In our guide, you’ll find the Islamorada hotels and lodges to stay at; notable restaurants, bars and attractions; and a look into the tarpon fishing.
Christopher Balogh (Story, Photos and Video)
May 6, 2015
Time stops in Islamorada, Florida. It must be the still oceans on both sides of the highway, giving the effect that the world has taken a break. Hitting U.S. 1 and seeing the mile markers drop makes you feel like the United States rests in the rearview mirror and a faraway island lies up ahead. Get to this location however you can. It’s one for the history books — the personal one and IGFA’s. Islamorada is chock-full of local flavor, even to a tourist. In our guide, you’ll find the Islamorada hotels and lodges to stay at; notable restaurants, bars and attractions; and a look into the tarpon fishing.
**Robbie’s Marina **is one of those places that nearly becomes lore; one must go once told about it. For a couple bucks, the whole family can enjoy hand-feeding the resident tarpon that swim under the docks. Stop at the Hungry Tarpon restaurantfor a quick mahimahi sandwich ($12.95) with a _side _of Bloody Mary. Of course, this is usually a drink, but not the way Robbie’s does it. Dubbed the Trailer Trash Bloody Mary ($14.00), it’s an alcoholic concoction with house infused cucumber vodka, blue-cheese-stuffed olives, bacon, celery, lemon, lime, a shrimp and a meat straw (think a thick Slim Jim).
Aftermath of Robbie’s Tarpon Feeding
Don’t forget on the way into the tarpon docks to check out the wall decorated in fallen items. You name it, they got it. Sunglasses, watches, cameras, hats — this is a bit of a warning to those that enter. Keep all items that you don’t want in the drink far away during tarpon snack time. Stick around the docks for a decent amount of time, and you’ll spot one of those nudniks using his entire arm when truly hand-feeding the tarpon.
World Wide Sportsman
**World Wide Sportsman **is an angler’s shopping mall under one roof. Within the store sits a replica of Ernest Hemingway’s Pilar. Make sure to board the boat to get an inside look at the living quarters and transom. Walk upstairs to the Zane Grey Lounge to kick back with a cocktail. On the bottom level, enjoy the sights of the Everglades aquarium, stocked with tarpon, redfish, bonefish and snook. And if you’re hungry, head next door to Islamorada Fish Company Restaurant.
Islamorada Beer Company
Of course, beer — a must on any Florida Keys vacation. But when landing in Islamorada, stop at the Islamorada Beer Company, a small, charming brewery that welcomes all to taste their freshly brewed craft beers. Enjoy a flight of four of their finest beers: a citrus pale ale, a wheat ale, an IPA and a wheat citrus pale ale. Sit at the bar and see the tanks in action as you take a sip of their final product: a great beer.
Bud N’ Mary’s Fishing Marina
Bud N’ Mary’s Fishing Marina brings more to the table than the usual docks and services. It’s packed with history. Over 70 years of legendary fishing captains and guides rose through the ranks at Bud N’ Mary’s. When walking through the marina, it feels historically preserved; it says to visitors that this is our family history, and we know where we come from — the sport-fishing capital of the world. The familial feeling most likely stems from the Stanczyk family, who owns and operates the historic marina. It’s the oldest and largest fishing fleet of the entire Florida Keys fishing arena. Even though the marina has been around for seven decades, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any young-blooded guides. SF went out with 22-year-old Capt. Michale Venezia to hit up the tarpon swarm of the spring. His knowledge is like a veteran guide’s mixed with a fresh and fast perspective on the sport — and one that doesn’t disappoint.
Capt. Venezia of **Boned Up Charters **recently celebrated his one-year anniversary as a professional guide. He hails from Fort Lauderdale, but permanently moved to Islamorada after high school. His charter service works the Florida Keys backcountry, Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. He brings the fun to Bud N’ Mary’s docks with the only pink boat in the lineup. It’s a mint-condition, 18.8-foot, 1988 Action Craft skiff. Capt. Venezia painted it pink for the memorability of it, which works even from shore. Even though Capt. Venezia guides after a gang of species, from redfish to snook, we were after tarpon — the crowd-pleaser of these waters. Islamorada’s tarpon offer that chance to write a check mark on your fishing bucket list. “We are at a central advantage point at the southern tip of Florida,” says Capt. Venezia. “These tarpon travel down both Florida coasts, making this a natural highway. Whether you’re fly-fishing or using live bait, Islamorada is the place to come get your tarpon of a lifetime.” See the video of the outing here.
