Keys Travel Log: Snow Birds & Expatriates - The Fisherman

Keys Travel Log: Snow Birds & Expatriates

author
The author (center) with son Braden and wife Bonnie and their fresh catch aboard Capt. Easy, destined for an Islamorada “cook your catch” restaurant and a do it yourself fish fry.

Is a winter get-away to the Florida Keys an option again?  Your old friends are waiting for you!

When the cold, northern winters get you down, thoughts of warm weather vacations to the south start sounding like a good idea.  Probably even more so today as we begin to transition to the post COVID-19 world, and a return to normalcy.

Whenever I plan vacations, even family ones, I make sure to select spots where we can enjoy some good fishing. My trip to the Florida Keys last year met the requirements for such a trip.  We rented a house in Key Largo on the water just two lots from the Atlantic Ocean. We used the online house rental site VRBO (www.vrbo.com) to select a house for our stay. Most of the Florida Keys is under a regulation mandating house rentals be for a minimum of 30 days; If your commitments do not allow for such a long time period, there are many motel options available.

We had plans for snorkeling, dining on conch fritters, and sightseeing, but I was aching for some warm weather fishing while my friends up north were freezing.  My wife is a good sport and enjoys fishing. In New Jersey I do most of my fishing with buddies, and she does not get out on the water as much as she would like. When we go away on vacation she gets to fish as much as she would like.

During our vacation, I fished from bridges, did some wade fishing, and took a couple of trips on a party boat; I even caught a big nurse shark from the dock at our house. But the best experience of the vacation was hiring a guide for a day for some drop and reel fishing on the Atlantic side with my wife Bonnie and son Braden.

gulf side
While fishing nearshore around Islamorada is a perennial option, the run into the Gulf to fish structure is always a Capt. Easy option. Photo courtesy of Steve Palmer.

Nor’east State Of Mind

Capt.  Bruce Anderson runs a charter boat in the Florida Keys called Capt Easy Charters (www.captaineasycharters.com) and is acknowledged as one of the top guides fishing out of Islamorada. I found him through his advertisement in The Fisherman, and while that may sound strange for a Florida Keys guide to advertise in a magazine from the Northeast, there is a good reason.  Capt. Bruce grew up on the south shore of Long Island in New York and began mating on a party boat at the age of 14. He worked on boats out of Captree during high school, and after a short college stint, he gained his captain’s license. He then piled his belongings into an old RV and headed to Florida to pursue his life’s dream as a fishing captain.

After learning the ropes in the Keys as a mate on party and charter boats, he purchased his own boat to captain, and the rest is history. His current boat is a Conch 27, a 29-foot center console boat made for charter fishing in the Upper Keys. With top-of-the-line electronics, 60 rod holders, and powered by twin 200 hp Suzuki’s outboards, the Capt Easy is a fishing machine.

cuda
While not one for the discernible palate, a feisty barracuda – much like a gator blue in the Northeast – can bring a bend in the rod and a smile to the face of any traveling angler. Photo courtesy of Steve Palmer.

He guides expert anglers who fish all over the world and go out with him 20 times a year. He also enjoys working with beginners and families. He fishes offshore for big gamefish as well as tarpon, patch reef, and Gulf fishing. His fishing is 90 percent offshore and reef with some Gulf fishing depending on the weather conditions. All a charter needs to bring are food and drink, as Bruce supplies all bait, fishing gear and licenses. Oh, and bring plenty of sunscreen.

Our trip with Capt. Bruce began about 6:30 a.m. at the Isla Marina located at mile marker 85 on the Overseas Highway. These mile marker numbers make it extremely easy to navigate the Florida Keys. The numbers begin around mm110 in Key Largo and end at mile marker zero in Key West.

THE NEW NORM

With the Covid-19 virus being such a major concern, I asked Captain Bruce how he handles things on the Capt Easy. Social distancing is readily accomplished considering the size of the boat. With the activity occurring outside, he does not insist on mask wearing while out on the water. However, if his clients wish to wear masks, he will quickly don one himself to make sure everyone is comfortable.

“We have a mask rule, but it’s not too crazy,” he said of folks heading inside to grocery stores or shops, but he said it’s not much of an inconvenience. “On the boat, if folks are more comfortable with a mask I’ll wear one as well,” he told us just before Christmas, adding that there hasn’t been a restaurant or resort closure due to the pandemic in months. “Life is very close to normal down here,” Capt. Bruce said, reporting that the upper Keys are busy now, though a little less busy than normal years.

