Tale End: Sunshine Or Bust - The Fisherman

Tale End: Sunshine Or Bust


Here we are, in yet another enduring winter that tests our body and psyche.  Even with February ending, the finish line of spring seems so far away.  So much so that you may be thinking it’s time you spent at least a couple of weeks in the warmth of the soothing sun instead of courting galloping frostbite and being numb from the neck up through March. First, some sobering news which should be mentioned before you imagine larking off to the land of the bottomless margarita and fishing in an emerald green aquarium.

Veteran snowbirds may already know what follows or have discovered that the best Florida deal is a free or cheap rental priced condo owned by a friend, and the location of the nearest Dollar Tree store. If you’re a newbie, do not trust the internet to find you a lovely place, reasonably priced with a stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico. In the Keys you can do either, or both.

Any thoughts of “going fishing” will involve serious money if a charter for glamour species such as tarpon or bonefish dance in your delusional brain, Yes, you can fish off a bridge for free, if you have the legs of a 30-year old or you can wade out into public beach waters. But, hey you’re on vacation, who wants to go “slumming?”

I’ve done both; a one-on-one guide for weakfish (sea trout) or a six-pack charter for mahi-mahi is a lot more fun and often more productive than slogging solo.  One of the best days on the water in the Gulf was out of Cedar Key, which remains our favorite destination, far north of conch country. A retired schoolteacher took me out for sea trout and Spanish mackerel, he fired up the motor and moved if we didn’t catch a fish in 10 minutes and never looked at his watch as far my charter time went. We caught heaps of both, had a heckuva a good time and the guy was great company. Every once in a while you get lucky.

However keep in mind when surfing the web for possible rentals, “waterfront view” can mean a canal front, estuary, tidal swamp or the community pool. And a canal front means you’ll probably looking across a watery ditch at some other guy’s boat.

Internet photos can be deceiving; in fact, they can lie. The rental looks great and all that, but the views don’t show the waste disposal facility at the end of the street. In our case it was a dock building outfit and an air conditioning business, which made the entrance to Paradise less than aesthetically pleasing. Forklifts and company trucks will detract somewhat from the lovely palm tree halfway down your street.

Marathon may be the center of the Florida Keys, but it’s a four-lane highway in the middle flanked by strip malls and ticky-tack tourist traps. Key West is a zoo, but a great “people watching” destination, and visiting historic homes, (Hemingway’s) and saloons (Hog’s Breath, Sloppy Joe’s) and the “must take” photo op of Mile Marker 0.

Islamorada is a nostalgic favorite of mine, and I have great memories of fishing out of Bud & Mary’s, but it can be pricey.  If you’re planning your first drive to the Keys, remember the one distressing reality – there is only one road in and the same road out. Thus in the event of an evacuation order you’re likely to be stuck in a northbound parking lot yearning for the high ground.

It’s best to have a friend who can scope out a possible rental for you on scene and report back as to whether the place is a dump, tolerable, decent or “book it now.”  Money and budget are indeed major decision-making considerations, check for all costs in addition to the rental itself, as in security deposit, cleaning fees, pet charges, cancellation policy and rental insurance.

Also, if you won’t pay $600 to hire a guide to do at least a bit of backcountry mangrove snapper fishing, let alone tarpon or sailfish, factor in your in-condo costs (food, drink, gas, etc.).  A friend just spent a week at one of those resort compounds in Mexico and figures it cost him $4K. Those $15 umbrella drinks were not included, nor a $65 cab ride to the nearest town.

I would book directly with an owner or the property development office itself, never an Internet travel site of which there are legion itching to take your money. I got burned once. Had to cancel, no refund. Never again. Check the cancelation policy anywhere, a lot can happen when you’re booking a year ahead. It may be 24 hours at the chain motel, but two months at a vacation rental.

Meanwhile, March is “historically the most packed, highest priced month of the year in South Florida” according to front page story in the Miami Herald. In the Florida Keys, hotels were 90% full with an average daily rate of $335.65. You may be able to do better, or you may not.  Fun in the sun doesn’t come cheap.

And when we were stuck on a canal, I fished off the bulkhead for “grunts,” even chummed the waters for this Sunshine State panfish.  I got skunked. I’m so ashamed.

Spend the money, book a guide!   Ever seen a Brinks truck following a hearse?



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