This is my story of shelling on Sanibel Island. I’d always wanted to go shelling on Sanibel with my Mom. Unfortunately she passed away before we had the chance. My husband suggested we go to Sanibel where I could shell and he and I could fish. We packed the RV and set off from Southern California. Our 2021 trip was in March and our 2022 trip was in April. Both times we stayed at Periwinkle RV Park on Sanibel Island.
I had done my research. I read so many blog posts it was crazy. I found out which beaches were best to shell. We booked a fishing guide for a Thursday and Friday. We were to fish on Thursday and Shell on Friday. I’d watched a You Tube video of shelling on Cayo Costa. The only way to the island is by ferry or private boat. Our fishing guide said it was too windy to get onto the island on Friday. I was very disappointed but we had a fun day of fishing. I then planned to shell on Saturday. Not the best day as weekends mean more people. I planned to shell on either Turner or Blind Pass Beach.
We headed out at 0’dark thirty and had no trouble parking at Turner Beach. There were already people out in the water at Blind Pass. Walking out from the parking lot at Turner beach, you have beach to the right going North or Jetty Rocks to the left. There was a small sandy area by the Rocks. I thought I would head north walking the beach. I wasn’t seeing anything so I headed back and my husband told me a few people were working the water next to the rocks. I headed that way and made my way down the rocks to the little sandy beach.
#1 mistake – I did not wear “water shoes”. I wore water shoes but they were my Keens and had openings all around. Ugg. Sand and little rocks loved those small openings.
I wore my bathing suit, shorts and took a nylon bag. I had decided not to buy a scoop. I walked out into the water and looked down. I would see an orange shell and would reach down and get it. Most times I would come up with a piece of a shell. I’d throw it back in. But .. I would pick those up over and over so I started keeping them.
One time I squatted down reaching for a shell and my face was half way in the water! I should have bought a scoop. And .. if you do buy a scoop, buy a large one, not the little ones. I bought one of those the next year and immediately regretted wasting the money. My guide in 2022 said people use them as canes more than scoops!
I looked down in the water and saw a shell. I squatted down, grabbed it and came up with my first whelk! I was beyond excited. I called over to my husband and he came to see. I look back at that first whelk and laugh because my shelling experience in 2022 was 100% different and I came home with so many whelks – story below.
Before I arrived at Sanibel Island, I wondered what the beach would look like. Would there be shells? How many? Big ones? Would I be lucky and find a big shell?
Here is what the beach looked like. There are also shells throughout the sand.
Since we stayed at the Periwinkle RV Park, we just rode our bikes down Nerita Street to the beach. I never found a large shell at that beach. There was a guy who snorkled out a ways and he gave me a few shells. You have to get out deeper to find them.
We rode our bikes around the island one day and went out onto Tarpon Beach. Walking down the beach I found a small whelk and other pretty shells.
Here is what I found that first trip –
Are you ready for 2022??!! Let me tell you it is WAY different than 2021.
First .. I knew I wanted to go on a shelling excursion down to Kice Island. Kice is right below Marco Island in the Ten Thousand Island area.
I booked my excursion with Reel Kind out of Goodland (just below Marco Island). I researched many guiding options and I hoped I had booked with a good company. I booked a private 6 hour Shelling Charter. Was it expensive? Yes. It was $950 (plus tip). But … a fishing charter is about the same, so I didn’t feel too bad about spending that much money going shelling. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. We headed out at 2pm. We came up to Kice Island on the north end. I saw another boat was already beached and saw someone looking for shells. I was so nervous I wouldn’t find shells.
When we beach landed the boat I thought I would be shelling at that end. My guide said no … you will be walking around to the front of the island and searching by the mangrove trees, in front of them, behind them, on the beach .. everywhere.
I was all by myself. It was on April 27th, 2022 – a Wednesday.
I FOUND SO MANY SHELLS!!!!
My tools –
A large mesh bag – MUST HAVE
A garden claw – MUST HAVE
Tupperware container for delicate shells – MUST HAVE
Two extra nylon bags – Came in very handy!!
