Though only 80 miles distant, Islamorada offers angling enthusiasts a very different experience than Key West. While both destinations offer similar bountiful reef and offshore fishing in the Atlantic, Islamorada is the closest launching point for the vast, wild and fishy flats, rivers and creeks of backcountry Florida Bay in Everglades National Park.
A 45-minute skiff ride north from the Village of Islands into park waters near Flamingo puts the angler smack in the middle of some of the world's best sight-fishing for red drum, snook, shark, tarpon, and sea trout. You may also encounter some huge endangered sawfish up to 20 feet long, along with crocodiles and many species of birds.
Using 12- to 20-pound spinning tackle (depending on the target species) and live bait, plugs, jigs, jerkbaits or fly rod, anglers can expect to see and cast to fish all day long.
Something will bite most of the time; the exceptions are just before and after the passage of winter cold fronts. A general rule of thumb among experienced guides and anglers is "if the wind is west, stay home and rest."
If you have never fished Florida Bay, you are advised to hire a skiff guide for the first couple of outings before making the trip on your own. The area is very shallow and you cannot always rely on tide charts for water depth because changes in wind direction can leave a flat that is supposed to have two feet of water covering it high and dry.
For lodging, you could skip Islamorada altogether and get a hotel room in either Homestead or Florida City, then trailer your boat or meet your guide an hour away at Flamingo Marina inside Everglades National Park. But it's more fun to soak up the laid-back ambience of the Upper Keys.
To learn more about navigating Florida Bay, go to ecomariner.org. To hire a skiff or offshore charter captain, or launch your own boat, go to budnmarys.com. For Islamorada lodging information, visit fla-keys.com.