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Matlacha and Pine Island - Step back into Old Florida

October 11, 2013
FL Guide

It's just a short drive from the "New" Florida of Fort Myers and Cape Coral to the "Old" Florida of Matlacha and Pine Island. "Old" Florida is the way it used to be - maybe a generation or two ago - when people lived an outdoor lifestyle: canoeing, fishing, birding, and hunting. No crowds, no high-rise buildings and no stoplights.

Approaching the Matlacha Bridge the first thing visitors will see is a sign indicating "Island Time Begins Here." Island time is where everything moves at a slower, more care-free pace. Where the gentle Gulf breezes give you a sense of timelessness. Where you are no longer tied to your iPhone, iPad or even your watch.

The Matlacha Bridge is known as the "World's Fishingest Bridge." On an average day the bridge is lined with dozens of people fishing for tarpon, redfish, sheepheads and snook. In 1955 Frederick Timson wrote in Florida Wildlife Magazine, "I'm convinced that Pine Island (Matlacha) Bridge tops them all for really delivering the goods at any and all seasons of the year... The bridge is a fishing balcony and at any time, winter, summer, day or night, you'll see both men and women wetting their lines over the rails of the bridge.... They all appeared to be reeling in fish."

Entering the quaint little fishing village of Matlacha there is a burst of color. The street is lined with small buildings in the most vibrant island colors. This small village is home to about 700 people. The primary business, after fishing, is art. Matlacha is now a highly regarded artists community with art galleries, souvenir shops, and small seafood restaurants lining Pine Island road.

Pine Island is the largest island off Florida's southwest Gulf coast. It is 18 miles long and 2 miles wide. From one end of the island to the other visitors will find mangroves, aquatic preserves, acres of palm, and tropical plant and fruit groves. Visitors enter the island at its approximate center named "Pine Island Center." Turning right (North) takes you to Pineland and Bokeelia. Pineland is composed mostly of "Cracker" style homes. Heading farther north to Bokeelia finds the islands agricultural area with many palm and tropical fruit groves. Turning South visitors will find St. James City providing many opportunities for the avid boater or fisherman. There are also several waterside restaurants for dining and spectacular sunsets.

More things to do:

* Take the ferry to Cayo Costa.

Board the Tropic Star for a short ride to Cayo Costa. This small pristine island offers nine miles of beautiful beaches and acres of pine forests, oak palm hammocks and mangrove swamps. Visitors can swim or snorkel in the surf and may see manatees and dolphins. Cayo Costa is available only by private boat or ferry. The ferry, Tropic Star of Pine Island, departs from Jug Creek Marina in Bokeelia and requires reservations.

* Visit the Randell Research Center.

The Randell Research Center is a permanent facility dedicated to learning and teaching archeology, history, and ecology of Southwest Florida. Situated in the scenic community of Pineland on the western shore of Pine Island the RRC encompasses more than 60 acres. At the heart of this historic site is a massive shell mound site of the Calusa Indians.

The Calusa Indians were once the most powerful people in all of south Florida. For many centuries they accumulated huge shell mounds, engineered canals, and sustained tens of thousands of people from the fish and shellfish found in the rich estuaries. On the Calusa Heritage Trail, visitors can tour this historically significant site.

* Visit the Museum of the Islands.

The Museum of the Islands is housed in what was once the island's first public library, built by volunteers in the early 1960's. The Museum of the Islands (MOTI) is a museum dedicated to preserving Island history and lifestyle. Over the years Islander's have donated many interesting items for exhibit and there is much to see at MOTI. Today the Museum of the Islands is a major feature for visitors, tourists and Pine Islanders who love their past.

* Fishing the Waters.

The waters surrounding Pine Island San Carlos Bay, Pine Island Sound, Charlotte Harbor and Matlacha Pass offer fisherman an abundance of opportunities to fish for snook, grouper, redfish, trout, mullet and tarpon. Visitors can rely on the many qualified charter captains for a great day fishing.

* Bokeelia Fishing Pier.

For over 100 years people have enjoyed fishing from the Bokeelia Fishing Pier. Located at the northern tip of Pine Island stretching into the waters of Charlotte Harbor, the Bokeelia Fishing Pier is known by many as the place to come for some of the finest fishing.

No license required! Just come and enjoy the fun. Rod and reel rentals available and pier fees are just $8 a day from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm.

* Kayaking and Canoeing.

Matlacha Pass National Wildlife Refuge offers some of the best kayaking and canoeing in the world. This aquatic preserve is the essence of the southwest Florida estuary teeming with life: ospreys, bald eagles, wood storks, sea turtles and manatees. There are several places visitors can rent a kayak or canoe.



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