Sanibel Island Fishing & Water sports

  Fishing and Watersports on Sanibel Island, Florida - The
Locals say that fishing is so popular on Sanibel Island that you can throw a shell and hit a charter captain. Avid fishermen complain of sore arms from reeling in so many trout, grouper and mackerel. Watersport enthusiasts complain because the island strictly prohibits noisy wave runners and jet skis, but they can still enjoy quieter pursuits like surfing, sailing, canoeing and kayaking in the island's many aquatic settings.

Where are the Beaches on Sanibel Island and Captiva Island?
Sanibel Island is one of the unique barrier islands of the world, having an east-west orientation when most islands are north-south. As such, the island is gifted with great sandy beaches and an abundance of shells. Check out the Sanibel Island Shelling Center for information on the islands beaches and seashells.

There are a few rules that keep the Sanibel Island beaches pristine. Pets on Sanibel Island must be leashed, and should be cleaned up after. Captiva beaches do not allow pets.* Alcoholic beverages are prohibited November through May. No open fires and no collecting of live shells please.

Basic restrooms are located at all public beach access areas. Some have picnic tables and showers, all have free handicap parking. Parking at Sanibel Island and Captiva Island public beaches costs $2.00 an hour, Cash and credit cards are accepted. Paid parking tickets are not interchangeable between Sanibel and Captiva.

Causeway Beaches
Great for swimming, fishing, windsurfing and picnicking. Pull your vehicle right to waters edge. There is no fee when you park on the causeway beach ($6.00 toll to enter causeway). Located along both sides of the road. Restrooms are available.
Free parking
Dogs allowed on leash only
Picnic tables

Causeway Ordinances PROHIBIT the following:
Launching of motorized vessels
Alcoholic beverages
Open fires

Lighthouse Beach & Fishing Pier
This is the site of the Sanibel Island historic functioning lighthouse. Located on the eastern tip of Sanibel Island, wrapping around to the bay side. This is where the t-dock-fishing pier is and a boardwalk nature trail winding through native wetlands. Turn left on Periwinkle Way (4 way stop) from Causeway Road.
Restrooms and outdoor shower
Free handicap parking – 4 parking spaces
Fishing Pier, Lighthouse, Boardwalk and Nature Trails o RV Parking – 2 spaces
Bike rack – no fee for bikes
24 Hour paid parking

Gulfside City Park
Picnic tables and seclusion welcome you to this lesser known park, located mid-island on Algiers Lane off Casa Ybel Rd. Mid Island
Restrooms and outdoor shower
Free handicap parking – 3 handicap spaces
Picnic tables and BBQ Grills
Bike rack – no fee for bikes

Tarpon Bay Beach
Easy parking for recreational vehicles, and a short hike from the parking lot to the beach. Located at the south end of Tarpon Bay Rd. at West Gulf Drive. Mid Island
Restrooms and outdoor shower at beach entrance
Bike parking at beach entrance – no fee for bikes
Oversized (20 foot and over) vehicle parking – several
Free handicap parking – 3 handicap spaces at beach entrance

Bowman’s Beach
Pristine and quiet, you won’t find any hotels here. Park and walk over a bridge to secluded white beach. There is an outdoor shower located at this beach. This is the only beach with barbecue grills. Located off Sanibel-Captiva Rd., turn left on Bowman’s Beach Rd. Up Island
Restrooms, changing rooms and outdoor shower
Oversized (20 foot and over) vehicle parking – several o Free handicap parking – 7 spaces
Picnic tables and Barbecue grills
Pubic telephone at restrooms
Nature and fitness trails
Canoe and kayak launching

Captiva Island Beaches

Turner Beach (Blind Pass)
Located on both the Sanibel Island and Captiva Island side of the Blind Pass Bridge, this beach is popular with sheller's and fishermen. Signs warn against swimming because of the swift currents. Located on Sanibel-Captiva Rd. at Blind Pass Bridge. No restrooms on the Sanibel side.
Parking on both sides of Blind Pass bridge
NO restrooms on Sanibel side
Restrooms and outdoor shower on Captiva side
Free handicap parking – 1 space on Captiva and 1 space on Sanibel

Captiva Beach
One of the best places to watch the beautiful sunset. There are no restroom facilities here and parking is very limited. Located at the end of Captiva Dr.

Sailing off Sanibel & Captiva Islands

The Gulf of Mexico surrounding Sanibel Island & Captiva Island offers the perfect way to get a different perspective of both islands. Enjoy playful dolphins, manatees, or a beautiful sunset. Go on a sport fishing trip, a few-hours or to an all-day charter. There is a lot to see and do while boating around Sanibel Island & Captiva Island.

