Rabbit Key

If you head west from any marina in the Florida Keys, out into the Gulf, you will find dozens of small mangrove islands called keys. Rabbit Key is a 30-minute run from the mainland. Getting there is a bit of a challenge that involves finding the right “cuts” to avoid running aground on shallow reefs, or what the locals call “skinny water.”

On this spectacular sun-drenched winter day with a gentle east wind moving big puffy clouds above the blue-green horizon line, Diane and I, along with our two sons, Scott and Josh, headed to this distant spot to fish for mangrove snapper.

These snappers remind me some of our Maine white perch and are equally good table fare. They are always plentiful in the shady holes around the mangrove islands, but the 10-inch minimum can make it tough at times to catch enough legal fish for a feed.

This particular day the odds were in our favor. Fishing with medium-size spinning rods and live shrimp as bait, we managed to put 15 snappers on the ice.

Like most fishing there are some techniques required for a successful catch. A chum bag flowing fish tidbits in the current off the stern is a must. Bait shrimp are not cheap, so we generally fish a half shrimp at a time. As a rule, these snappers see a lot of fishing boats and hooked shrimp, so they are adept at getting your shrimp while avoiding the circle hooks.

Most snappers are caught by those who can “read” the nibble and set the hook just right. As you might imagine, the fishing itself in the Keys is often trumped by the scenery, the cobalt skies, veridian waters and the extraordinary bird life. This day we saw roseatte spoonbills, sea turtles and a great white heron that hung out near our boat and enjoyed our handouts of dead shrimp and a short snapper that did not survive a swallowed hook.

The choreography didn’t stop there. On the run back home across the expansive Gulf, five dolphins began following and frolicking in our stern wake. What a sight! Moments later a big, gray cloud opened up above our boat and cooled us down with a light rain.

Our day ended with a fish fry on Scott’s boat Breathing Room. Captain Scotty has a way with cooking fish as well as catching them. The fresh snapper fillets were egg-washed, coated with seasoned Panko bread crumbs and pan-fried gently in butter and olive oil. Oh, a touch of honey was applied to the frying fish.

About the time we finished our fish, the sun sank below the Gulf’s horizon, leaving behind a spectacular display of pink and purple clouds that can take your breath away.


The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]


V. Paul Reynolds

Columnist at Ellsworth American
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

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