Sea Oats

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The International Game Fishing Association

The first time I caught a fish, I was three years old. Well, I didn’t really catch that fish. My Dad did. I had a stick, a piece of string and a safety pin. My dad caught a sheepshead, hauled it in and put it on my line. Since it was still alive it kicked and jerked. That’s when I got hooked on fishing. This all took place on Kelley’s Island on Lake Erie. I spent every summer from then on until I was 18 there.
To this day, I believe that taking a kid fishing is one of the best things that can happen to the kid. A day out on the water adds such enrichment to child’s life and the payoffs can exceed your wildest dreams. You need to have extra patience with a child. They are trying to learn. They are dealing with icky bait and slimy fish. Give them a chance to be overwhelmed. You probably were when you were a child, or maybe you just had an understanding parent.
People visit Fort Lauderdale for many different reasons. If you come with your family, you are missing out on one of the least expensive and fun things you can do with your kids. You have big pool called the Atlantic Ocean right outside your door. You can fish from piers, docks, seawalls, bridges, head boats and even rental boats. Remember the Wind in The Willows?
 "There is nothing- absolutely nothing-
half so much
worth doing
as simply
messing about in boats."

That's what Ratty said to Mole in Kenneth Grahame's beloved classic, The Wind in the Willows. "In or out of 'em, it doesn't matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that's the charm of it.". . . Ratty continued.
Not big fisherman yourself? Too busy being a Mom or Dad to really get into all the details of fish and fishing? Then while you are inFort Lauderdale, you need to visit the IGFA, the International Game Fishing Association, in Dania Beach, Florida. They have everything you need to get up to speed on fish and fishing for less than $30 for a family of four. That is less than going to the movies and so much more rewarding. Less than a mile in a straight line from the airport, it is very convenient.
The IGFA buildings are right next door to Outdoor World so if after your tour you get the urge to go out into the real world, you can pick up all the gear you need without even moving your car. The IGFA has a theater that shows short films in the Orientation Theater.
There are rooms that show the history of fishing and the various tackle and how it developed over the years. Displays containing living and replica fish are around the hall. If your pursuits tend towards the more scholarly, there is a complete reference library on the second floor. The staff is extremely knowledgeable and helpful. I did research on marlin years ago and the article I wrote would have been much less without the staff’s help.
An interactive room will allow everyone to fish for sailfish, bass, tarpon and others. The sounds and sights are very realistic and there is a staff member standing by should you need help in landing your catch. All the fun of sportfishing without the throwing up. There  is even an app for identifying your catch and checking records. Couldn't be much easier.
Don’t forget to look up. Mounted on the ceiling are nearly a hundred different fish in full glory. They are of course, fiberglass replicas, as one of the tenets of modern fishing is preservation. In the World Record Room, you will see photos and displays showing the records for various species from all over and some stories about what it took to catch them. Who knows, maybe your child’s name will be here one day.
The Fish Gallery has displays showing the various parts that make up a fish, how they live and their habitats. There is plenty see here for people of all ages. You owe to yourself to drop by and learn about what lies just off the beach where you are working on your tan.
You may just change the life of a child.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Islamorada In the Florida Keys

The Lorelei on Islamorada
Islamorada is a lush, tropical paradise surrounded by azure waters.  However, this has not always been the case. A mere 10,000 years ago, the island was a reef. It was part of a reef line which runs from Miami out to the Dry Tortugas. As the global climate changed, Islamorada and the other Keys popped their heads out of the waves and the Keys were born.

The islands were inhabited much later by the Arawak Indians, a fierce and independent Caribbean tribe. They called the island Frank’s Island. Named after a wild-eyed old guy who ran around the island naked yelling at anyone who would listen about how the sharp coral rocks were ruining his clam digger. Rather than listen to Frank, they moved down the Keys to Indian Key, where they lived quietly for years until they took part in a particularly rowdy Bartenders Weekend party, burned down a house and were asked to leave.

Later, the Spanish were traveling along the Keys on their way to conquering the Indians of Central America and stealing all their gold. They stood on the deck of their ship, and as everyone has done since, looking through their glasses of Madeira wine at the sunset they noticed the islands had a particular color.

“Do those islands look purple to you?’
“Sort of.”
“Hold your glass higher.”
“Yeah, now they do.”
“Let’s call them the Purple Islands.”
“That won’t look good on a brochure years from now.”
“How do we say Purple Island in Spanish?”

Had they looked at their charts, they would have seen the island already had a name. Cleveland. But they didn’t, so the name Islamorada stuck.

As your drive down the Keys, you will notice that many of the towns along the Keys have signs with sayings welcoming you to their towns. “Key Largo – If you are too tired to drive farther.” And Layton, “If you blinked, you missed us.” Big Pine Key – Where the Deer Hunter Meet Bambi.” Key West “The End of the Road. No U-Turns.” And of course Islamorada – “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Akron anymore.”

