Three years ago, we rented a beach cottage in Vilano Beach, just on the other end of the bridge from St. Augustine.  We enjoyed it so much that we decided to return to the area.  (Check out my blog posts from that trip in the “Domestic Travel” section.)

One of the things we enjoyed most during that visit was kayaking (and kayak fishing for Bruce) at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve.  (Geez, couldn’t they come up with a shorter name?)

Today, we returned to see if Bruce would have the same good luck catching fish like he did last time around.  As it became apparent that he wasn’t having any luck, I decided to wander off and paddle along the shoreline to take in the beautiful scenery.

As I headed north, I visually took in the details of the various trees directly to my left, not paying attention to what was up ahead.  Just when I reached a little beach and contemplated taking my kayak ashore to get out and stretch my legs, I happened to look straight ahead where the beach curved out toward the lake.  “WHOAAAA!” I bellowed out to nobody except for the huge alligator catching rays on the beach just twenty feet in front of me.  I froze.  Then, like any photographer would do, I grabbed my camera and shot a few photos before back-paddling the heck out of there!  See ya later, alligator!




Since moving to Georgia, one of our favorite things to do each year is rent a cottage through one of the websites such as Home Away or Airbnb, pack up our kayaks, and head to the water. Although we enjoyed Sanibel so much we visited there twice, we decided to explore new places each time in the future and enjoy new experiences.
This time, we headed to Laguna Beach, Florida to spend two weeks kayak fishing, swimming, walking, and exploring the state parks.

The following are some of my favorite photos from our visit. The complete photo album of 79 shots can be viewed at .


The “Think Pink Cottages” were our home for two weeks in Laguna Beach, Florida, along the panhandle.  Our pink kayaks fit in perfectly, don’t you think?


Bruce snagged a nice slot-sized redfish, but threw it back.  When fishing from his kayak, he is a catch-and-release fisherman.



The view of Panama City Beach from St. Andrew’s State Park


An alligator catching a few rays at St. Andrew’s State Park




These guys were waiting for a handout of fish scraps from the cleaning table.





Grayton State Park



The view of Panama City Beach from the pier.


Panama City Beach Aquatic Center was my training site on a daily basis.  It was a beautiful facility, and I especially enjoyed getting the opportunity to practice block starts.



We have made some interesting observations being in Sanibel during the spring, after visiting here during last fall. Most noticeably, we have seen very few calico scallop shells on Lighthouse Beach, whereas they were quite plentiful, last November. Are shells seasonal? I had never given it much thought.

Birds, on the other hand, were something we learned about back in grade school. Some species migrate south for the winter and others stay year around. Last November, the white pelicans had just arrived from Canada. And, we saw birds everywhere. During our paddle through the Mangrove Tunnels, last November, we saw birds all around us. (Check out my Sanibel blog posts for photos.)

Kayaking through Mangrove Tunnels this time was much different. We saw only three birds in the tunnels; none of the species we saw last November. This bird isn’t even on the Sanibel bird species page of the Sanibel Chamber of Commerce guide, so did it migrate from the south where the seasons are opposite of ours? Does anybody know what the name of this bird and where it is from? Perhaps it is a local bird, after all, but we sure didn’t see any last fall.


There haven’t been as many dolphins feeding out off of Lighthouse Beach this time, but we did enjoy watching this one cruising for fish, just 30 or 40 yards off shore. When it spotted a fish, it would chase it up to the shallower water and trap it just feet from the shore. It was quite a show!


As for the water temperature during this visit, it has been perfect at 78 degrees; very inviting for my morning open water swims. Last November, in addition to the horrible red tide, the water temperature was cold; fine for kayaking, but too cold otherwise.

One thing that hasn’t been much different is the fishing. Bruce had no luck last November, but neither did anybody else, due to the red tide and sudden drop in water temperature.

