Surf and Turf

| April 07, 2005

There are more than 220 species of game fish in the waters of the Florida Keys, where legendary authors Ernest Hemingway and Zane Grey fished, landing everything from giant tarpon to breathtaking sailfish and the ghostly bonefish that haunts the shallower water. Offshore or close to land, Florida Keys fishing is about as good as it gets. Marlin, dolphin (no, not the friendly ones but a fish you may also call Mahi Mahi), tuna, wahoo, snapper, grouper or permit are also just waiting for you. Fly fishing is popular, but light spinning tackle and even spear fishing also deliver thrills in these waters.

America’s only living-coral barrier reef runs the length of the Keys about five miles offshore, protected by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It is teeming with brilliantly colored fish of all shapes and sizes, a spectacular visit for snorklers and deep water divers alike. It can also provide you with some wonderfully impressive wildlife – and shipwreck – pictures if you go armed with an underwater camera.

If you enjoy America’s birds and other natural inhabitants, the Florida Keys will offer you the chance to glimpse some you won’t easily find anywhere else. Green herons and roseate spoonbills inhabit mangrove forests, along with the extremely elusive mangrove cuckoo; loggerhead turtles swim in inshore waters; Key Deer no larger than a Great Dane roam Big Pine Key; and if you see a white-crowned pigeon consider yourself very fortunate because they aren’t found anywhere else in the country. There is also the chance to swim with dolphins, a pastime available at three separate Keys locations.

You can also visit some of America’s history here. In Key West there’s Fort Zachary Taylor, a Union outpost during the Civil War with the largest collection of cannons from that war. Or go to Fort Jefferson, a seaplane or boat ride about 70 miles from Key West, the largest of America’s 19th century coastal forts, built in the 1840s with more than 16 million bricks. It served as a prison for Dr. Samuel Mudd, the doctor who set the broken leg of Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth. A yellow fever outbreak in 1867 killed the prison doctor, and Mudd took over. President Andrew Johnson pardoned Mudd in 1869.

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