Updated 02.27.2020: Florida has long been known as one of the country’s most popular vacation destinations. Whether it’s a Florida Keys road trip, multigenerational trips to Orlando parks, or the wild wetlands of the Everglades, there really is something in Florida for everyone.
But, for those looking to get off the beaten path just a little bit, Pine Island is the place to be. Today’s guest contributor, Fred Mays from North Texas Active Life, is here with some great recommendations for finding active travel on Pine Island. From fishing to kayaking to just taking it easy, this is the spot to be!
Active Travel on Florida’s Pine Island
It sits off the southwest Florida coast, just north of Fort Myers, tied to the mainland by a tenuous two-lane drawbridge, and is arguably the most laid-back island in the Sunshine State. There are no beaches, few hotels, no high-rise condos. So what draws people to Pine Island?
Fish! Lots of fish!
Fishing on Pine Island, Florida
Snook, Red Fish, Tarpon, Sea Trout, Grouper and more. They all prowl the waters around Pine Island, drawing anglers from all over the country. Fishing is an industry here. There are no fewer than a dozen fishing guides on the island, ready to put your hook in the right spot.
Bill Russell has been guiding anglers on his 24-foot boot for 23 years, “There is a lot of diversity on Pine Island, a lot of different species you can target. If you don’t find them in one location, you just move to another.”
The normal fishing season is October to May. Water quality is important. Last year was a bad season as Red Tide and algae blooms spread through the water, killing fish and keeping customers away.
Where to Stay on Pine Island
There are a number of small “Mom and Pop” hotels and a few Bed and Breakfasts on the island. On the upscale end is Tarpon Lodge. It started out as a fish camp a century ago. Along the way it has been a religious retreat and a drug rehab center.
About twenty years ago, the Wells family bought it and started fixing it up. TodayTarpon Lodge has well-appointed luxury rooms, fine dining, and a small marina.
Offshore, in the waterway off Cayo Costa Island, is Cabbage Key, featuring a restaurant and small lodge, also owned by the Wells family. The Key features a juicy cheeseburger that was supposedly the inspiration for Jimmy Buffett’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise”.
The walls in the bar are papered with hundreds of dollar bills pasted up by customers. When they fall to the floor they’re collected and donated to charity.
Cabbage Key is only accessible by boat, with water taxis and ferries running from Pine Island and Captiva Island. It’s a favorite haunt for fishermen and tourists, and the lunch wait is usually over an hour.
There are many restaurant options on Pine Island, some of which will cook your own catch for dinner. The Yucatan restaurant is located on the water, right on the main street of Matlacha, as you come on to the island. You can pull your boat up to Bert’s Bar and Grill, and enjoy the freshest of just caught seafood.
If you’re looking for more fine dining options, Tarpon Lodge has a diverse menu and extensive wine list. Restaurant manager Shohreh Durkin says the secret to their menu is “local, local, local”, everything from vegetables to seafood.
And that lunker you landed on your fishing trip? “You clean it, filet it and we’ll cook it anyway you like”, says Durkin.
A Florida haven for artists and writers
Over the years, Pine Island has developed a reputation as an artist and writer’s retreat. Seclusion is easy to come by. There are a couple of non-high rise condo communities on the island (check out rentals here), but otherwise housing is low density.
The year-round population on the island is less than 2,000 natives, most of them retirees. Snowbirds boost the population a bit in the winter. And during the tourist season, traffic at the village of Matlacha can get a little congested on the two lane highway, the only way on and off the island.
Active Travel Options on Pine Island
For outdoor adventures besides fishing, there is a 16-mile bike trail that runs from end to end on the island. There’s also kayaking on the Calusa Blueway paddle trail. The Calusa Heritage Trail is about a one-mile hike starting at the Randell Research Center. There’s also a golf course and country club.
Pine Island was hit hard by Hurricane Charley in 2004. Many properties were destroyed or heavily damaged by the storm. Today the island has been fully restored, with no signs of the destruction.
More Florida active adventures that boomers will love:
- Go kayaking at Big Pine Key on a Florida Keys road trip
- Experience offshore sea fishing at Islamorada
- Kayak down the Ichetucknee River in north-central Florida
- Walk on the wild side at Payne’s Prairie State Reserve
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