Fishing On & Off Sanibel & Captiva Islands

The pristine waters surrounding Sanibel Island and Captiva Island provide excellent opportunities for fishermen of all skill levels…from the novice to the World Record seeker. Whether offshore, inshore, back bay, pier, beach or wade fishing, fish can be found here year ‘round.

Offshore Fishing
The Gulf of Mexico is a shallow body of water meaning anglers can be 20 to 30 miles offshore and be in only 50 to 75 feet of water. No coral reefs here but numerous artificial reefs and wrecks for good fishing and diving. Hard bottom (coquina shelves) offers some of the finest grouper fishing in the state – black grouper (gag) and red grouper. Other offshore species include shark, tripletail, tarpon, cobia, spanish mackerel, king mackerel, barracuda, jack crevalle, amberjack, permit and numerous kinds of snapper.

Fishing, snorkeling and scuba dive charters and instruction are available with local professional guides.

Inshore / Back Bay Fishing
Sanibel and Captiva Islands area offers prime fishing for many species including the much sought after snook, redfish, sea trout and tarpon.
SNOOK: Because the habitat around our islands contains numerous inlet river mouths, oyster bars and mangrove shorelines, there is an abundant snook fishery here…12 months a year.
REDFISH: Our islands have one of the healthiest, largest redfish populations in the State of Florida. Picture the excitement of sight casting to a “tailing” redfish in crystal clear, shallow water or pulling a hefty redfish out from the mangrove shoreline.
SEATROUT: Seatrout are becoming more plentiful as well as larger due to good fishery management. With more fish and larger fish, the sea trout is gaining a healthy respect as highly sought after saltwater gamester.
TARPON: Tarpon fishing is so spectacular around Captiva and Sanibel Islands, it deserves its own write-up. This area is the cradle of tarpon fishing. The first tarpon caught on rod and reel was in 1885 by W.H. Wood using bait and thumb stall reel with linen line right here on Sanibel Island in Tarpon Bay.

The annual migration of tarpon starts around mid-April and goes well into the month of July.

Tarpon fishing in famous Boca Grande Pass (known as the World Capital of Tarpon Fishing) with professional captains is usually drift fishing in large boats using at least 50# tackle.

The fleet of Sanibel professional fishing guides fish primarily off the east end of Sanibel offshore, anchored up, chumming and use light to heavier tackle.

For the light tackle and fly fisherman, professional tarpon guides use skiffs from 16 feet to 23 feet cruise the beaches and back bay areas in hot pursuit of the migrating fish.

This area offers the ultimate in tarpon fishing…so many casts, so many opportunities.

Fly Fishing
Sanibel and Captiva Islands is a place where anglers enjoy saltwater fly fishing at its finest. Experienced fly rodders fish this area every month of the year because of the abundance of fish and the unsurpassed sight casting opportunities. Fly fishermen making the transition from freshwater to the salt may want to take advantage of the local Professional Fishing Guides skilled in the art of teaching.

Picture casting to a redfish tailing up over the shallow water flats and watch it charge and eat the fly. Or, seatrout often in the two to four pound range as it straightens out a fly line. Or, a snook strike a fly so violently that the hookup is almost instant and runs with incredible speed interrupted only by its acrobatic jumps. Or, picture this: a 100 pound tarpon following the fly with its huge bucket mouth open, see the fly disappear into its mouth, and as it turns off with such force and speed it starts going into uncontrollable jumps. This makes tarpon on fly the ultimate challenge.

There are numerous other species that can be pursued on fly whether inshore or offshore: ladyfish, jack crevalle, spanish mackerel, kingfish, barracuda, cobia, permit, pompano, flounder, snappers, shark, etc.

Fishing Without a Boat
Off the beaches: The causeway beaches, the beaches near the Lighthouse end of the island, Bowman’s Beach and the beaches off West Gulf Drive are areas to fish in shallow water with light tackle using live bait, artificial lures or fly rods. Early morning or late afternoon, anglers can walk the beaches and cast to snook, sea trout, whiting, sheepshead, flounder, mackerel or pompano.

Fishing pier: Fishing from the pier, or just alongside it, offers catches of redfish, snook, sheepshead, black drum, snapper and other species. Fishing on the pier usually requires heavier tackle.

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge: good fishing along Wildlife Drive for mangrove snapper, seatrout, redfish, snook and sometimes baby tarpon.

