Feeding the Tarpon at Robbie's Marina in Islamorada.

I read about Robbie's Marina when I was researching my trip to the Keys. I added it to my "stop if the timing works out" list. I thought maybe we'd go for a few minutes, and then get back on US 1.  It turns out that we loved it. And we went twice. And since we already have reservations in Key West for next year, we'll definitely be going again.

It doesn't look like much when you pull off the road. It's just a gravel parking lot and then some outbuildings sort of nestled in the shade of the bridge, right off US 1. But in reality, it's the perfect combination of Floridian hospitality, fresh seafood and tourist-y kitsch, all conveniently located on the water.

The first time we stopped, we shopped at the kiosks next to the parking lot. Some of it was your typical souvenir stuff but they also had great sunhats. Since I had forgotten to pack my beach bag, I also bought a new tote. It's hot pink burlap with a bright orange octopus screened onto the front. Prices were good too. I saw the same bag in Jupiter for $10 more.

Blue skies, boats and kayaks at Robbie's.

Robbie's also offers fishing trips, kayaking trips, snorkeling and personal watercraft rental.  We didn't have time (because I didn't realize what a jewel the place was until much too late) but the staff was super friendly, knowledgable and everything was ship-shape (I really have to stop with the puns, huh?).  I think you could spend an entire weekend just hanging out at Robbie's.

On our way back, as we headed north to Jupiter, we stopped again.  We had lunch at Robbie's restaurant, The Hungry Tarpon. It was a Saturday afternoon which meant there was live music.  I highly recommend ordering the tacos. We had both shrimp tacos and ahi tuna tacos and they were probably the best I have ever eaten. I don't say that lightly. They were. Our server told us that they make everything fresh in their own kitchen. For a moderately priced restaurant, that's a welcome attribute. Here in the Midwest, I feel like all the mid-range restaurants just heat up food from Sysco.

If you eat in the restaurant, you can walk out onto the dock for free.  If you don't eat there, it costs $1.  It's worth a $1 so don't think about it, just do it, and buy a bucket of bait fish, too.  You want the bait fish because feeding the tarpon is ridiculously fun.  (Don't even think about how you'll be touching stinky dead fish). We actually fed the tarpon on our first trip to Robbie's but we did it wrong.  We just stood there on the dock and dropped the fish into the water. It was fun but instead of the big tarpon getting the fish, the much smaller and faster jacks would snap them up.  

Here we are, looking cute but doing it wrong. (That's my mom).

On our return trip, we saw a boat captain demonstrate the proper technique.  You have to sit or kneel on the dock, and hold your hand your hand really close to the water, so that the tarpon can see the fish in your hand.  Then they LEAP out of the water, seize the fish out of your hand and fall back into the water sideways, with an enormous splash.  Here, let me show you in pictures.   

This tarpon is checking me out to see if I have a snack for him but all I'm holding is my 5DIII. If you plan to take pictures on the dock, I recommend using a polarizer, activating burst mode, and using AI-servo, with single point AF, locked on the hand holding the bait fish.

See the tarpon coming up for a look at the bait fish in the boat captain's hand?

This tarpon overshot his goal. That's the boat captain's hand in his mouth It's OK if you scream.  I did.

The girl in the white tee shirt was fearless. See her hand? She's baiting that huge fish with just her fist. She's only pretending to hold out a fish...

So, that's Robbie's for you.  If you head out there and have a chance to go for a kayak ride or a snorkel, let me know how it goes.  Watch your fingers when you feed the tarpon... ;)