Friday, December 21, 2007

The Best Eco Tour in the Keys

If you want to go fishing, most people know we have world class guides and world class fishing. If you want to go snorkeling or diving we have the only living coral reef in North America and plenty of dive shops to take you there.

But what about eco-tourism and sight seeing? When you come to visit the Keys, you are in the middle of a National Marine Sanctuary, and right in our backyard is Everglades National Park, the most unique ecosystem in the world.

There's an outfitter in Islamorada who specializes in kayaking called Backcountry Cowboy. They have a really cool retail store with everything you could possibly need for kayaking and outdoor adventure but more importantly, they offer some really great guided kayak tours. The basic ones like the Backcountry Nature Tour and the Sunset Trip are inexpensive and close-in near the main islands; nice short trips to have a look around.

The ones that interest me the most are the Everglades Day Trips and Everglades Adventure Trips. You just can't beat this deal. For $120 they provide everything (including top of the line kayaks) for an unforgettable professional guided tour through the Everglades wilderness. The "Everglades Day Trip" is a guided three-quarter day trip to places where fish have never seen a lure. They also offer overnight trips for the more adventurous and more experienced paddlers.

With some back-country fishing trips now topping $500, this is a true bargain. Looking for something to remember, something adventurous, something different? This is a great choice and don't forget your camera!

Friday, December 14, 2007

How to Select a Fishing Guide

A lot of folks will be arriving soon and want to go fishing. Back-country or Off-shore, selecting the right guide to meet your expectations is crucial. I can't tell you how many times I've heard from disappointed customers who hired a guide and had a lousy day on the water. My first question is always: Who did you hire and then, How did you find them?

Islamorada has some of the best guides in the world. Please don't ask a total stranger for a referral and don't hire somebody you meet at the bar, the grocery store, or the tackle shop. Anybody you ask here in the Keys will likely say they are a guide, take you out in their boat, and take your money at the end of the day.

My advice is to get a list of names from somebody you trust. If you ask the hotel, your second question should be if they are paid a commission (great guides don't need somebody selling their trips). You need a list of guides because (in my opinion) personality is a big part of it. You are going to spend the whole day together in the boat. Select the guide who fits your style. Call at least 3 (more is better) and explain what you want and what your skill level is. Do you want to stalk Bonefish on fly and maybe have only one or two chances all day, or do you want to go fun fishing for whatever is biting? Guides do specialize in certain types of fishing. Don't hire the fun-fishing guide to take you looking for Bonefish.

You will meet the big Off-shore boats at the marina but many Back-country guides will pick you up at your hotel dock if you ask. The usual protocol is for the fisherman to bring the lunch and include the guide. Ask him what he likes on his sandwich. All tackle and licenses are provided. A tip of around 10% (+ or -) is customary and the guide will clean your catch too.

Through the years of operating Pines & Palms Resort, we've developed a short list of guides we send our customers to and they always come back happy. I'm sure other resorts do the same. Do your homework and have fun fishing!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sara and Jim Bernardin

This is my wife Sara and me in front of Pines & Palms Resort. We have 25 cottages, suites, and rooms on the oceanside at mile marker 80.4 in Islamorada. 

It's a family friendly resort and we're there everyday to help you have a great stay here in the Keys.

Give us a call at 800-624-0964 or outside the U.S. at 305-664-4343. Visit our website by clicking the here.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Florida Bay Fishing is Hot

Spent Saturday out in the boat with a couple of friends from England, Glen Taylor and Philip Fidler. All I can say is Florida Bay fishing is just about as good as it gets right now. We fished a few cuts on our way to Schooner Bank and boated some nice snapper. When the tide stopped we headed a few miles west and put out the chum bag. Within minutes we were catching a fish on almost every cast.

Using a basic jig and shrimp on 8 pound test with a 40 pound leader, we caught over 14 different species of fish including some extra large Spanish Mackerel. The list includes Spanish Mackerel, Mangrove Snapper, Mutton Snapper, Lane Snapper, Yellowtail Snapper, Bluefish, Grunts, Ladyfish, Blue Runners, Jack Crevalle, Lemon Sharks, Spinner Sharks, Leather Jacks, Pinfish... you name it!

If you want to do some fun fishing and catch a lot of fish, head out a few miles past Schooner or Sprigger Banks. Make sure you have 2 or 3 blocks of chum and plenty of shrimp. It should be excellent fishing out there for the next 4 months.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Islamorada Fun Facts

The name "Islamorada", meaning "purple isle", is thought to come from early Spanish explorers.

Islamorada, "Village of Islands" was incorporated on November 4, 1997 and includes the islands of Lower Matecumbe Key, Upper Matecumbe Key, Windley Key and Plantation Key in the Florida Keys.

Prior to this date, Islamorada was only considered to be the little town on the island of Upper Matecumbe Key, which is where our Pines & Palms Resort is located.

As of the 2000 census, the Village had a total population of 6,846. As of 2004, the population recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau was 7,033.

