Most visitors to the Florida Keys whiz down the Overseas Highway (US 1) heading for destinations in the Lower Keys like Bahia Honda State Park (Florida’s most popular) or Key West, oblivious to the natural beauty, solitude, and hungry fish literally a stone’s throw away in four fabulous state parks—Indian Key, Lignumvitae, Curry Hammock, and Long Key. I have to confess that for many years I did. A fortuitous convergence of unfavorable winds and tides on Big Pine Key where I usually set up my mobile fish camp for a couple of weeks every year got me to doing some research. I wasn’t about to sit at home all day in my travel trailer twiddling my thumbs. A little on-line sleuthing revealed more favorable tides and breezes back up the road about an hour between Marathon and Islamorada, as well as a string of state parks that would give me access to a lot of water. It paid off in a bonanza of barracuda, jacks, and snapper with shots at bones, permit, and sharks.
In contrast to Bahia Honda State Park near Big Pine Key that hosts over 400,000 visitors annually, with long lines of cars waiting to get in most days, the parking lots of the hidden four are rarely full and fewer than 10% of the tourist numbers. Rarely do I run into other kayakers and even more rarely other anglers, and even if I do there are miles of shoreline and flats to fish.
These four state parks have now become a destination for me, not an afterthought. In the series of articles that follow on each of the hidden gems, I will take you on an angling tour with some fascinating history and nature tidbits thrown in. This is the second of the series featuring an offshore key with good fishing as well as an intriguing botanical oddity, a rare lignumvitae tree stand whose wood is so dense it will sink in water, was used for key parts of the first U.S. nuclear sub and Pete Seeger’s favorite banjo!! Talk about versatility.