Renowned as a world-class destination for anglers, history-rich Islamorada is where backcountry sport fishing and saltwater fly fishing were pioneered. For decades, savvy anglers have found themselves “hooked” on stalking finned and gilled prey in area waters.

female fishing guides Florida Keys

The Laidlaw sisters were among the early Upper Keys fishing guides. (Photo courtesy of the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center)

Fishing charter operations in Islamorada began in the late 1930s with Captain Walter A. Starck and his son Walter E. “Buck” Starck.

The elder Starck began his charter fishing career in the 1920s when he brought high-roller guests from Miami to Bimini and the Florida Keys. He later purchased the property that today is known as Whale Harbor Marina and Restaurant.

After World War II, Buck Starck ventured off on his own and built a fishing camp where Robbie’s Marina is located today. For years, Islamorada sport fishing was operated exclusively by the Starck family.

In the mid-1940s Bud and Mary Stapleton, a New England couple who knew nothing about fishing, acquired the land that became Bud N’ Mary’s Marina.

Beginning as a hotel and tackle shop, Bud N’ Mary’s ventured into the charter business when Captain Don Gurgiolo convinced the Stapletons to allow him to build a small dock for his boat so he could run offshore fishing charters.

The fishing and tourism scene in Islamorada began to explode in the 1950s with the integration of mosquito control and marina development.

In 1950 a group of fishermen, fishing guides and charter captains formed the Islamorada Fishing Club — a group that continues to promote conservation and responsible fishing practices in the region today.

anglers with broadbill swordfish in Florida Keys

Richard Stanczyk, left, owner of Bud N’ Mary’s Marina in Islamorada, and Vic Gaspeny, right, pioneered daytime swordfishing off the Florida Keys. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Some of the legendary pioneers of fishing in Islamorada were Captain Jimmie Albright, his protégé Captain Cecil Keith, and former Boston Red Sox left fielder Ted Williams.

“These guys fished everyone from presidents to major league ball players,” said Captain Richard Stanczyk, current owner of Bud N’ Mary’s. “They were the people who pioneered advancements in tackle, and they discovered everything from how to tie your knots to what fish eat.”

Among his many other achievements, Albright is known for creating the Albright Knot — a method of tying two lines together that’s still used today in all types of fishing.

Stanczyk is also highly acclaimed in the angling realm. His most notable mark on the world may be his discovery of a large body of broadbill swordfish off the coast of Islamorada.

Before the 2002 discovery by Stanczyk and his crew, few broadbill swordfish had ever been caught — and typically they were targeted only at night. Stanczyk and company discovered how to fish for the species during the day, and turned Islamorada into a top destination to catch broadbill swordfish.

George H.W. Bush fishing in Islamorada

President George H.W. Bush retrieves his bait off Islamorada during the 1997 George Bush/Cheeca Lodge Bonefish Tournament.  (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Over the years, Islamorada waters have been fished by dignitaries, politicians and celebrities alike. Notable anglers have included former President George H.W. Bush, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, “Riders of the Purple Sage” author Zane Grey, former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson, and actor Paul Newman.

The area’s popularity with anglers can be attributed to the incredible array of species of fish that can be caught there. Islamorada is located between three different bodies of water — Florida Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean — and in close proximity to the continental United States’ only coral barrier reef and the Everglades. Much to the satisfaction of visiting anglers, there’s something to fish for during every season of the year.

In fact, experts in the sport have advised that the concentration and availability of fishing guides, reefs and diverse fisheries make Islamorada an angling destination unmatched by anywhere else in the world.

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