Great time on the Matlacha Pass next to the Aquatic Preserve! We began on April 3, 2008 from Matlacha public boat access with facilities (Turn off is on the left after the bridge linking the mainland to Pine Island on SR 78, Pine Island Rd). They maintain a tidy park there and it was easy to get in with very little boat traffic in the middle of the week. Not too sure what it would be like on the weekends.
At 9:00am the first few miles are very shallow. Sandbars a plenty. At times it is probably preferable to wear sandals or river shoes to walk a kayak across sandbars. The depth at that time of day was about 12"-4' if one stays along the paddling route. The paddling route I received via the excellent folks with The Great Calusa Blueway at www.greatcalusablueway.com they provided us with a map of several of the possible canoe/kayak routs available.
For the majority of the trip my co-worker and I paddled near the trail which is really easily laid out and simple to follow. The mile markers are plentiful and for this I would recommend it to even a novice. The trail leads through no wake mangroves so the solitude is wonderful and refreshing.
The wildlife is plentiful due to the preserve as well as responsible boaters and citizens in the area. There were many stingrays (largest was about 2'), several types of small birds, cranes, and hunters (a pair of ospreys on Picnic Island). About 8 porpoises swam along side of us for about a mile near St. James Creek. The negatives were too many jellyfish and a couple of clam beds that can slice up a kayak easily. These are easily spotted however. They will look like small river rapids in otherwise calm flowing water in the low tide. Simply steer around them and watch the water and one can avoid them.
The trail was about 15 -17 miles and I thought it went easily. The water was very calm with very few other boaters on the water. The water was fairly clear despite the recent rains as well as the tannins from the mangroves. The water rarely got deeper than 4' near the shore (we stayed about 100yrds from the shore at most times). As we approached St. James City in the lower half of Pine Island the water began to get deeper however I didn't take a sounding. Waves began to slowly lumber past us and the tide seemed to help us move along at this point.
Our destination was Picnic Island which sits about a mile away from the Sanibel Causeway. Picnic Island belongs to the State of Florida and is free to camp on. Another thing that was free was an old propane grill (sans propane) for people to use. Picnic Island is home to little wild life except for the jellyfish on the beaches, tiny crabs intent on doing crab push ups in unison, two ospreys on a dead pine, several cranes, one flamingo and at least one snake.
Additionally there were few people on the island which seems to be a few acres in its entirety. All of the people there were enjoying the shell strewn beaches and the simple pleasure of a quiet island in a picturesque setting. Indeed they all seemed to vanish when the storm I had been watching build all day began to warn us with a strong cool wind. After setting up camp beneath some of the Australian pines we watched the blue rains advance towards us.
Luckily Picnic Island sits about 3' above the waters. We were able to stay dry and have an otherwise fine dinner in between the rains. The next day the sun began to shine around 10:00 and the tide was in. Launching was easy onto another sunny day. Traveling across the bay is easy for a healthy paddler. The current seemed to be fairly strong in the main channel heading under the bridge. My advice is to pay close attention to the flow and make corrections as necessary. Also I would keep in mind the channel crossings and keep an eye on ones bearings. The boat traffic was calm that time of day but an inattentive power boater can make kayakers paddling "uneasy" so keep an eye on them.
We landed on the beaches skirting the causeway and eventually we were picked up by our ride there. There is a fee for using the Causeway toll of $6.00. We could have been picked up at the marina but there seemed to be an increasing amount of boat traffic assembling there. As you paddle across you might want to edge over to the East to get a closer look but $6.00 and an easy pickup seemed agreeable. Additionally they are in the process of working on the bridge so that is another reason to arc across to the beaches on the causeway. I am not sure when the projected completion date for the bridge will be but they were sinking pilings while we paddled across.
If one has the time, going to the Ding Darling Refuge on Sanibel Island might make for a good addition to a paddling trip. It has some quiet bays and is itself an interesting place to visit in its' own right. Another time. Hope this helps.
Please pay attention to tides, conditions and the weather. If one is prudent and aware they can avoid the things that can ruin a good day on the water - or land.
Bathroom facilities at most places. Bring your own food and water for the duration. Civilization isn't really too far away in emergency.
I had a 14'RTM Disco a light SOT which easily holds enough for a couple of days. It is agile and handles a variety of environments well.
My friend Kyle had a Malibu Extreme which, although can carry quite a bit of weigh and gear, seemed to be a rel bear to paddle more than about 8 miles a day. We did about 16 miles the first day. I guess I would liken it to an Army Morgan.
Standard light camping gear: tent, tarp, grill, food, plenty of water, emergency items/kit, spare clothing and foul weather clothing.
None- however please respect the property rights of the landowners along the way as well as the preserves
West on Pine Island RD (SR78) from Ft. Meyers, Fla. take the first left after crossing the bridge to get to the municipal boat launch.
The Great Calusa Blueway has a web site which highlights the great trailway which borders the state of Florida (www.greatcalusablueway.com). They also provide a map of the area.
Additionally a DeLorme topo map is useful for finding alternative launching areas.
Also "A Canoeing and Kayaking Guide to Florida" by John Malloy is a great way to begin to plan a trip.
As far as a good kayak source I would recommend looking up captnjimbo in Ft. Lauderdale for an honest opinion on kayak design for this region.