Pining over Pine Island

Fishing, Sightseeing, and Relaxing with “Old Florida” Charm

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When the weather is just right it’s hard to beat a Saturday in Florida on the ocean. Cloudy enough to take the sun off your face for a bit, a nice breeze cooling you down, and the spray of the ocean as you make your way down the inlets around Pine Island for a bit of fishing with the family can truly make for a great day. 

As an adult, I rarely spend time out on the coastlines of Florida. This is something that after this weekend I feel I may need to make more time for in the future. There is something about being by the ocean that put me at ease about everything. Pine Island happens to be the largest island in the state of Florida even though it doesn’t break the top 100 largest islands in the U.S. (118th is close though). It consists of 4 small unincorporated cities: Pine Island Center, St. James City, Bokeelia, and Pineland. Home for many residents during the winter months, many homes in the area can be rented during the summer for a bit of an island getaway. People will even drive for miles just to get here for some fresh mangos and lychees produced on the island.

Pine Island is a perfect example of what is known as “Old Florida”, a place devoid of traffic signals, tolls, or high rises. Truthfully the only reason houses sit so high is they are put on stilts as precautions for flooding during inclement weather. What you see is a small glimpse in to what a small town in Florida truly felt like living in an earlier time. Outside of the Calusa Indian tribe who is believed to have lived on the island around 300 AD, the only other inhabits of the island (besides a pirate or two) where fisherman began to make there home here around 1873.

One of the most interesting pieces are the residential canals everywhere. Jokingly known as “water streets”, these canals allows residents to have their boat on the water and head out to the Intracoastal Waterway quickly. You can wake up, hop in your boat, and be fishing in no time. Of course if you plan on fishing, you may want to make sure you have your license. For $17, you can get a saltwater fishing license for a whole year if you are a resident.  Even if you only plan to be out there for a day it’s a good idea to get one as the fine for fishing without a license can definitely be much higher than the cost of the license.

As a kid I remember spending lots of time by the water. The west coast of Florida was always fun. Indian Rocks Beach, Treasure Island, and Little Gaspirilla are just few places I remember loving to visit as a kid. This was my first trip ever to Pine Island. My parents, recently retired and living it up, decided to rent a place for a month. Standing on stilts, the house had plenty of amenities to keep you happy when you are getting started in the morning or winding down in the evening. Connected to the canal, we were able to launch the boat and within minutes we were out in search for live bait.

I have never really fancied myself as an outdoor type (I like to think of all the animals in the world I relate to the common house cat the most). However, when you are joining others in an adventure it may behoove you to try new things. Saltwater fishing is not new to me but I can say it has been a long time since I held a rod in my hand. I don’t even remember being able to bait my own line as a kid. Having my mom bait my line in front of Gabi was not an option so I quickly showed my “manliness” and clumsily baited my line. Gabi did not have this same sense of obligation as I did and was glad to have others “help” with baiting her line.

Fishing can go one of two ways. The first is not catching anything, moving to new spots, and waiting for opportunity. The first is not really the way you want to introduce fishing back to people who have not done it in a long time. The other way is keeping busy with lots of opportunity. This means you find good spots and keep getting fish one the line. This helps time go by faster. Even if the fish are big enough to keep, you still have the fun of fighting the fish and reeling them in. Lucky for us (by us I mean Gabi) we were fortunate to keep busy.

Gabi was like watching someone who had never picked up a paint brush and then started painting like DaVinci. Her luck was insane. Constantly getting fish on the line, she proudly called out her number of catches in my direction. “That’s 5”, she said, with my Mom having a good laugh at my expense. I was in awe of her talent and shamed at the same time. In the end she tallied a much respectable 15 fish caught. Unfortunately not all fish are equal and due to restrictions to size (and being good to eat) she only got to keep one ( a respectable sea bass). While I was only able to catch around half her Gabi’s tally, I did bag the biggest fish of the day. Coming in at a whopping 18.5 inches I proudly caught a spotted sea trout. Even with our two take home fish, the day was filled with fun as we were constantly in competition for catching more fish (with Gabi clearly being the victor).

After coming back home, we spent some time out of the sun. After a morning and early afternoon of fishing, we sat around enjoying adult beverages and sharing photos from the day. After a nice meal, hot shower, and some nap time we made our way to edge of Bokeelia to catch the sunset and hang out on the pier. The evening was nice as a breeze carried through the island and helped cool the area down quickly. This was really my first time trying out my new Nikon D3400 camera. This was a great way to test out how well I could travel with the camera. After snapping a few pics we headed back to….well….sleep.

The next day we took the morning to enjoy the atmosphere around the house. It is amazing how quiet the island is in the morning. Other than the occasional bird chirping you hear nothing but silence. Sitting in the shade in the early morning, enjoying a nice coffee, and chatting about anything and everything going on in life with the family was a great start to that Sunday morning. After a bit of breakfast, we put on our shoes and headed to around the island to see some of the “Old Florida” charm.

Matlacha (Think Nick Lachey from 98 degrees but change Nick to Matt and you will get the name correct)  is a quaint town with a single road running through the middle with buildings on each side. Those buildings butt up right next to the waterline. Vibrant and full of color, Matlacha is a quaint ocean town with restaurants, art, and shopping. The town even lays claim to the “most fishingest bridge in the world” as you can always see people fishing from the sides. Many of the shops and homes are brightly colored with lots of murals on the sides. The town has an artsy look and quaint feel that attracts tourists both local and abroad.

After some sightseeing and some beers. It was time to hit the road back home. We said our goodbyes and hit the highway, joining the race of cars to Central Florida. Small town living, brightly-colored stores, and a sleepy atmosphere can only equal a relaxing time. I love visiting the coast of Florida and with places like Pine Island you can really disconnect from the “city life” and get back to basics.

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