We thought Bruce would have much better luck this time around. Considering his success fishing from his kayak in San Diego Bay (I witnessed him catching a bass on several casts in a row and 5-10 fish in a typical hour on the water.) and at Lighthouse Lakes, in Texas, it seemed like a no-brainer to catch fish here. He did his research and had the right tackle. But, once again, it has been tough. And, once again, we haven’t seen anybody else catching much of anything either. BUT, he did catch this pompano, yesterday.


That was one full day! It began with a fast-paced 40 minute open water swim, followed by a pool training session; a total of 5,000 yards between the two. I capped that off with a PT session in the gym.

After brunch back at the cottage, we packed up for our afternoon kayak fishing trip on Tarpon Bay. The winds had kicked up to 11mph, so we had a rough paddle against the current to a protected area where Bruce caught his pompano. But, it was a fun couple of hours out on the water, before riding the current back to our launch site. And, at that point, we declared the day DONE. It was time to head back, clean up, and relax over dinner- and, dessert.

After dinner, we were strolling by shop windows and noticed a group of guys sitting around in a circle playing guitars and one playing a drum. They were in the Sanibel Café, a breakfast and lunch café that had closed hours ago. When we did a double-take, the owner invited us in and offered us a beer on the house. I mentioned that Bruce played harmonica, but had not brought any with him. The next thing we knew, one of the guys went out to his car to get his harmonica and Bruce joined in on a loosely organized jam session that meets on Monday nights at the café. Bruce blew them away (no pun intended) and it was a fun way to finish off an action-packed day!

Some Sanibel Scoop

We didn’t know Sanibel Island even existed until our friends, Becky and Paul told us about their vacations to Captiva Island, Florida, located just past Sanibel Island.  They couldn’t say enough great things about it though, which explains their once or twice per year annual visits.  So, we were convinced we just had to see it for ourselves.

Sanibel Island measures roughly 12 miles long and five miles across at its widest point.  Captiva Island is smaller at less than 5 miles long and a 1/2-mile wide.  Both are accessible from Fort Myers by the Sanibel Causeway Bridge.  At a bridge toll of $6 and steep beach parking fees, they are not frequented by Floridians as often as other destinations- just the way the locals like it.  So, it is not as touristy here like, say, Daytona Beach or Orlando.  Rather, the vibe is low key and relaxing.  This is where we are staying: ; a very low key place in a great location near the beach.

There are so many reasons to visit Sanibel Island; especially if you are a beachcomber.  Sanibel Island ranks number one on the continent for shelling and we could see why!  We literally saw piles of shells as we walked along the beach at sunset, on the evening of our arrival.  Due to its east-west torque of Sanibel’s south end, it acts as a ladle, scooping up all the shells that the Gulf imports from the Caribbean and other southern seas.  The abundance and variety of shells draws serious shellers from all over the world.





 Birders are also drawn to Sanibel, because of the abundance and variety of gorgeous birds that wade in marshes and cruise the shorelines.  In our first day alone, we saw everything from two varieties of each of pelicans, herons, and egrets, to ospreys and the bright pink Roseate Spoonbill.  And, on the beach, there were dozens of willets, plovers and sandpipers.





Even if you ignore the shells and birds, the beaches here are gorgeous!  And, that’s before I even get into what is beyond the shore.  Last evening, we saw our first bottlenosed dolphins frolicking about just 50 yards out.  From what we hear, there will be plenty more of them to see.  But, we really hope to see manatees, too, known to frequent this area.


There is also the 6,400 acres of J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, the natural showpiece of Sanibel Island.  After my swim at the Sanibel Recreation Center (a wonderful facility!), we visited the refuge today.  We took a guided tram ride and thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of the area and the wildlife we saw, including a variety of birds and even an alligator catching some rays in the shallow water right near the road.


Tomorrow, we will get our kayaks out on the water, so Bruce can fish for Redfish, Speckled Trout, Tripletail, Snapper, Cobia, and/or Snook.  He plans to mostly catch and release, but I’ll try to snap a photo or two first.

Our first impression of Sanibel?  We’re hooked (no pun intended)!