Escape to the Florida Keys for an unforgettable adventure

Scattered like jewels across the azure blue of the Florida Straits, the coral archipelago of The Florida Keys is the living embodiment of a vacation paradise. About an hour’s drive south of Key Largo tucked within the Middle Keys is the small secluded island of Duck Key where the outdoors and relaxation meld into one at the Hawks Cay Resort.

“A few minutes later the reel’s drag sounded off and a huge wake took off behind the boat. “That might be our shark,” I said, as the captain handed Eland the rod. “

“They’ve done a great job remodeling,” said Hawks Cay Marketing Manager Wilner Henri as we walked across the less than a year old wood-look tile of the main lobby. “The property has undergone a sixty million dollar restoration after Hurricane Irma and in the process moved away from the former motif of dark West Indies woods to this brighter more vibrant color.” The resort’s complete makeover with freshly minted décor right down to the flawless landscaping immediately transports you into a happy place as you pass the huge saltwater aquarium towards the blue water lagoon on the opposite side of the main atrium. Island vibe music can be heard throughout the terraced pools and saltwater lagoon as you step out onto the pool deck where guests frolic about with frozen daiquiri’s and Pina coladas in hand. The onset location for popular shows like Salt Water Experience and Into the Blue, the resort specializes in accommodating anglers whether taking advantage of the offshore reefs and wreck fishing to throwing loops at bonefish between postcard perfect islets, it’s the perfect jump off spot for both Keys angling experiences.

“Can we catch a shark?” was all my ten year old son replied when asked if he would rather head to one of the patch reefs or backcountry where we may jump a few tarpon or snook. My wife and youngest son opted to stay and enjoy the resort amenities while Eland and I booked a last minute fishing charter direct from the comfort of our room. Located just a short walk from our room we hopped on a twenty four foot bay boat at the marina and after a short ride into the backcountry were casting soft plastic jigs for trout, snapper and lady fish.  While the action was steady for the first hour I could tell my son was confused as to why we weren’t hooking any sharks. It was around this time that he reeled up his second ladyfish that our captain cut it in half then attached it to a large circle hook tied to a steel leader with a much bigger spinning outfit than what we were using. Our eyes met and I joked: “looks like we’ve been catching the bait buddy.” His eyes widened and a huge smile came across his face as the heavy rig splashed behind the boat and the captain stuck the rod into the gunnel. A few minutes later the reel’s drag sounded off and a huge wake took off behind the boat. “That might be our shark,” I said, as the captain handed Eland the rod. With a little too much torque for him to contend with at first, we both fought the big fish together before Eland was ready to fight it alone. After a grueling but short battle he eventually wrestled the big six foot lemon shark boat side to where the captain could hold the leader for Eland to touch its dorsal fin before releasing it. “That’s the biggest fish we’ve ever caught!” shouted Eland, still watching in amazement as the shark swam away. “I can’t believe I just caught a shark!” he shouted again. “And a really big one too,” I added.

Arriving back at the marina we dropped off the snapper we’d caught at the Angler and Ale Restaurant where the chef prepared our catch as part of the restaurant’s Hook and Cook special. The whole idea began to sink in about catching and eating your own food as we later sat down to dinner where Eland proudly reminded his younger brother and mother how we’d caught our dinner for the night. The meal was excellent and the grilled snapper followed by a slice of classic Key Lime pie made for the perfect entree. Afterwards we walked passed the lagoon deck where the dolphins within the Marina were quietly milling around just as the sun was setting. As the last bit of light faded we found a few empty chairs around the stone fire pit where a live duet were singing an Eagles cover into the night air. Watching the mix of laughs and conversations from the illuminated faces gathered around the fire I glimpsed Eland gazing in that tired kid kind of way. He looked a little older with a week’s worth of sun on his cheek.

“You still thinking about your shark?” I asked.

“Yes sir,” he answered.

“Dad can we stay longer?” he asked.

“Maybe next year,” I replied.

“I just wish summer would never end,” he said

“Me too.”

-Dustin Catrett

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