an array of motorboats small and large, guests will notice the sleek outline and billowing sails of the Alondra, a fine, museum-quality 47-foot classic wooden sailboat designed by renowned naval architect L. Francis Herreshoff. One look at this beauty, and you know there’s a good story here.
The classically elegant Alondra designed by renowned naval architect L. Francis Herreshoff
The story begins with Captain Charles (Chuck) Koucky a well-known area artist and a captain for more than 30 years. With three sailboats in his fleet, Chuck has a special place in his heart for the Alondra, a meticulously-crafted vessel launched in Michigan in 1985, and purchased by Chuck about five years ago.
Sailing since the age of 10, Chuck spends the winter months taking clients out for sightseeing or sunset tours, plus offering sailing instruction. During the summer, he sails on the Alondra with the Boy Scouts of America high adventure tours out of Islamorada in the Florida Keys.
We have always been fascinated with the rich and storied history of our community. Working at Tarpon Lodge has allowed us to share these unique and exciting facts with our guests who are curious about the area and how it all began. While not historians or archeologists, living and working in proximity to the Florida Museum of Natural History’s Randell Research Center has given us a lot of information to pass on. For the history buffs out there, here’s what we have learned:
The very famous Juan Ponce de Leon, whom we all learned about in elementary school, “discovered” Florida in 1513, supposedly while searching for the Fountain of Youth. I put discovered in quotes because apparently there was already a large population here – this was the home of the Calusa Indians.