Southwest Florida shelling trip, June 2020
I am in LOVE with Southwest Florda! The shelling there is the best I’ve ever seen. Here are some not-so-quick details.
Where: Marco Island and Kice Island, which are right next to each other. They are an hour south of Ft Meyers.
How did we get there: We flew into Ft Meyers (RSW) on a 300$ round-trip Delta flight. We rented a car to get to Marco Island.
When: This time, we went in June. June is considered their “off-season”. Can you believe that? It’s summer for crying out loud! June in Gulf Shores means you can’t stir those fools with a stick. During the week, there were so few cars, I actually wondered if they were conducting some sort of nuclear experiment and everyone was supposed to evacuate, but we didn’t get the message. We had no issue renting a kayak, scheduling a boat shuttle to KIce island, etc. during the week. The weekend was just a little bit crowded, but NOT bad at all. We never had to wait at a restaurant to be seated, even at peak times. Our December/January trip was definitely more crowded.
Why Marco Island? Marco Island is as close as I could stay to the 10,000 Island Wildlife Sanctuary (where all the shells live), and I wanted to get up early and head out. We stayed in Ft Meyers the last time we visited, but Marco Island is way better! The beaches are beautiful, flat and they really take care to make sure the beach is pitch black at night during sea turtle nesting season which is May-October I think. But look that up for yourself, because if I discover I’m wrong about sea turtle nesting season, I’m not coming back to correct this. I
Many of the high rise condos have drapes that cover each beach-side balcony at night, to keep the light in. You aren’t even supposed to carry a flashlight onto the beach and the city regularly fines condo associations for light violations. It’s really cool to sit on a very dark beach and see the stars!
It is SO clean. I don’t know who picks up the litter, but there isn’t any. Same for Kice Island, which is one of the 10,000 Islands.
Where to stay: I’ll be the first to tell you that I didn’t do an extensive search and call every place on the island, but I love the JW Marriott, but when I checked rates, it was almost 800$ a night. We couldn’t find a reasonably priced spot on the beach, so we chose an adorable VRBO on Collier Street, just across the street. We loved it! After taxes and cleaning fee, it came out to just under 187$ a night. It’s small, with 1 double bed and couch that doesn’t pull out. That was the least expensive option we found, albeit, I probably only spent about an hour searching.
Where to go shelling: When we arrived on Marco Island, it was 11:30am on a Thursday and we had plenty of daylight left. We walked all the way down the public beach to Tigertail Beach. Both beaches are very shallow for a long way out, and you can wade around and pick up shells for days. They are also washed up all over the place. I found some great shells right on the public beach, in the middle of the day! There is no need to be an early riser to get the good shells here!
Also KICE Island! This is where it gets really, really good. There are shell piles for DAYS. No matter what time of the year you go, there will be shells, period. You don’t have to fight over them or hurry to beat other people, because there are PILES and PILES. The piles I dug through had been there for a long time because the sun had bleached out the top shells. DIG a little in these piles.
Shelling Tours: When we went in December/January, we payed 75$ per person, (plus tip), and went on a Shelling Tour with Reel Kind. We did this because we didn’t know where all the good places were. We had never heard of Kice Island. Reel Kind goes out every day and they know which islands are producing the most shells during every season. They also emphasize ethical shelling which means you never keep shells with live animals inside. Every company does not do this. They educate you on the different species and show you how to find the good shells. Most importantly, they ran back to the boat to get my water while I continued shelling, lol! It’s the little things. Their shelling tour is worth every penny and it’s a great idea if you’ve never been. Do NOT book one of those 300$ a person tours you see advertised. I can’t believe people pay that much to be taken to the same places. These tours do not necessarily take you to Kice. They get to decide based on which islands they think are producing the most shells at the time.
If you already know you want to go to Kice Island: There are several ways to get there: You can rent a kayak for the day. “For the day” to them means 8:30am or 9:00am-3:30pm. In my opinion, that’s not “all day”. A couple of companies will rent a kayak for 24 hours and they will drop it off at your condo and pick it up the next day. You just have to find a way to get it back to your condo. Gator Boys rented a kayak to us for 24 hours and they charged us 95$ for a tandem kayak. It’s a mile and 3/4 to the North end of Kice Island, plus an additional 2, to the southern tip. It’s a great place to start and it won’t be crowded because there is no “beach” to hang out on. There are dead trees and shell piles on this end of the island. it’s a little over 2 miles to other end of the island where there is a beach, no dead trees and lots of sand dollars and more shells.
Florida Adventures runs a shuttle to Kice Island and Dickman’s point. I’ve been to all 3 and Kice is the best, in my opinion. Way more shells and less people. The shuttle leaves at 8:30am and they come back to get you at 1:45pm. It was 45$ a person for adults, 19$ for kids under 12, and you can book online. They also give you free shelling bags, which are repurposed onion sacks. Ask for 2. 🙂
Pro Tips: Know the tide schedule. The Tides can be determined years in advance, so you can know when high and low tide will be, when you plan your trip. I used this site while I was there. Also, here is a great short video that will teach you the basics of reading a tide chart. READ the tide chart. Low tide is when the water line recedes and all the shells that were under water are now exposed! High Tide is when the water mark is at it’s highest for the day, and you won’t find as many shells during high tide. You will still find shells, especially on Kice, because these piles have probably been there for years. We met a local who said February was an amazing month for shelling and the storms and waves piled the island high with shells during that month.