Time of Year to Fish / Species

All Year:
Sea trout
Spanish mackerel

Spring and Summer:

Spring and Fall:
King mackerel
Black Drum

Winter and Spring:

Marinas on the islands rent boats, canoes and kayaks. Marina personnel give quick lessons on boat handling and charts for the area for those who want to adventure on their own.

Tour boats and some professional fishing guides offer charters for: shelling, sightseeing, lunch, birding, eco / nature, or photography. Some guides are Certified Master Naturalists. Snorkeling and SCUBA dive charters and instructors are available in this area. Also, fishing charters for the disabled are available.

Fishing License Info
Fishing: Most residents and visitors must purchase licenses for fishing in salt or fresh water. You can purchase a license at The Bait Box on Periwinkle Way; at Bailey’ Center at the corner of Tarpon Bay Road and Periwinkle Way; at Tarpon Bay Recreation; at Jensen’s Marina; at Adventures in Paradise, at Norm Zeigler’s Fly Shop; and at all the marinas. Rules and regulations on size and bag limits plus open and closed seasons change. Most bait stores distribute free lists published by the Florida Marine Fisheries Commission. You do not need a license if you are: under 16; over age 65 and a Florida resident; effective August 1st, 2009 all Florida residents fishing from land or a pier now require a license; or fishing from a boat covered by a Vessel Saltwater Fishing License. The Tax Collector’s office and bait shops list criteria for residency.

Good Fishing Spots
Tarpon Bay (Recreation Area of J. N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge)
Sanibel Fishing Pier located bayside of the Sanibel Lighthouse
Fishing from the Beach
Fishing, snorkeling and scuba dive charters and instruction are available with local professional guides.

Sanibel Island Shelling Center

Sanibel & Captiva – The Shellacious Islands

What you need to know about Florida Seashells on Sanibel & Captiva Islands

The Sanibel “Stoop”
Sanibel Island and Captiva Island have earned their reputation as the Shell Islands honestly. They are actually made out of shells, like some magnificent work of shell art created over thousands of years. When islanders dig gardens in their backyards, they find conchs, whelks, scallops and clam shells often perfectly intact.

The best shelling is found on the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva Islands. The islands rank tops in the world for shelling because of geography. Sanibel Island does the twist as it parades along the coastline among a string of other more orderly, straight-and-narrow islands. The east-west torque of Sanibel’s south end acts like a shovel scooping up all the seashells that the Gulf imports from The Caribbean and other southern seas.

The abundance and variety of shells have made Sanibel and Captiva Islands shell-obsessed. People come from all over the world, drawn by the song of the seashell. They parade along the sands doubled over in a stance that’s been dubbed the Sanibel Stoop. Every March, they gather to compare and appreciate shell collections and shell art at the annual Sanibel Shell Fair & Show. Throughout the year, shell shops sell seashells by the seashore (and by the thousands). Shells are the dominant motif in island decor and boutique gifts. You’ll find everything from finely crafted “shell-igrams” to lucite toilet seats with seashells lacquered in. (No home should be without one!)

Where to Shell
All of the Gulf-side shelling beaches from the Lighthouse to North Captiva. For a list of public beaches, go to Sanibel Beaches.

When to Shell
At low tide when the seashells are more exposed, especially at low spring tides (at full and new moons) and after Gulf storms have driven the shells up the Gulf onto our shelling beaches.

How to Shell
Bring bucket or net bag and scoop. Wear shoes and shuffle to expose partially hidden mollusks and to scare away fish.

What to Expect
Shells of many types and sizes are found on our shelling beaches. As a general rule the smaller seashells are found on the Lighthouse end of the island chain and the larger ones nearer Captiva and North Captiva. Conch, Junonia, Lightning Whelk, Cockle, Scallops, Murex, Tulip, Olive, Coquina, are among the species you may expect to find.

Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Shelling and Seashells

Seashell Ecology

Seashells come in two major varieties. The gastropod has a single shell and includes such species as conchs and whelks. Bivalves, such as clams, cockles and scallops, live within two hinged shells. The empty seashells you find layered on the beach once were home to soft-tissued animals called mollusks. Mollusks build their shells by secreting a liquid that eventually hardens around them. As the animals grow, their shells grow with them. Special glands create color pigments just before new layers of shell harden.

Shells and their inhabitants play an important role in Sanibel and Captiva islands ecology. They help keep our sand neatly in place and restock it with more as they’re crushed by waves and other forces. They provide food for birds and fish. The scavenging and filtering performed by certain mollusks help cleanse Gulf waters.

