Fishing Key West with Columbia

Sharks, snappers and groupers in windy Key West

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I recently spent a few days at the beautiful Sunset Key Cottages in Key West, Florida, which, for a second year in a row, played host to Columbia Sportswear's annual media event. While last year's trip was marked with beautiful weather, this time was a bit different — the back end of Tropical Storm Debby did not play nicely with us, whipping persistent southwest winds of 30 mph into Key West and its surroundings and making fishing all but impossible. Still, it was good to be in the Keys — and we weren't deterred just yet.Mike Mazur
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Columbia pro-staffer and big-game fly-angler Conway Bowman checks out some new wares with Columbia's specialty channel manager Andrea Pallavicini. We would all be fishing soon enough, but the nasty weather gave us a chance to check out what was new with the company.Mike Mazur
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So what was the biggest buzz for Columbia’s new fishing gear? Omni-Freeeze Zero technology. Here, Woody Blackford, Columbia’s vice president of global innovation, explains how the system works to keep you cool. Omni Freeze is incorporated into several new styles of shirts, like the Airgill Chill Zero (pictured here), as well as…Mike Mazur
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…the company’s Freezer neck gaiters, a must-have in the Keys. Columbia also was showing off a nice-looking new camo print (pictured here), called Amphibious Assault, which is available in a long-sleeve button-up as well as in comfortable board shorts.Mike Mazur
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If you’ve been fishing long enough, you also know that Columbia makes some of the best fishing shoes in the business. It’s Drainmaker (front) and new Powerdrain (rear) models offer incredible comfort, traction and water drainage, packed in extremely lightweight designs. Seriously, they’re winners.Mike Mazur
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Top it all off with a PFG cap or visor. But we would need to tighten our caps the next day, as…Mike Mazur
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…we were met with high seas, big winds and just plain nasty conditions. Of course, this served as a good testing grounds for Columbia’s new gear. But who would I be fishing with this day?Mike Mazur
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None other than the legendary George Poveromo. A longtime Columbia man, George began rigging up some leaders for toothy critters, and he…Mike Mazur
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…chunked up some bonito filets. With the wind howling, we had to take what the sea offered that day. And, in a word, it was…Mike Mazur
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…sharks! Even little guys, like this bonnethead that George prepared to release back into the white-capped waters. We caught several small sharks like this, and when we got back to the dock, George couldn’t resist…Mike Mazur
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….tossing a line to another toothy critter. This frisky barracuda was prowling under George's 28 Mako, and the fish danced on the water, giving us a few parting laughs, and even catching the attention…Mike Mazur
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….of this curious onlooker, who watched from the marina’s filet station.Mike Mazur
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The next day was met with — you guessed it — more big wind and rough seas. Todd Kuhn, a contributor to Outdoor Life, hangs on as our flats skiff plows through the rough stuff.Mike Mazur
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Kuhn puts the heat back on, while Capt. Mike Cyr watches from the helm. What did he have?Mike Mazur
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Another shark — but this time, a lemon, a popular, hard-fighting species regularly caught in the Keys. Mike leaders the shark closer, and then….Mike Mazur
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…gave us a close look at its dental work.Mike Mazur
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The final day saw me back on a big boat again, this time fishing with Capt. Mark Schmidt onboard his classic Conch 27. The wind had eased a bit and, with the larger boat, we were able to cross Boca Grande Channel and run to the Marquesas, some 25 miles into the Gulf of Mexico from Key West.Mike Mazur
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We fished the area’s famous rock piles in 25- to 30-foot depths, dropping down freshly cut ballyhoo chunks on knocker rigs.Mike Mazur
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It didn’t take long to get hooked up! Here, Brad Hadsall, covered up in Columbia’s new threads, comes tight to a strong fish down below. His prize turned out to be…Mike Mazur
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...a nice mutton snapper. Not a monster, but one of the prettiest fish in the sea.Mike Mazur
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Working a jig along the bottom, Capt. Mark hooked up next, and pulled in…Mike Mazur
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…a nice mutton of his own, only slightly larger. We caught several other snappers, including yellowtails and mangroves, as well as plenty of…Mike Mazur
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….groupers, like this gorgeous red grouper that nailed a bucktail jig with a chunk of ballyhoo. The groupers turned on nicely over the rocky bottom, and several times, we scored….Mike Mazur
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…doubles. Moral of the story: Even when the wind blows, good things can usually be found in Key West. Take what Mother Nature gives you and give it your best — you might be pleasantly surprised!Mike Mazur