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DOWN THE KEYS TO WONDERLAND
Reginald Wells
December 17, 1956
Nowhere in the world is there fishing to compare with that of the Florida Keys. Here, Sports Illustrated presents a special report on this fabled area, with a portrait gallery of the best fish and a new kind of fold-out map that tells all
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December 17, 1956

Down The Keys To Wonderland

Nowhere in the world is there fishing to compare with that of the Florida Keys. Here, Sports Illustrated presents a special report on this fabled area, with a portrait gallery of the best fish and a new kind of fold-out map that tells all

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KEY WEST AREA

GUIDES

 

Telephone

Henry Weatherford

Charter

CY 6-9421

Reggie Trevor

Charter

CY 6-5887

Wadsworth Demeritt

Charter

CY 6-9650

Ted Smits

Charter

CY 6-9421

Douglas Trevor

Charter

CY 6-5896

Johnny West

Charter

CY 6-5728

Bill Munyan

Charter

CY 6-9421

Bill Wickers

Charter

CY 6-3208

Bill Crespo

Charter

CY 6-9421

Lefty Reagan

Charter

CY 6-9958

Curtis Ryan

Charter

CY 6-6662

Albert Atwell

Charter

CY 6-5919

Roy Potter

Charter

CY 6-3417

RECOMMESDED

A & B LOBSTER HOUSE

BLUE MARLIN
SOUTHERNMOST

Motel
Motel

RAMONIN'S

THE KEYWESTER

Motel

In the minds of fishermen everywhere—be they salmon men from the Miramichi, dry-fly purists from the Beaverkill, steelheaders from Oregon or just plain cane-pole loafers—the Florida Keys are much like the pot of gold that rests at the rainbow's end of their wildest piscatorial dreams. For this, they know, is fishing's wonderland. Nowhere else in the U.S. are there as many different kinds of fish that can be caught (764 identifiable species), nor is there any other place where so many kinds can be fished all the year round.

The string of coral and sandstone islets, linked by the Overseas Highway which runs between the southern tip of Florida and Key West, is dedicated almost exclusively to the fisherman. For 112 miles by car or bus he drives across the sea, and all the way, on both sides of the road, one establishment after another is set up and ready to serve him in his purpose. He can enjoy any variety of the sport, from dabbling for grunts to battling the bigger ones like marlin and tuna and sailfish, without having to travel more than four miles in any given direction. It is hard to believe now, watching the thousands of sport fishermen pour onto the Keys in their annual winter migration, that only 20 years ago this fabulous fishbowl was restricted to only those with the boats and the time to get there. Before the completion of the Overseas Highway and its 40 bridges the Keys were to most fishermen a fabled place enjoyed only by the favored few, a legendary sea of fish where 100-pound tarpon leaped six feet in the air and a gray bullet of a fish with a bony mouth made fools of even the best anglers. And if a man grew bored with inshore fishing, there beyond him, never out of sight, was the storied Gulf Stream, highway of the biggest fish of all. Between the two were the reefs, boiling with their own finned kingdom.

With the coming of the road, legend became reality. Fresh water came to the Keys, and electric power and all the appurtenances of modern civilization. And the anglers crowded in. They have been coming ever since, and in ever-increasing numbers. Some, like Harold J. Graves of Portland, Oregon, cross the nation for the privilege. Others, like Count Etienne de Ganay of Paris, who is now on his way to the Keys after hearing about them while salmon fishing in Norway, traverse the world. For some it is a trip in a trailer, or a line dangled over a bridge and a fish supper served at a campsite by the sea; to others it is a houseboat cruise to the Key Largo Angler's Club for a social whirl and some fishing along the way.

Most of the Keys' visitors, however, come simply to fish, alone, with friends, or with a guide hired by the day. They stalk the flats of the bayside back country in skiffs, in search of the spooky bonefish, or work the waters under and around the bridges, tempting the tarpon on the turning tides. And, tired of that, they charter out to the deep blue water for dolphin and sail and maybe a marlin. From sunup to sundown they fish, with a sandwich lunch at sea.

A clannish lot, each Keys fisherman has his special place to stay. The light-tackle bone and tarpon men can be found around Islamorada on Upper Matecumbe Key—and they would not be caught dead anywhere else. There live the top guides specializing in these fish. Some thirty miles down the road, Marathon caters to the Gulf Stream charter business and the winter-trade yachts which put into Captain Thompson's docks. To this place come the Benson Fords, the Roger Firestones and the others who can make a houseboat trip to the Keys an annual pilgrimage. From here they move out on fishing safaris lasting three or four days, taking with them staffs of cooks and maids and guides. At Key West there is a little of everything for the angler and not much of anything else.

On Saturdays and Sundays the weekend trippers have their day, pouring in to picnic and fish from the bridges. Like sentinels they stand, with bamboo poles and bait buckets, fishing the whole night through by torchlight. They are, by tradition, an accepted road hazard on the Keys. To the relief of motorists, wooden catwalks are now being built for them—that they may fish and live.

It pains the Tavernier Chamber of Commerce that there is one blight upon the otherwise tranquil waters of the Keys: spearfishermen. The trouble began in a small enough way. A few people started spearing fish for fun. But then the meat-market boys from Miami moved in. Systematically working the best reefs, these "weekend warriors," as they are locally known, plundered some of the finest fishing holes on the Upper Keys. "They would take 500 pounds of fish in an afternoon," reported Carolyn V. Cohen of the chamber of commerce. It took the combined efforts of aroused Key dwellers (who have an astute eye toward their own future) to stop the blight with a temporary law banning spearfishing on the Upper Keys. To enforce the law, local vigilante groups have been set up and six special officers sworn in. The man who dares today to walk the Upper Keys with flippers and CO[2] gun in his hand walks not only with the eyes of accusation upon him, but in the shadow of the law. "If it takes open warfare," says Mrs. Cohen, "we intend to preserve and protect forever the fabulous fishing on the Keys."

NAVIGATING THE KEYS BY CAR

Mileage

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JEWFISH CREEK. Keys begin. Two fishing camps and marina. Rent motors, boats, tackle. Bait, beer, dockage, diesel fuel, gas at docks, restaurant. Boats for rent $3 per day, boat with motor $8 per day.

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