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.
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.
Dogs allowed on leash only
Causeway Ordinances PROHIBIT the following:
Launching of motorized vessels
Lighthouse Beach &
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
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
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
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.
Sanibel & Captiva Islands
The Gulf of Mexico surrounding Sanibel Island & Captiva Island
offers the perfect way to get a different perspective of
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
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.
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
Fishing, snorkeling and scuba dive charters and instruction
are available with local professional guides.
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
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#
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.
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
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.
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.
Year to Fish / Species
Spring and Summer:
Spring and Fall:
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: 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.
Tarpon Bay (Recreation Area of J. N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife
Sanibel Fishing Pier located bayside of the Sanibel
Fishing from the Beach
Fishing, snorkeling and scuba dive charters and instruction
are available with local professional guides.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.