By Chelle Koster Walton Published December 17, 2009 Fox News
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Watch dolphins dance! See grown deer the size of golden retrievers! Be amazed by fire swallowers and escape artists! Come one, come all to one of America’s most scenic drives: the Overseas Highway (U.S. 1) threading through 106 miles of the Florida Keys, weaving together a series of classic, natural, and funky wonders that make the Keys its own state …of mind, anyway.
The highway’s attractions often have formal addresses but are better known – and found – by their mile marker (MM) numbers that sometimes offer additional designations for the Ocean Side (OS) and Bay Side (BS) of the highway.
5… Dive, channel Bogey in Key Largo (Mile Marker 106)
As classic as Bogey and Bacall, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (102601 Overseas Hwy. [MM 102.5 OS], 305/451–1202, $4.50, www.pennekamppark.com) epitomizes one of the Keys’ finest assets: the best and most extensive living coral reef in the country. Besides the Christ of the Deep statue – a submerged, two-ton statue of Jesus Christ – underwater sightseers can explore 40 species of coral and a rainbow of sea creatures in more than 500 varieties. The park runs scuba diving, snorkeling, and glass-bottom boat tours to the reef. Or you can snorkel off the main beach, where you can also peer into its visitors’ center’s aquariums. Rangers at the center explain how they are re-growing damaged coral.
In Key Largo, any number of outfitters can take you snorkeling, diving, fishing, or simply joy-riding. Grab a glimpse of the African Queen, the original boat used in the eponymous film, on display at Holiday Inn Docks (MM 100), then grab a cold one at the Caribbean Club (MM 104 BS, 305/451–4466), where scenes from Bogey and Bacall’s “Key Largo” were shot. Get a true taste of Keys seafood and spirit at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen (99336 Overseas Hwy. [MM 99.4 BS], 305/451–3722). Ask about the hogfish special du jour.
4… Meet the dolphins, eat the snapper in Islamorada (Mile Marker 90)
The second oldest marine mammal facility of its kind, Theater of the Sea (84721 Overseas Hwy. [MM 84.5 OS], 305/664–2431, $25.95 for animal shows, www.theaterofthesea.com) has been using dolphins to draw tourists to Islamorada since 1946. The dolphin, sea lion, and parrot shows, along with a bottomless boat ride, continue to delight visitors. For various fees the theater also lets you touch or swim with dolphins, sea lions, and sting rays.
Not to be crass, but while watching sea creatures is fun in Islamorada, catching and eating fish are what put Islamorada on the map – it’s the sport fishing capital of the world. At Robbie’s Marina (77522 Overseas Hwy[MM 77.5 BS], 305/664–9814 or 877/664–8498) you can feed giant tarpon or catch a fishing charter. And naturally, fish figure big time on local menus. Morada Bay Beach Café (81600 Overseas Hwy. [MM 81 BS], 305/664–0604) cooks ’em up fresh and serves them right on the beach. The chef does a worthy coconut crust for the yellowtail snapper, the local delicacy. And if memories of your fish encounters won’t suffice, art galleries such as Redbone Gallery (200 Industrial Dr. [MM 81.5 OS], 305/664–2002) specialize in sport fishing art.
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Walking down the long dock filled with fishing boats of all shapes and sizes, looking in the crystal blue waters of Islamorada. Seeing Tarpon and a baby Nurse Shark swim along scavenging for a discarded fish carcasses, towards the 65 foot fishing boat named “The Capt. Michael”. As I walk closer to the boat, you really see how big the boat is. You see the cabin, which is completely enclosed with five or so windows on each side and two doors left open. As I board the boat, I meet the mates and find a spot to sit and get comfortable as we prepare to disembark. The mates get us all on one side of the boat so that they can count us and so the Captain can speak to us about the boat very briefly and give us safety information. At the end of the meeting we spread out. You hear the Captain yell from up in the wheelhouse, “Let’s go”. We watch the mates untie the thick dock lines, the mate in the back of the boat yells, “First!”. Then again yelling, “Second!”. Both mates in cadence yell, “All Clear!”. Now we are on our way. One mates kindly ask, “If you’ve never been on the boat before; please meet me in the front of the boat.”. As I make my way up to the front of the boat I feel the warm, crisp ocean breeze hit my sunscreen covered face and excitement fills my body as I anticipate the fun I’m about to experience. I listen to the mate go over how to use the fishing rods, basic boat information, and poisonous fish that we may encounter. As we make our way under the bridge we head back to the back of the boat and collect the fishing rods. I go over to a spot that I felt would suffice for 4 hours of fishing and tie up my fishing rod to the rail with the rope they have available. As we get out of the channel I see how clear the water is and I can see the dark coral heads in the shallow waters. We take a short ride out and the boat slows down and makes a large circle around the spot, probably to chum up the water. You can hear the loud clinking of the anchor chain dropping into the water for a brief minute and then it dies out. When the engines shut off I dropped my squid covered hooks and instantly feel nibbles on the line. I reel up the rod calling to one of the mates. He comes over and congratulates me on my catch, a beautiful baby Red Grouper. We released him and a couple other smaller fish at that spot. I was so pleased with the fish I did end up keeping, a couple grunts and a couple mangrove snapper. We moved to a couple other spots and did very well at all of them. A young boy on the other side of the boat caught a small shark that the mates brought around the boat to show us. When the mates gave us our 15 minute warning I felt nostalgic knowing my trip would soon be over. I hear the engines start up and reel up my rod and tie it up to the rail and make my way upstairs for a scenic ride home. As we made our way back into the channel we see a group of Dolphin swim along side of the boat. When we tie back up to the dock, I tip my mates and walked to the end of the dock where we waited to board and receive my fish. The mates generously filleted my fish and bagged them for me and gave me recommendations on where to get it cooked locally. As I make my way over the bridge I glance over at the boat and know I’ll be back again.
