by Mike Hammond
Paddling past a pirate ship or shrimp fleet may seem unusual for some people, but it is just another day on the Calusa Blueway. Often overlooked as a paddle destination, the Matanzas Pass area offers many unique and historical points of interest. The nearest paddlecraft launch to this section of the Calusa Blueway is located at Salty Sam’s Marina on San Carlos Island. If you are bringing your own paddlecraft, stop by the ship store. The launch fee is $10, but families arriving in one car will be given a price break. Renting equipment costs the standard $40 for a half day of single kayak use and $50 for tandems. They do not sell live bait on site, so stop by one of the nearby bait shops on your way on the island.
Paddlers can park near the launch for a few minutes to unload if needed. The launch itself is very easy to use for put-in and take-out. There were tarpon swimming around the launch during our last visit. Warning! This may drive teenage anglers in your group crazy.
After paddling by the Pieces of Eight pirate ship for a quick photo op, paddlers have several options. If you head west, you will paddle past the Fort Myers Beach shrimp fleet and towards the Matanzas Pass Bridge. A lot of current flows through a narrow stretch of water under the bridge, but beware of the tides. You may paddle out to San Carlos Bay with ease only to find returning very difficult. It is a little less than two miles until you reach Bowditch Point Park or Bunche Beach. Both are great places to stretch the legs and grab a snack. Bowditch is a little closer and has bathrooms and a water fountain to refill water bottles.
To the east paddlers can find more natural areas. If you want to connect to the Blueway, paddle about 600 yards and then turn north into Hurricane Bay. From there you can pick up the Blueway markers and head into the mangroves towards Hell Peckney Bay. This entire area is within Florida’s first aquatic preserve, Estero Bay Preserve. Some paddlers may prefer to head southeast from the marina and take a half mile paddle to Matanzas Pass Preserve. There is a paddlecraft takeout and boardwalk that will lead you to a historic cottage/museum that is open Saturday and Wednesday mornings. Anyone with interest in the history of Fort Myers Beach should stop by here and talk to the volunteers to hear their amazing stories.
After the paddle, Parrot Key Caribbean Grill is just steps away from the take out. It is very paddler friendly and you may even observe a pirate eating lunch or visiting the bar here.
Matanzas Pass offers visitors a rare opportunity to experience Estero Island away from the popular beach resort that it is today. From tarpon fishing to beautiful mangroves to pirate ships, this stretch of the Calusa Blueway has something for everyone.