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June 09, 2009

The Florida Keys: Then and Now

The face of paradise is changing, but fishing still excels

Keys Pioneers
Many anglers were lucky enough to fish during the frontier days of the Florida Keys when the emerald waters teemed with unbelievable numbers of fish. Some just fished for fun, but a handful of serious anglers used the opportunity to experiment and develop new techniques and equipment. They made great contributions to the future of recreational fishing and the tackle we use today, and went on to become legendary.

* In 1929, on the docks of Key West, Ernest Hemingway first learned about saltwater fishing, and it inspired him to write The Old Man and The Sea, a literary masterpiece that won a Nobel Prize. The Hemingway name is synonymous with Key West and Sloppy Joe's bar.

* Author Zane Grey loved the Florida Keys so much that he focused on tarpon and bonefish as far back as 1910 on Long Key in Lower Matecumbe. Grey, who also caught snook before any other outdoor writer discovered them, was the first to catch a 1,000-pound fish on rod and reel.

* Jimmie Albright first tied his now-famous Albright knot in the Keys.  Albright solved the problem of joining lines of different diameters, and the Albright knot secured his place in the history of fishing. Albright had a fishing buddy who also became a Keys legend. But he got his start in another sport - baseball. His name was Ted Williams, and he claimed that "? releasing a fish is the greatest thrill I get from fishing." In retirement, Williams devoted himself to fly-fishing for tarpon in the Keys.

* Stu Apte started fly-fishing in the Keys in the 1940s. His experiences led to major improvements in fly tackle, and he set fly-fishing records too numerous to list here. The Stu Apte Improved Blood Knot is a standard among fly-fishermen. Apte, a member of the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame, also tied a tarpon fly that was featured on a U.S. postage stamp. Today, Apte continues to fish and live in the Keys. He has just released his memoirs, Of Wind and Tides (www.stuapte.net).

* Joe Brooks pioneered saltwater fly-fishing and made the first documented permit catch on a fly in the Keys back in the 1950s. He became Outdoor Life's fishing editor in 1951, a position he held until his death in 1972.  Brooks was part of the Keys clan and frequently fished with Apte and Albright.