Sunday, November 30, 2014

Kayaking Bokeelia, FL - Where To Launch?

Pine Island, in southwest Florida, is a great place to kayak. It is just west of Fort Myers and just an easy 40 minute drive from town. We have always called Pine Island the 'Redneck Sanibel', as it seems to be way more about fishing than letting rich folk relax in the sun.
But, the population on Pine Island is growing. I'm pretty sure that most of the people living there now were not born there. The problem is that it must be troublesome trying to make a living from fishermen. The result is that it is about impossible to get into the water without paying somebody for the opportunity. As as November 2014, I could not find a single place to launch a kayak that didn't have a sign wanting money for that.
Pineland Marina, in the middle of the island (picture above) is a great place to launch, with a large parking lot and a nice ramp. From here, you can do some serious paddling. A trip to Cabbage Key for a cheeseburger in paradise is about a 2 hour paddle one way, and Cayo Costa is about 4 hours one way (good place to camp). The two dangers are wind and the boat traffic. Pineland Marina wants $8 to launch your kayak (or $13 for two kayaks) or $10 just to park your car there. A few years ago, you could launch for free about 1/2 a mile down the road, but that now has a chain and a no trespassing sign.
Bokeelia is on the northern tip is the island and this is my favorite spot. Unfortunately, all of the free launch spots are gone here as well. Even the old secret spot shown here, now has a sign. There are several boat ramps and all of them either charge for parking or for launching. Bokeelia is pretty famous for not being friendly about this stuff. Remember, we are dealing with the descendants of commercial fishermen that lost their jobs when the government got a little bit picky about how they were decimating the fish population with their inshore netting methods.
The best bet for the kayaker or boater is to rent a place to stay that is on the water near where you want to paddle. For us, one great location is the Beach House in Bokeelia. It rents for about $100-$140 a night (cheaper in the summer) and is a perfect place to launch your kayaks. It is right on Charlotte Harbor, a short paddle to Jug Creek, adventurous paddle to the sandbar and the Oyster bar is a nice long fishing trip. There are many other places to stay where you can easily keep your kayak right on the beach and see the water from your window.
The Beach House also has a couple of kayaks that you can use. They are just cheap plastic 10' kayaks, but we used them this weekend and had fun. I caught a few fish and Pam just relaxed out in the water. The problem with kayaking in the winter here, is that a North wind can kill your thoughts of boating and there was a lot of north wind this weekend. It would have been better to kayak around Pineland Marina, but I choked on the launch fee. Just being here is great, and you can walk to two restaurants nearby: The Lazy Flamingo (sportsbar/diner) and Captain Con's. Both places have good food and can get busy.

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