Feeding the tarpon in the Florida Keys: Robbie's of Islamorada
If you love the Florida Keys, chances are you've spent time in Islamorada, that collection of small, beautiful islands just south of Key Largo. And if you've come to love the laid-back, small town charms of Islamorada, chances are you've also stopped by Robbie's at least once. For those of you who aren't familiar with this Keys classic, let me make the introductions: Robbie's Marina is an authentic Florida "roadside attraction," a tourist destination that isn't slick, but the real deal. Located at Mile Marker 77.5 on Lower Matecumbe Key, bayside, it offers up the nostalgic fun of a past era, along with a surprisingly wide array of activities.
(Approaching Robbie's Marina from the water. Photo by Island Runaways.)
If you reach Robbie's by car (as opposed to boat or kayak), you arrive at a gaggle of souvenir stands selling everything from jewelry and paintings to signs to hang above your tiki bar back home. Many of the items are made locally by Keys artisans -- and some even capture that uniquely "Keys" sense of humor. Be sure to spend some time browsing; it's all part of the Robbie's experience.
(Anyone looking for Islamorada things to do has got to stop at Robbie's. Photo: Island Runaways.)
Then, let's say you start feeling hungry. At this point you stroll on over to The Hungry Tarpon restaurant for a bite to eat. At a table overlooking the marina, you can enjoy a cold Coke or beer and try a "cheeseburger in paradise" (like Jimmy Buffett sings about) or perhaps something different, such as a refreshing cobb salad with yummy bacon. The Hungry Tarpon is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and as the Island Runaways know from experience, it's an easy place to take children. During your meal, you have the chance to watch the action on the dock:
(Watching the action from the Hungry Tarpon restaurant. Photo by Island Runaways.)
Yes, those are folks feeding giant tarpon. Your eyes do not betray you. Years ago, the owner of Robbie's spotted an injured tarpon, and rescued it. A doctor was called who stitched up its jaw. For days afterwards, the owner fed the tarpon while it recovered. The rest is Islamorada history. That tarpon "Scarface" returned from time to time for some fishy nibbles, and brought with him a pal or two. Soon enough, the tarpon knew that Robbie's was a veritable dining room for tarpon.
Today, visitors can feed the tarpon, too. You will need to purchase food at Robbie's store, and then you go out on the dock to check out the fish. Some of them are huge!
(No tropical island getaway to the Keys is complete with seeing the tarpon. Photo: Island Runaways.)
Feeding the tarpon requires getting down on the dock and holding the fish down towards the water. Watch out for pelicans: they love to steal fish when they get a chance. Not only kids but also adults find this experience a real hoot.
(At this Islamorada restaurant, the fish are well fed. Photo by Island Runaways.)
Feeding the tarpon is just the start of your Robbie's adventure. At their marina you can rent a boat for the day and go exploring. Hire an experienced fishing guide to take you on an expedition. Or, go on a snorkeling trip aboard the Happy Cat catamaran. The Island Runaways have snorkeled with this outfit, and were very impressed with their sense of water safety, their equipment, and the professionalism of the captain and crew. If you want to appreciate the beauty of the Florida Keys, you'll want to get out on the water and see the Florida Reef, the third largest coral reef in the world.
(The Happy Cat waiting to take you snorkelng the Florida Keys. Photo by Island Runaways.)
Another terrific thing to do is to rent kayaks. These you can rent just next to the tarpon dock from the Kayak Shack, which we've written about before. Or you can get a paddleboard; the store staff will set you up so you can paddle through the mangrove tunnels on the other side of Robbie's property. One of the best experiences we've ever had in the Keys started off from Robbie's. As we chronicled in a separate blog post, from here we kayaked over to Indian Key with local historian and guide Brad Bertelli. On a tiny 11 acre island, not accessible by car, we learned some of the incredible tales of early wrecking and pioneering. A memorable visit, to be sure.
Once you arrive in the Florida Keys, your state of mind changes. Life slows down, in a very good way. Suddenly, you want to make time to stop and...feed the tarpon. Or paddle a kayak over turquoise-tinted ocean. Just looking at this photographs makes me want to head back to Robbie's today!