Keep in mind that while airports are expecting to see half the number of Florida travelers this winter due to the pandemic, many airlines are asking folks to get the COVID-19 test before they travel.

Bonnie and I were accompanied by our son, Braden, for the day’s fishing. After introductions with the captain, we boarded the boat and were in the Atlantic Ocean in just a few minutes. Our first stop was about a mile out to gather live bait for the day’s fishing, which is always a fun way to start the day. A few handfuls of chum had baitfish all around us. The captain used a few well-placed throws of a cast net while Braden and I utilized sabiki rigs to fill the live wells.

With an ample supply of bait onboard, we headed out to some patch reefs to see what we could catch. Capt. Bruce plans the day’s fishing on the wishes of his anglers. Some parties head offshore for bigger game like mahi, sailfish and swordfish. We wanted to spend a half day adventure with plenty of action and some fish fillets to take home. Fishing the reefs answered all our needs. In addition to snapper, the captain said he had also been catching some tuna in the area.

We quickly experienced some “drop and reel” fishing on the live baits. Braden took top honors with a 10-pound mutton snapper while Bonnie distinguished herself with a nice kingfish. Some feisty sharks provided extra action.

The Local Connection

BRADEN RED SNAPPER
A headline generator in national sportfishing magazines, the red snapper shown here by Braden Harris is a popular reef species that makes incredible table fare.

Reflecting on the trip later, the three of us were impressed with Capt. Bruce’s friendly and personable nature. Bonnie noted that “He did not treat me like a dumb girl, but yet gave me confidence to ask him questions.”  I was impressed with his desire to do what we wanted to do on the water and not like a Capt. Bligh of no-nonsense approach. He also gave us some invaluable advice on some local restaurants and nightlife spots we might want to visit. There is nothing like being in a new location and getting the right advice from a local.

Steve Palmer owns and runs Jingles Bait and Tackle on Long Beach Island in Beach Haven, NJ. A few weeks before my trip on the Capt Easy, Steve and his brothers Kirk and Bob fished with Capt. Bruce. Steve told me they experienced “a terrific mix of successful fishing.”

With incredible weather and calm seas, Steve boated a couple of barracuda and then trolled for mahi and did some kite-fishing for sailfish. In addition, they ended up with big false albacore and fished a little for redfish. Steve had the same impression of Capt. Bruce that I did. “It was obvious to us that Capt. Bruce really knew the local spots and kept the action flowing across different species,” Palmer said later, adding “He was personable and had no problem sharing his knowledge with us.”

Capt Easy offers half, 3/4 and full-day trips including offshore swordfish trips and tarpon night trips. There is even a 3-hour family patch reef trip in addition to 3-hour sandbar excursions. The trips normally include up to four passengers and include everything but food, drink, and tip. All edible and legal fish are filleted to be taken home.

KEYS CONTACTS

KEY LARGO
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (mm 102.5)
www.pennekamppark.com
305-451-1202

ISLAMORADA
Capt. Easy Charters (mm 85)
Capt. Bruce Anderson
www.captaineasycharters.com
305-360-2120

MARATHON
Marathon Lady (mm 53)
www.marathonlady.net
305-743-5580

KEY WEST
Flying Fish Charters (mm 0)
Capt. Jamie Connell
www.flyingfishkw.com
305-304-7667

We took all our fillets back to the house and cooked them ourselves. There are also many restaurants in the area that will cook and serve your catch. In previous trips to the Keys, we have fished on the party boat, The Marathon Lady, which sails out of Marathon in the mid Keys. We had memorable experiences taking our catch to Castaways, a local restaurant, which does an excellent job of preparing the fresh fish.

Winter obviously is the busiest time of the year in the Florida Keys, and it is good to reserve your fishing trips in advance as some time periods fill up quickly. If an angler is flexible, last minute trips can be arranged depending upon openings.  For the traveling angler with family, there are so many other things to do in the Florida Keys – like snorkeling in John Pennekamp Park, various museum trips, and heading south to the very end to explore Key West – that a trip like this is worth it for everyone.  Of course, the restaurants with their conch fritters, key lime pie, and fresh seafood are adventures in themselves and part of the fun.

But of all our activities, there is no question the highlight of our winter vacation was the day we spent with Capt. Bruce Anderson aboard the Capt Easy.

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