With fall in the air, it’s time for the mullet migration. They are here in force. Large
school’s of mullet have made their way into Florida bay and surrounding keys waters.
Following them are the usual suspects! Tarpon, snook,spinner sharks, jacks to name a
few. The action has been red hot! The fall also opens the door to some fantastic
migratory species, including my favorite, the cobia! They will be on the markers on the
edge of the bay. These big brutish fish fight hard are great eating. The Spanish
mackerel have also showed and will reside all winter. Chuming in the gulf for these
fighters can be exciting! T hg e bite gets hectic, for those who like non stop action!
Mixed in with these fish are lady fish,bluefish and sea trout. Large spinner shark feed
on these schools of fish. Spinner sharks are top notch game an inshore version of the
mako! In the creeks and around the cape, large redfish and black drum are here both
can be found in the large size , I catch them up to 40 pounds in the winter! Triple tail
will be on the car b bouts, they are great eating and hard fighting on light tackle! So
book a trip it’s a great time of year!
Party boat fishing in the winter has the advantage of cooler water. This means an
influx of migratory fish like King Mackerel, sailfish and cobia. The cold front ”s that
push through also stir the waters making it easier to fool the sharp eye sight of the
various snapper we target. Although the winds can be strong we can fish close to shore
over patch reefs and stay in calmer waters and the mutton snapper fishing can be
Dolphin fishing is starting to finally pick up. Amber jacks and almaco jacks are biting great. As are yellowtails and mangrove snappers. Tarpon bite is slowish but on a four hour trip catching one is a good bet. Groupers are biting as good as you can expect… If you get a couple keepers in 2-3 hours of fishing you are doing pretty good. The mutton snappers are stacked up on the wrecks from 120-210.
Capt. Brian McCadie
This week we had several good catches for Snapper in different depths. While the patches were good early in the day, the reef was good later on with both yielding lots of keeper Yellowtails. Several trips limited out on fish including some big Mutton Snapper.
Night time trips for flag Yellowtails have been excellent and conditions have been good with winds S-SE aver as ging 10 knots.
Many of the offshore boats have been bringing in some slammer Dolphin and Blackfin Tuna are on the humps as well.
The weather looks good for this next week and Grouper season is here on Sunday!
Spring is in the air and thoughts of offshore fishing for Mahi and wahoo are on everyone’s brain. However it’s not time just yet, we still get to enjoy the inside reef and wrecks for another month. However we will start to see a few more of those species showing up, some early arrivals! The spring brings a strong yellowtail snapper bite at night because they start to spawn. Other fish that will be spawning are amberjack and Permit. These giants will show up on our deeper wrecks and on our humps offshore. Some of those spots will also get some giant sharks on them which are good for the extreme fight that they give to the adrenaline junkie. Along with the new activities that we are getting into we start to see a real good king mackerel and sailfish bite, and Cobia migration back on near shore up on the reeftop. We have been fishing for these species all winter but now we will see a bigger population on the last push of the year through town. We will start to venture offshore and do some deep dropping for snowy grouper, porgies, and tilefish in the 450 foot range and deeper. This gets us off shore where we can scout out the mahi fishing. And finally in our channels and bridges we will start to target giant silver kings otherwise known as Tarpon. As you can see spring time just like all year around in the Keys is loaded with options; that’s what makes us the fishing capital of the world. There are so many different options and species to target and take home for dinner. On the Blue Heaven we are ready for anything and are looking forward to meeting you soon and enjoying a day out on the deep blue or on the back country!