If you want to buy a Scoop visit the tackle shop on Sanibel – Whitney’s Bait & Tackle
I worked that area for quite a long time. (spot #1 on the map below) I just kept walking and searching. My guide would check on the boat and would come back and check on me. He would bring me special shells he found. He was very knowledgeable and a great guide.
He came over and said we were going to move to check out another area. I was so hesitant to leave my honey hole, but off we went.
My husband shore fished while I shelled. He caught 3-5 fish and had a great time.
We moved over to spot #2 on the map. I found some shells, but nothing to write home about. The guide and I thought I had found a Junonia shell… but it was just pieces. Darn!
I walked knee deep in the water looking for a large shell, but the waves made it hard to see. My guide told me we would now move to spot #3 on the map. A few other guides were over in that area and having good luck.
We took the boat around to the other side of the island, Dickmans Island / Dickmans Point. We pulled up and beached the boat next to two other boats. I jumped out with my bag, claw and Tupperware container. I knew other people had already searched this area but there were shells everywhere. Not all of them were perfect, but I like the imperfect ones too.
Now .. I wish I had pictures for you but I don’t. I will tell you what I did next.
There was a “step down” into the water next to the beach. The shells had “piled up” against this “wall”. I worked that area with my claw digging at the side and uncovering SO MANY SHELLS!!! It was really quite crazy! And actually, when I was working that little strip by Turners Beach on my first trip to Sanibel, I did the same thing and found a lot of shells. I didn’t have a claw that time so my fingernails took a beating!
In the 6 hours of the tour, I never stopped for lunch or a break. I just wanted to find as many shells as I could!
I have to tell you that the night before this excursion, I didn’t sleep that well. I kept thinking about the shelling. Would there be shells? Would there be a lot of people? Would there be shells? Repeat …..
After we got back to the dock and we got into the car headed back to Sanibel, I let out a bit WHOOP WHOOP!!!!! What a GREAT day!!
Ready to see what I found?
Our camping table became the shell sorting table!
Back to Sanibel Shelling. I want to share another spot I shelled – Bowman’s Beach. I dropped my husband off to play golf and I headed to Bowman’s Beach. It was around 9:30 am. It’s a little walk to the beach from the parking lot but well worth it. I came prepared with water shoes, a nylon bag, water, hat, bathing suit and shorts.
I walked north on the beach. There were a lot of shells and walking down in the water I found a lot of olives. There were a lot of other people shelling and some with scoops. There were some shellers already walking from the north with bags of shells. I missed those early hours to shell. But .. that’s okay. I decided to make it a scallop shell day.
I just walked the beach, in the water, in the shells, in between. At times I would just go sit in a piles of shells and look through them. You never know what you will find. I kept walking up the beach and I looked down and there were two whelks sitting there. I was so surprised!!!! I thought of my parents in heaven watching over me and bringing me two perfect whelks!
If I went back to Sanibel a third time, where would I shell? Not on Sanibel. It’s over shelled. People are in the water at Blind Pass in the dark, head lamps on, searching. I’m not sure I’m up for that. If you are, just get out there really early!
I followed so many people on Instagram who shelled on Sanibel Island before our trip and I saw them find so many great shells. Maybe I just did it wrong. Maybe I should have shelled Blind Pass in the dark of the morning. I would have definitely needed a scoop! Or, if you have more time on the island, find the other beaches and see what’s there. I live by the beach in Southern California, so I know that what you find on the beach differs from one day to the next. It depends on the tides, on storms, on full moons.
I’m very happy with my shelling on Sanibel and the other islands. You never know maybe I will be back one more time to find the elusive Junonia Shell!
When preparing for your trip: What time is high tide and low tide? What are the moon phases? The ideal time to shell is during low tide and a new or full moon. Optimal would be after a storm .. but that’s hard to plan for when you’re visiting from out of state.
Was it buggy? Not too bad. Just wear long pants or bug spray if you’re out in the early morning or afternoon – evening. Our 2022 trip was later in the year than the 2021. We got afternoon rain storms almost everyday.
Please let me know if you have any questions about my trip and shelling. Thanks for reading!