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.
For a beach lover, the beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel are a dream destination.
Trouble in paradise: I’m at the tollbooth on the causeway that crosses to Sanibel Island from Fort Myers, Florida. There’s a six-dollar charge, and they don’t take credit cards. After fumbling through pockets, purse, and beach bag, I come up with only four crumpled one-dollar bills. But the tan booth attendant offers an authentic smile. “If you don’t have it, it’s OK,” she says, waving me through. “Someone ahead of you just paid it forward.”
Newlyweds enjoying sunset views at Tarpon Lodge in Pineland, Florida
A dream of the perfect wedding often includes pristine water views graced by vivid sunsets and soft, twinkling lights. Imagine a hush falling over the crowd as bride and groom promise their “I Do’s.” The air is filled with the gentle sounds of softly lapping waves and whispering Gulf breezes. When the ceremony ends, the spirit of celebration begins – wining and dining, dancing and laughing, revisiting memories and creating new ones. For couples who realized their own dreams, we asked what were the most important criteria for their island wedding. Here are their top five:
1. Private Island Ambiance
The number one reason for an island wedding is to create a unique event in a lovely, secluded setting that is classic and timeless. This is an opportunity to fulfill a vision of being surrounded by panoramic water views, swaying palm trees and rolling, manicured lawns, the perfect backdrop to a most memorable day.
Pine Island Sound is located just northwest of Fort Myers, Florida. The body of water is fronted on the inland side by Pine Island and to the west by Sanibel, Captiva, North Captiva and Cayo Costa islands that separate its waters from the Gulf of Mexico. The passes connecting the sound to the Gulf are veritable highways for tarpon and other game fish at all times of the year. Also the mangrove-lined islands, creek shores and inland lakes are magnets for snook and redfish.
Pine Island, which is a very short drive away, is different altogether. This is a long-standing, close knit, island community where everyone knows everyone and where everyone cares about everyone. That goes for visitors as well. You are made to feel special as soon as you arrive. Even the local supermarket, a Winn Dixie, gives its produce to the less fortunate as soon as the sell by date passes. Pine Island residents take pride in living here without fuss – or traffic lights or fast food outlets for that matter.
Making Waves TV — Episode 4. Jeff’s goin’ country in Pine Island Sound with Bo and Deidra, 2-time champions of Madfin Shark Series. They take us fishing in a Sea Hunt BX24 BR. Everyone lands at Cabbage Key Inn to kick back with the locals and country music star, Casey Weston and local favorite Taylor Goyette.