Key spot on the Little Manatee

Pirate’s Point Resort in Ruskin now boasts a giant swimming pool where an auto-repair garage once stood.

By FRANK SARGEANT | Tribune correspondent
Published: March 21, 2010

Ruskin always has been a bit rough around the edges, and those of us who have lived there liked it that way. But there was always the sense that it could have been a different kind of place, a rustic, artsy, laid-back Florida Keys kind of place – except with cows and tomato plants.

Jonathan Shute saw the same potential, and four years ago he decided to do something about it.

Shute bought a rundown fish camp on the shores of the Little Manatee River and began turning it into a resort. Now, some 1,200 days later, he and his crews are still hammering and dry-walling. Eleven of the units have been refurbished, while three lack windows, doors, plumbing and electrical wiring.

Shute, who has experience in operating larger beach-side hotels, said he liked the unique potential of what has become known as Pirate’s Pointe Resort.

“It’s sort of the last true Florida fish camp, but at the same time we’ve tried to make it upscale enough that it’s an attractive place for the wife and kids,” he said.

The centerpiece of the 2-acre grounds is a $250,000 swimming pool, cabana and clubhouse.

“When we came here, there was a shade-tree garage in that spot, with a half-dozen cars that wouldn’t run and engine parts scattered all over the place,” he said. “The change is pretty dramatic.”

Shute is a Jimmy Buffett sort of guy who likes nothing better at the end of his long workdays than to sit beside a campfire next to the river, have a few drinks with friends and share fishing stories.

“I started out my working life as a chef in New Orleans and ran several restaurants over the years,” he said, “but what I really like is what I’m doing here, figuring out how to turn a place into somewhere that people will want to be.”

The cottages each have a private patio and a fish theme, and the entire grounds are lush with tropical vegetation, including huge royal palms and flowering plants, some set in the shade of the giant oak trees that were native to the site.

Though Shute markets the place as a family resort, he makes it especially attractive to anglers by offering the loan of canoes and kayaks as part of the rental package.

He currently is working up a time-share offering, which he said will include outboard-powered bay and flats fishing boats.

“We’re aiming to set up a program where a fisherman could fly into Tampa International, be picked up by our car and be on the water fishing out of the boat we provide the same morning,” Shute said. “There are companies that provide rental boats, but we think we’re the only resort in the area that offers the boat as part of the package for people that want to become part of the time-share program.”

The cottages sit about 2 miles from the open bay on the north arm of the Little Manatee, sometimes known as Ruskin Inlet.

“We just happen to sit on one of the best stretches of any river in the state for baby tarpon,” Shute said. “And there are still plenty of snook in the river, too, despite the freeze.”

He said sheepshead fishing is good within canoeing distance of the resort throughout the cooler months. And because the numerous area islands are designated wildlife refuges, those who simply want to go bird-watching by kayak also have plenty of opportunities.

AT A GLANCE

WHAT: Pirate’s Pointe Resort

WHERE: 1800 Kofresi Court, Ruskin

MORE INFO: (813) 641-2052, www.piratespointeresort.com