Shelling Law & Florida Seashell Preservation
Because seashells are important to the islands’ chain of life, and because Sanibel and Captiva are refuge islands where all life is considered precious, the State of Florida has outlawed the collecting of live shells on the island. “Live shell” is defined as any specimen containing an inhabitant, whether or not the mollusk seems alive. The law also protects sand dollars, starfish and sea urchins. All shelling is prohibited in J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

Sheller’s are urged to limit even their empty-shell collection. Hauling away seashells by the bucketful diminishes supplies and the value of a single shell. For, as Anne Morrow Lindbergh in Gift From the Sea wrote while visiting these islands, “One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few.”

Types of Shells on Sanibel Island & Captiva Island

Conch Shells
Of the extensive conch family, fighting conchs are those most commonly found on Sanibel and Captiva shelling beaches. Ironically, contrary to its macho name, the fighting conch is one of the few vegetarian univalves. While alive, the seashell flames brilliant orange, but fades under tropical sunshine. It is a shrunken version of the queen conch, which once was fished in Florida for its meat. Conch harvesting is now illegal in the state.

Junonia Shells
The islands’ most coveted seashell, it belongs to the volute family. Its milky chamber is covered with brown spots on the outside, and the animal that occupies the shell is likewise marked. Sheller's who find a junonia on Sanibel or Captiva get their pictures in the local newspaper.

Lightning Whelk Shells
Unlike its cousin whelks, the lightning variety is usually “left-handed.” Thus, its name: Busycon contrarium. It lays its miniature shell eggs in papery egg case streamers that wash up on the beach. Lightning whelks grow up to 16 inches long and were used by early island natives for tools.

Cockle Shells
The heart cockle is one the islands’ most common shells, though a rarity in other parts of the world. The cockle mollusk is a footed creature that can jump several inches in a single leap. Islanders often use its accommodatingly large cockleshell for soap dishes.

Tulip Shells
Banded tulips and their larger, rarer cousins, true tulips, frequently wash up on island shores to the delight of collectors who revel in their intriguing patterns and delicately swirling form.

Sand dollar Shells
Technically classified as an echinoderm, not a mollusk, its life is nonetheless protected on Sanibel and Captiva. While alive, the thin, flat sand dollar is brown and bristled with tiny tubes that permit it to breath, move and camouflage itself. Unoccupied seashells bleach to a beautifully white textured pattern, perfect for hanging on Christmas tree boughs with red satin ribbon.

Olive Shells
Named for its elongated oval shape, the olive comes in a variety of colors and variations, and often sports a glossy finish. By the time it reaches island beaches, it has usually been sun-bleached white, however. Olives seashells rarely grow beyond three inches long

Coquinas Shells
The beach’s most well-attired clams, they dress in colorful stripes, solids, and even plaids. Opened and flattened, they look like tiny butterflies. Old islanders used to dig them up at the water’s edge to boil for broth. Because they are a food shellfish, coquinas are one of few shells that can be collected live on Sanibel and Captiva. They burrow into shallow sand at the water’s edge. When exposed by a wave, they wriggle back into dampness. If you’ve planted your feet where they’ve washed up, you get the sensation of a foot massage as they burrow beneath you.

Snorkeling & Scuba Diving Sanibel Island and Captiva Island

Wrecks and man-made reefs help restock our waters with fish for the benefit of Scuba divers and fisherman alike. More than a dozen artificial reefs lie within a 15 mile radius of Sanibel and Captiva making these Florida barrier islands great for snorkeling and scuba diving.

One of the largest is the Edison Reef, created from the rubble of a former mainland bridge. It was built less than 15 nautical miles from the Sanibel Lighthouse in 42 feet of water.

Closer to home, the Belton Johnson Reef, about 5 nautical miles off Bowman’s Beach, was named for a well-known local fishing guide. A yellow and white marker shows the location of the reef, constructed of concrete culverts.

Peagus/Charlie’s Reef is the newest reef installed July 1999, located 28 miles due west of Red Fish Pass. A large tug boat was added to several railroad hoppers that already have quite an assortment of residences, including barracuda, cobia, nurse shark, grouper, amber jack and a moray eel.

Water Sports – Kayaking, Canoeing, Parasailing & More

Have you always wanted to take a day trip and canoe or kayak out in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico? What about parasail, kite board, or hop on a jet ski? Water activities abound around Sanibel & Captiva Islands. The warm Gulf of Mexico waters lend themselves perfectly to loads of water sports. So if you’re looking for a day of fun in the sun, our islands are the perfect backdrop.


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