As boaters approach Useppa Island on Florida's southwest coast they may hear a warning from a loudspeaker, "This is a private, members-only club!" If you want exclusivity in a vacation, the Useppa Island Club is your place. Whether you want to come for lunch or an overnight stay, or perhaps buy a vacation house on this special little island along Florida's Intracoastal Waterway, you must find a member to sponsor you. A fifteen-minute boat ride from Boca Grande on Pine Island Sound, Useppa has a 10,000-year history that begins with the ancient Calusa civilization. Its shores have seen the occupation by Cuban fishermen in the 1800's and it was one of the favorite haunts of turn-of-the-century Chicago and New York robber barons. The island eventually became a base for the U.S. government during the Bay of Pigs invasion in the 1960's.
Today it is a beautiful 100-acre enclave of privacy that can still only be reached by boat. The island features a lovely restored inn, 116 private homes with Lilliputian garages (holding golf carts rather than cars since there are no roads), and a tradition of Florida fishing that bring anglers from around the world. Virtually every room at the inn displays a mounted catch of enormous proportions. In 1908 advertising entrepreneur, Barron Collier founded the Isaak Walton Club on the island, dedicating it to the 17th century author of The Compleat Angler. Walton Club member Edwin Vom Hofe invented the first Star Drag fishing reel, which is still used today, and old photographs crowd the walls, recanting its history and depicting members with catch larger than themselves.