One of the best things about fishing Islamorada: One doesn’t have to go far. We ventured under the overpass through Indian Key Channel, which is a hotbed for tarpon. “To find tarpon, just find where the currents are constantly moving, and tarpon will be there,” says Capt. Venezia. “Islamorada is better than most fishing destinations because we have access to three conjoining bodies of water: the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Florida Bay.”
That Tarpon Thrash
There’s nothing like seeing a tarpon come down on a bait — in this case, live silver mullet. The thrash that’s unforgiving, completely a hunter with no hidden agenda — the tarpon wants food and it wants it now. Watch for the mullet’s nervous tick of swimming back and forth, any which way but in the silver king’s mouth. Once that mullet takes off like it might be his last time outside a tarpon’s innards, it’s time to get ready for the thrash and bow to the king.
Tackle and Tame
On this outing, Capt. Venezia used the quick-release anchor technique with a bobber, in case the tarpon made a run for it. He used a duo of Penn Spinfisher V6500 reels spooled with 50-pound PowerPro braided line to 80-pound mono** for two dropbacks of live silver mullet tied with an **FG knot connection. When hooked, in most cases, the tarpon will leap. Drop the rod tip to give the line some slack, and bow to the king. Get ready for those acrobatic jumps and thrashes. Taming the silver beast is where all the action comes into play.
Staring Down the Barrel
Now, you know why mullet get nervous.
Capt. Mike Venezia says that in that very same day, he released a couple of 50-pounders and a 100-pounder.
Capt. Mike Venezia releasing the tarpon. Holding on can be half the battle.
There’s that feeling on vacation when you’ve had enough, and it’s time to be home. At the Cheeca Lodge & Spa, you wonder if you can rent a room. Every minute on the grounds of Cheeca is like having someone follow you around with the best recliner in the world — no matter where you go, it’s relaxation to the highest degree. Anything you need is right there. Cheeca pulls out all the stops. A little tip for visiting guests, spring ($39.00) for the resort fee. It’s worth every cent with all the extra activities to enjoy, including some of the following:
Cheeca Lodge & Spa
One of the two beautiful pools at Cheeca
Cheeca Lodge & Spa
Take a stroll around Cheeca and stumble upon the idyllic Spa Island. Keep heading down these paths and you’ll find some hidden spots along the way (one with a hot tub).
Cheeca Lodge & Spa
Visit the classic Chart Room lounge for a cocktail, and watch the sunset from the top level.
Guy Harvery Outpost Islander Resort
**Guy Harvery Outpost Islander Resort **designed in a vintage 1950′s style, but offering all the amenities of a modern getaway The Islander rests on more than 25 oceanfront acre, which includes 114 spacious rooms. It’s a resort that offers choices of how you want to enjoy your stay in Islamorada, from the oceanside resort rooms to the Bayside townhomes. When walking around the premises, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the amazing art of Dr. Guy Harvey.
Guy Harvery Outpost Islander Resort
A pool with an ocean view is hard to beat, except if you have two pools with a beach view. If you are looking for a ton of outdoor activities, the Islander can hook you up on the spot. The list goes on, but here are some that jump out:
At Guy’s Beachside Bar & Grill, sit back for an oceanfront dining experience of a surf-and-turf menu with a view of the Atlantic. And keep a lookout on their ****Facebook** **for upcoming events, like their pig roast and live band performances.
Long Key State Park
Long Key State Park is the closest campsite to Islamorada, about 16 miles south. The state park has swimming, snorkeling, canoeing, and full-facility camping, hiking and wildlife viewing. It includes three nature trails (one by canoe, two on land), picnic areas, and 60 full-facility campsites right on the Atlantic.
Green Turtle Inn Restaurant
**Green Turtle Inn Restaurant**** **transports its diners back to a time when restaurants were more than just food on a plate. It’s a place where you have an “evening” with friends, or a Bogart and Bacall romantic date. Green Turtle is where you stay a while and have more than a supper — you have an experience. The vintage neon sign says it all: classic dining made to last. Start out with the authentic turtle chowder (think conch chowder, but trade it out with farm-raised alligator snapping turtle) and delicious Cedar Key clams (middleneck clams smothered in a saffron tomato sauce). Check the chalkboard for what’s cooking and the fresh fish of the day; you won’t regret anything you order off that board.
Right on the Beach
It’s tough finding a public beach on Islamorada. Of course, there’s Anne’s Beach, but there’s a hidden one at MM 81 on the bay side. Behind the Monroe County Library sits a pristine, quaint beach with picnic benches. Run into the library, grab a book and take a seat to admire the calmness of the mangrove-filled channel. And be on the lookout for the friendly resident cats; they won’t come home with you, because they have waterfront property