Go where other people don’t go. When people take the shuttle that lets out on the North end of Kice, they see shells and are overwhelmed! They immediately start shelling-I watched it. They don’t walk a mile down the island before they start shelling. You should walk as far as you can before you start shelling, then make your way back. Okay, fine, I can’t even take my own advice. I was picking up fighting conch shells like a crack head as soon as I stepped off the boat. Those are trash shells here, by the way, so don’t fill your bag with those heavy suckers right off the bat. Not many people on shelling tours are willing to walk over a mille with their coolers, kids and bags. The middle of the island WAS SO GREAT. You could tell it wasn’t frequented. The other shelling tours drop off at the Southern tip of Kice. The beach on that end is so nice. It’s pretty, sandy, and there are shells and sand dollars…no one is leaving that gorgeous beach and walking a mile or more through dead trees to where you will be.
Back to the tide schedule. Right after high tide, the tide starts receding, and every few minutes, more land is exposed. The trees roots and stumps hold some AHmazing shells! Look here!
Low Tide was at 5pm one of the days we were there. This is really pushing it, considering we still had a 45 minute paddle back to the dock once we left and June is the month for afternoon storms. We waited until 5:15pm to leave Kice island. The tide started rising rather quickly, not the gentle rise I had imagined. The waves were washing over the side of the kayak, drenching every inch of our bodies from head to toe, and the size of the waves scared my mom. She wanted to call the Coast Guard, lol! I should have paid more attention to how quickly the tide chart showed the tide rising after 5pm. The good news is: There wasn’t a single soul left at the Marina, so we didn’t have to dodge any boats when we were getting out.
Rainy season: June is the first month of their rainy season, and it is typically the wettest month of the year. Quick showers that dump a lot of rain are not uncommon, although we never saw rain on our trip. Every day we could see rain off in the distance over the ocean, but it never made landfall. It also rained while we slept one night because I saw puddles the next morning.
What to take: Pack carefully. You do a lot of walking while you are shelling. If you want to cover all of Kice, well…it’s going to take more than a day and I don’t care who you are.
Pack a cooler, I packed a few pieces of smoked Gouda, raisins and peanuts, 2 16 ounce bottles of H20, 2, 64 oz frozen Gatorade Zeros in Yellow and Pink…but you do you. It needs to be a cooler you don’t mind carrying for a couple of miles. A cooler with wheels isn’t a good idea because you aren’t rolling anything on that loosely packed sand, piled with shells. Also, the mushy substrate along the water’s edge where the trees and stumps are…just no.
Sunscreen: There isn’t a single stitch of shade on that island unless you are willing to walk into the thick Mangroves. If you do that, be prepared for the biting flies and bugs. The bugs will FIND YOU in the shade. The dead trees next to the water’s edge provide zero shade, because, no leaves or limbs. Like, not even enough for a your face to take a break. I reapplied sunscreen a minimum of 5 times during our 7 hour stint on the island and I still got a little toasted on my back. Pray for cloud coverage.
Sunglasses and a hat: White sand and bleached out shells are hard to look at when it’s bright outside. It’s almost impossible to do without sunglasses especially when you are looking for hours. A hat adds protection and shields the sun more. I find myself not squinting when I am wearing both.
Cover up or towel in case you get burned: Sounds silly, but my mom didn’t apply sunscreen soon enough, and I’m “shellfish” and wasn’t ready to leave yet, so she covered her burned legs with a towel until it was time to go. Once you are on the island…remember no real shade and no quick exit.
Bug Spray: When the clouds rolled in one afternoon it was glorious! I felt a breeze and suddenly I wasn’t sweating to death! But then the bugs. I am not making this up and it happened to me in January and again in June, so I feel like it wasn’t coincidence…I don’t know what genus and species they belong to, but they have wings and a mouth and they aren’t afraid to use either. It wasn’t like an apocalyptic episode or anything, but more than 7 or 8 landed on me, which warrants bug spray in my opinion.
Shoes: The shells are sharp and so are the stumps. The ground isn’t comfortable to walk on barefoot. Don’t wear flip flops. Tevas, Chacos, gold rubber shoes, whatever you want to walk around in.
Gun: Haha! I’m kidding. Don’t bring a gun.
Shelling bags. I packed small mesh bags for my small shells, large mesh bags for larger shells. I even lined my sling with a plastic grocery store bag in case my other bags got full, so I wouldn’t get sand in my purse. And I did end up using my sling as an overflow section, lol!\
Other Cool Things:
Sand Dollars live at the southern end of Kice Island. Be careful to pay attention and leave the light brown, furry sand dollars in the water. Only get the dead ones. There are plenty! They will be washed up and also in the shallow water.
Large Horse Conchs: I walked around the southern tip of Kice Island in knee deep (or less) shallow water, and found HUGE Horse Conchs! They are so cool! I walked barefoot and felt them under my feet. That’s the key to finding the big ones. 🙂
This is already more words than I planned on writing and I am sick of myself. If you want to know where to eat, I can tell you we ate at Cocomos, Pinchers, Speakeasy and Cj’s on the Bay. That last place was our favorite, but they are all good! I could have eaten there more than once, easily. Speakeasy had karaoke, and by the time we left, I felt like I should have paid admission. Tigertail Beach is great. It has trails, a swampy looking bay with a cool land bridge to walk across-see my highlights on instagram for more pics and videos!
The above pic is the route we took from Caxambas Marina on Marco Island. Below is the route we took back. We should have gone back the way we came. We wouldn’t have been rocked by waves had we stayed on the right of Dickman’s Island (bay side) going back. Also, there are two tiny islands not shown on this map, that are between Dickman’s and the Marina.