Day's End
Islamorada is now known as the fishing capital of the Keys. Dozens of stores and bars sell T-shirts proclaiming “Islamorada, a quiet little drinking village with a fishing problem.” You can fish the back country, the side of the islands that face the Gulf of Mexico, for tarpon, permit, bonefish and rod busting scallops. Or you can venture out front into the Atlantic to fish for bigger species like sailfish, marlin, yellow tail and the powerful amberjack. A forty-pound amberjack can feel as though it is tied to the bottom with a chain. The jack can pull a 12 year boy, who insisted that he could only catch fish if he uses your Penn International reel and Daiwa rod, and all the gear overboard when it digs for the bottom.
Islamorada is different from most of the Keys. It is not like Key Largo which is a welcome center to the Keys for people driving down from the North.  While the people in Islamorada can party with the best of them, it is not quite the crazy town Key West can be. There is a lot more to Key West than many people realize, but we will cover that in another article.
Islamorada covers seven islands, but that is not apparent when you are driving around. The Hurricane Memorial is here, remembering the people who died in the hurricane in 1935. They also have a library on the island. Not so rare, even for the Keys, but this library has a unique feature. It has its own beach. A real, fully sanded and protected beach. The current between the beach and the mangrove island across from it can be quite swift on tide changes so you need to watch the little ones. You can see the librarian about checking out a book, free wifi access and suntan lotion. Due to budget cuts, the library has reduced operating hours, but the beach is usually open from dawn to dusk and it is pretty quiet.
At the library beach, Islamorada
There are several good restaurants, as there are on almost every Key. Some of my favorites are the Lorelei, pictured at the top of the article and simply one of the best places to watch the sunset, Uncle’s and Bentley’s. There are less expensive choices, such as Islamorada Fish Company and Mama’s BBQ.
Be sure to check out the Diving Museum, even if you’re not a diver. If you just have to shop, try Blue Marlin Jewelers. Handcrafted pieces that will give your credit rating a run for the money, but I have bought a few pieces there for reasonable prices. Take a towel with you so you can wipe up your drool from the counters. Ask for Michelle.

The island is green and usually quiet. Take some time to drive around the back streets. You can’t really get lost. If you have a regular car you can go down all kinds of narrow streets and alleys. If you drive a camper, you’ll have a lot of backing up to do. Just respect other people’s property.
I like Islamorada and its people. After you have gone there a few times, people will get to know you. I like how they call out to me when they see me. “Hey Frank, how’s the clam digger?”

Where to stay:  There are all different levels of motels and hotels to choose from. Three that I am personally familiar with are, The Key Lantern, The Islander and The Cheeca Lodge. The Key lantern is nice. It’s quiet, safe and clean and inexpensive. $39 a night in the off season.  I’ve stayed here quite a bit over twenty years, and apparently have had the same mattress every time. However, for the price, it is hard to beat.
The Islander is a step up in price, but has nice facilities and views of the ocean and a great pool.
Rental bungalow at the Cheeca Lodge
The Cheeca Lodge is top end. Every six months or so they set their tiki hut bar on fire for the entertainment of the guests. OK, not really, but if you know the Cheeca, you know what I mean. Wonderful bar and award winning restaurant inside. The private beach and grounds cannot be beat. If you want to stay for a week or so, check out the bungalows for rent. You’ll never go home.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Alluring Charleston

Alluring Charleston

Sightseeing by carriage in Charleston.
Some cities are just meant to be visited.  San Francisco, San Diego, Carson City, Nevada, Mackinac Island, Mystic Seaport, Savannah and of course, Charleston, South Carolina. No city I can think of embodies friendliness, charm and residential beauty more than that of Charleston. 

Years ago I described Charleston in article as the place where Rhett Butler meets Laura Ashley. You get off I-95 onto I-26 and then you slide gracefully in the 18th century. Cobblestone streets, homes built in the 1600’s painted in soft pastels, looming and imposing government buildings, some of which actually held pirates in their cellars. In addition, some of which had pirates in their offices disguised as public officials.

However, Charleston, more than any other southern city, is the quintessential home of southern grace and charm. As I made my way through the streets shooting pictures and admiring the flavor of the city, I found a house, which had some interesting shutters. As I stood on the sidewalk shooting, two people greeted me and said I was quite welcome to get up closer and to walk through the yard. I declined, saying I did not know the owners and did not feel it was right to trespass just to get the shot. They said it would be perfectly all right as they were the owners and had just returned from downtown where they had breakfast. They opened their house and their yard to me.

The town has a warm welcoming feel that is just hard to resist. You find yourself caught up in the gentility of the place.

I worked my way through the narrow streets and byways, shooting as I went. After roaming all morning, I made my way back to the Old Central Market. The sweetgrass straw baskets, hand woven, competed for your attention with clothing, preserves and art work. The Market has a past as a slave market, but from the mix of cultures present nowadays, it is hard to remember how horrible this place must have been for the people being sold there.

Charleston, bound by two rivers, the Ashley and the Cooper, nestles at the end of a peninsula. You can walk down just a few blocks from the Old Market and you will be at the Cooper River. Here there are ferries to ride out to Ft. Sumter, the place where the Civil War began . There are also harbor tours and across the way is the aircraft carrier Yorktown. Surprisingly, the waterfront looks more industrial than it need be. It is not till you move farther to the East that you get to the beautiful waterfront parks and homes. Rainbow Row, where multihued homes face the river, is now obscured somewhat by the trees that have grown and slightly spoil the view I had twenty years ago, but it still affords a beautiful view of the homes that line the street.

On the Ashley River are three of Charleston’s largest and best equipped marinas. The City Marina, the Ashley and the Bristol marinas. All have well laid out docking and fuel systems. The folks are helpful and knowledgeable. (At a future time I may go into cruising details, but for now, this is just a quick overfly of the area.)

Just outside Charleston live two well-known plantations. Magnolia and Boone Hall. I toured the Magnolia Plantation. Absolutely beautiful.  If you interested in the antebellum south, these are worth the drive out and you can stop and see Boone Hall on the same road.

I would go in February or March as the weather is normally good and the temperatures have not climbed to their soul killing best yet.

If you want to experience the South at its absolute best, Charleston is for you.

Where To Stay: I stayed at the La Quinta in in N. Charleston. Good rates, pretty clean and friendly staff. You can see my review on TripAdvisor. I go for good value. But I have to tell you, if you can do it, a great place to stay in town is the Francis Marion Hotel.

Of course there are other packages available including a La Quinta downtown.