Stunning sunrises and sunsets, beautiful white beaches perfect for swimming, diving or snorkeling the Gulf of Mexico’s warm waters, a vast assortment of shells, endless shared use paths for exercise, resorts, restaurants and art galleries galore continue to bring visitors to Sanibel and Captiva Islands.
An abundance of wildlife can be seen on the island due to its conservation efforts, resulting in nearly 70 percent of undeveloped grasses, marshes, back bays and rivers, all mostly kept as wildlife and natural preserves. The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which is approximately 6,400 acres, consists of mangrove forest, submerged seagrass birds, cordgrass marshes and West Indian hardwood hammocks, providing the perfect habitat for animals and more than 245 species of birds.
The history of the islands is steeped in fishing tradition, specifically sport fishing. Even more specifically, tarpon fishing. It was the Silver King that put Southwest Florida on the map. W.H. Wood became noted as the first to catch a Silver King on rod and reel off the shores of Sanibel in 1885 while visiting from New York. Thomas Edison was a noted tarpon angler.
Before Wood, there were the indigenous Calusa Indians, followed by the Spanish-Cuban fishermen and the Punta Gorda Fish Co. with its fish houses dotting Pine Island Sound. Many fish houses remain and are viewable by local boating tours.
Fly fishing is instantly recognizable with the casting action fishermen use and it has becoming a common sight on the shorelines of Sanibel and Captiva, as well on the bays and at the refuge. Although fly fishing has been around for many decades, it is a growing popular activity in Sanibel, which is quickly becoming known as a hotbed for the water sport.
The islands are recognized around the globe for shell collecting along the white sand beaches. It is simple geography that created the wealth of shelling. The islands bend like an elbow instead of lying parallel to the mainland. The shape acts like a vacuum, collecting shells that are deposited in abundance on the beaches. Shelling created the famous “Sanibel Stoop” and “Captiva Crouch” as the official stance of visitors bending over to pick up a treasure of shells (non-living only, please).