We reluctantly said goodbye to our Key Largo manatee before driving on to the next stop on our Florida Keys roadtrip… Islamorada, baby! Once again, no set plans to do anything, we were just gonna figure it out as we went. This trip was all about casual discovery, not set schedules.
As Corrie and I crossed over the bridge onto Lower Matecumbe Key, we spotted Robbie’s Marina on our right. From the get-go, it looked total mom-and-pop. A little weathered, a little kitschy, a little old-school… in other words, right up our alley. (Not that I have anything against the shiny, new resort marinas that were out of the budget this time – I’ll totes be visiting some of those on another, more high-dollar trip).
We saw several people out on the dock as we got closer, then several shack-ey looking gift shops, corrugated tin roofs and all. It looked worth checking out, so we veered off into the dirt driveway.
Not yet having gotten our fill of the crystal blue water, we made a beeline for the dock. But we weren’t able to walk out on it before paying a $2 fee. Of course, this cheapskate’s knee-jerk reaction was, “Seriously?… lame…” But in the next moment, I couldn’t get that cash outta my pocket fast enough!
Tarpon. Dozens of Tarpon. Dozens of Tarpon as long as I am tall (okay, almost). Two bucks would buy us a closer look, and a couple more would let us feed ’em. Not ashamed to admit, this tourist trap trapped the hell outta me!
Sure, I’d seen large tarpon before… on TV (I have an unhealthy addiction to several fishing shows). But never in person. And never suckers this huge! So, we obviously had to get up close and personal.
THE definition of a cheap thrill. It was cheap, and I was thrilled! They were seriously gorgeous fish, their scales catching the sun as they launched themselves outta the water to grab the little tidbits folks were dangling. Little kids were squealing (errrrr, or was that me?), grown kids were “Whoa!”ing, everyone was having a ball.
After taking literally hundreds of photos, Corrie managed to drag me away to see what else Robbie’s had to offer. And just like that, we booked a 4-hour motorboat rental (but I gotta say… the salty ole dude at the shop did not seem thrilled to be renting a boat to two chicks).
After Not-thrilled Old Salt zoomed through his briefing (that I could barely keep up with, but that I was absolutely not gonna ask him to repeat… yes, this girl has an ego) about rules, regs, and off-limits areas, he passed us off to Bobby – a delightful old salt! – for some obligatory powerboat instruction. Then, off we went into the wild watery blue yonder.
We nudged our 18’ skiff out into the channel, careful to navigate around the submerged aquatic vegetation that’s protected by Florida law, and puttered around the shoreline for a little while looking at all the houses we could never afford. But our gaze kept going back to the water. Oh, the water! As we cruised out deeper and deeper, it stayed just as clear as it was dockside. We could absolutely see straight to the bottom. It was like bathwater. I had to hop in for a sec.
Turned the motor off. Hopped into the water. Splashed around for a minute. Hopped back in the boat. Turned the motor on. Wait… Turned the motor… on? Okay, one more time. Turned the motor… nope. It wouldn’t start!
Dammit! We hadn’t even been out an hour! And, double dammit! I could just imagine the look of validation on grumpy Old Salt’s face if we had to call for assistance.
Okay, I can figure this out. In my days as a field biologist, I used to operate a boat for work. I checked the gas… I checked the fuel lines… I checked for dirt, damage, corrosion… all fine. I tried cranking a couple more times, and nothing. Didn’t wanna make it worse – and even more so, didn’t wanna waste our rental time! – so I quickly accepted defeat and picked up the phone.
Ugh! I could just hear Old Salt’s smirk on the other end of the line… After he mansplained explained all the things we probably did wrong (none of which we did), and after we tried his various suggestions to no avail, I finally hear, “I’ll send someone out…” Luckily, it was Bobby! He primed the pump (I could’ve kicked myself for not remembering to try that first), admitted it was their bad (who’s smirking now, huh?? After the $195 we forked over for the rental… still grumpy Old Salt), and sent us on our way.
We spotted Alligator Reef Lighthouse about 4 miles out, and headed for it. Situated above shallow-water Alligator Reef – named after the USS Alligator that’s believed to have shipwrecked nearby in the early 1800s – fish and marine life (500+ species!) was plentiful and several folks were fishing and diving the area.
But us? We spent the remainder of our rental time taking turns at the helm, one slowly driving in circles around the lighthouse while the other hung over the side of the boat looking into the water. We probably looked like idiots to the anglers and divers, but oh well! I can’t stop saying it… Perhaps I’m a little sheltered… But the water here was crazy! Even miles offshore, 50+ feet deep in some spots, we were looking clear to the bottom.
As the sun started setting, we made our way back to the dock, again weaving around the protected underwater vegetation we needed to avoid. We’d already decided to return the next day for some fishing. With almost a week’s worth of road trip still ahead of us, we weren’t gonna keep any fish to take home… too much hassle. So we decided to forego a private charter in favor of a price-conscious, $40 half-day on their party boat.
Up bright and early, we headed back to Robbie’s for a pretty satisfying dockside breakfast at the appropriately-named Hungry Tarpon restaurant, with an even more satisfying crystal-blue water view.
Thank goodness we got both our breakfast and our fishing trip on the cheap! Any guesses where I’m going with this?? Yep, yours truly got seasick almost immediately after we departed… so I’m glad I only wasted a little money in the end!
Corrie did great, though! Caught one after another every time she dropped her line, including a little red grouper that I was able to briefly catch a glimpse of before letting myself go limp again (sorry… seasick = no photos… cue eye-roll…). For her, getting a little taste of some Keys fishing was more than worth the $40 price tag.
Was it a tourist trap? Yes. Did it trap us? Hell, yes. Would I fall for it again? Yep. For all Robbie’s had to offer, at the price that was offered, I’m super glad we stopped to check it out! What can I say, I’m easily entertained…
If you go
Driving south on Overseas Highway, on the right as soon as you cross onto Lower Matecumbe Key, you’ll see Robbie’s Marina from the bridge well before you get there. You can’t miss it, but if an address makes you feel good, it’s at 77522 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33036. They’re open most days 7am – 8pm, with Hungry Tarpon restaurant hours of 630am – 9pm.
They’re really a one-stop-shop for everything. From boat and kayak rentals to snorkeling tours to fishing (partyboat and charter) to tarpon feeding, they’ve kinda got it all. I recommend reserving early, as it seems I wasn’t the only tourist trapped by this tourist trap! Enjoy!