Captain Samantha Zeher Champions Free-Spirited Island Living

Captain Samantha Zeher Champions Free-Spirited Island Living

By Laura Myers

Captain Samantha Zeher, 29, owns KeyZ Charters and works out of Islamorada’s popular Robbie’s Marina as its only woman charterboat operator. She’s also been the captain of her own fate — earning her license at just 18 while still a college freshman.

Zeher offers sightseeing charters that include snorkeling and sunset cruises, paddleboard, eco-tours and Everglades excursions. Among her other offerings are island trips exploring Indian Key, Lignumvitae Key and Alligator Lighthouse, each with a history dating back to the 1800s.

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Tarpon feeding by hand in the Florida Keys

Tarpon feeding by hand in the Florida Keys

Just under the surface of the waters off Islamorada awaits a hungry beast.

“You don’t use a pole or a hook for this,” explains fourth-grader Ava Stamper.

Rather, you use your hands.

“Down, down, down…” shouts father Dave Bull, from England, as he encourages his son to get close.

“Just do it,” Bull adds, as his son leaps and swears while our camera rolls.

“Don’t swear. You’re on the telly,” Bull tells his son, laughing.

Yes, yes you are. Just off the Overseas Highway in Islamorada is a natural phenomenon of sorts. For decades, tourists from around the world have visited Robbie’s Marina in the Florida Keys to feed tarpon by hand.

“It’s the only way to feed them,” Bull says. “You got to do it and touch — if you’re brave enough.”

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The tarpon are hungry at Robbie’s in the Florida Keys

The tarpon are hungry at Robbie’s in the Florida Keys

Just off U.S. Highway 1 at the north tip of Lower Matecumbe Key in Islamorada is a little gem called Robbie’s.

This popular tourist pit stop has fishing, snorkeling, shopping and dining options, but the main attraction is feeding the tarpon.

A dollar gets you to the dock, and $3 gets you a bucket of fish to feed the giant fish, which can weigh more than 100 pounds and often linger around the docks all day waiting to be fed by generous visitors.

All you have to do is hold one of the baitfish a couple of feet above the water, and the tarpon will do the rest, jumping up to grab the snack out of your hand.

The Hungry Tarpon, an on-site restaurant and bar, serves up bar food and fresh seafood. It will even cook up your fresh catch of the day.

A variety of shops and booths are also on property.

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Florida Keys in 5…

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, 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, 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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Your Florida Keys Vacation Guide

Your Florida Keys Vacation Guide

One island is named No Name. A huge tethered balloon named Fat Albert keeps watch over the islands from two miles up. On the ground below, there’s a tower built for the sole purpose of attracting bats, as well as a graveyard with such irreverent epitaphs as “I told you I was sick,” and a colony of rare Key deer – the adults just thigh-high, antlers and all.

The Florida Keys exude a funky aura, but they’re also well loved by visitors, especially in winter, when sun and sea there are warmer than anywhere else in the continental United States.

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