Islamorada is considered the Sport Fishing Capital of the World due to the number of world records and the number of different species which can be caught within a short boat ride of town.

Fishing Update

If you want to find out what's happening with fishing while you are staying in the Keys, all you need to do is tune in to WFFG 1300 AM and listen to their morning show, Monday - Friday from 7 to 9 a.m. It's a bit corney at times but they speak with lots of different captains and usually provide some good fishing information. By the way, WFFG stands for "worlds finest fishing grounds."

You can also click here and find the Fishing Forecast link to Florida Sportsman. It's updated weekly towards the end of the week.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Just had dinner at Ziggie and Maddog's. If you want steak, this is the place. Most every restaurant in the Keys specializes in fish or has a lot of fish on the menu. Ziggie's is one that specializes in steak. The atmosphere is classic, white table cloths and big wine glasses. My recommendation is to order the filet medium rare, (it's the biggest I've ever seen) with spinach (trust me, you'll like the spinach). Come hungry, this place piles on the food. John runs the place and will take good care of you.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Stone Crab Season

The best thing from the waters of the Florida Keys are the Stone Crabs. The season started October 15th and runs through May 15. No need to pay the high restaurant prices for these sweet ocean treats. Go to a local fish market like the Islamorada Fish Company and buy them by the pound. You'll need a wooden mallet to crack the claws and don't forget the honey mustard sauce. Sooo good!

You can also have them shipped across the country by visiting the Islamorada Fish Company web site. The photo above shows fresh Stone Crab claws shipped all the way to Chicago from Islamorada for Thanksgiving. They arrived via overnight delivery, fresh and delicious... mallet and honey mustard sauce included!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Weather in Paradise

Some of the best weather of the year is November through April.

Our average daily highs will be 75-80 degrees F and our lows, 62-70 F. It's also the dry season and we'll have on average, less than 3 inches of rain per month.

The warmest month of the year is July with average highs of 89 degrees, lows of 79. The highest recorded temperature was 98 degrees in 1957.

Our coolest month is January with average highs of 75 with lows of 62. The lowest recorded temperature was 35 degrees in February of 1981.

June is our big month for rain.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Florida Bay Maps

If you are planning on fishing the backcountry (Florida Bay), you will need a good map. The best are from Waterproof Charts. The one I use most frequently is #33E. It shows an overview of all of Florida Bay and most of the cuts.

Another good one is #6F. If you don't want to venture too far in, it provides a view of about 6 miles out with the added advantage of about 6 miles out on the ocean side too (lots of great reef fishing).

If you do fish the other side of the Bay, chart #39 gives a close up view to about 4 miles out from East of Flamingo all the way around the corner to Shark River. You'll also see plenty of cuts and rivers penetrating into the everglades.

If you like to fish further out into the Gulf, chart # #03 is a good one.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Tarpon are Always Here

Yes, there are still plenty of Tarpon around. You really should go fishing. Most are smaller but who would complain about hooking-up 5 or so thirty-pounders on light tackle at sunset? So much fun.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Don't miss dining pleasures

There's a few places you need eat at to get the complete Islamorada experience.

First, you really haven't lived the Islamorada lifestyle unless you have experienced Manny and Isa's Key Lime Pie. Here's the classic Keys lunch: go to Manny and Isa's, order a Cuban sandwich, a pitcher of iced tea, and the Key Lime Pie for dessert. Yum.

Next, go to the Islamorada Fish Company. Enjoy bay-front dining, fish in a basket style (best for lunch). When you are finished eating (or waiting for your table) stroll through the Worldwide Sportsman. Lots of great t-shirts, gifts, clothes, and fishing equipment-a-plenty.

Wanna go to a real Keys-style restaurant? Don't miss the Island Grill. I like this place for dinner. All the choices on the menu are pretty good and the atmosphere is classic Keys all the way. The food is excellent.

If you want something more elegant, go to Pierre's. Ask for a table on the balcony and time your reservation for the sunset. You will be overlooking Florida Bay. This is the sister restaurant to Morada Bay which is a little less formal (nothing is actually formal in the Keys... shorts and t-shirt is acceptable in any restaurant).

Monday, October 29, 2007

According to Jim

Hi my name is Jim and I own and operate a little hotel in Islamorada called Pines & Palms Resort

Over the years we've heard all the questions and tried our best to answer with quality information to help people have a pleasant stay when visiting our little islands.

There is so much to do especially if you like fishing, diving, boating, and eating (we have lots of great restaurants here). It's difficult though, when you only have a few days or a few weeks, to know where to go, what to do, and who to contact. I can help you with all of that.

It's the off season now, so there's not too many people visiting but the fish are still biting and there's plenty of fun to be had. We've finally moved off the extreme heat and humidity of the summer. Water temps are cooling and fresh schools of bait are arriving daily with lots of game fish following. If you plan to visit, it's supposed to be a bit windy this week so don't plan on much diving.

I'm more of a backcountry and reef fisherman but I keep up with the local off-shore scene too. I'm also a certified diver, birdwatcher, naturalist, and boater with over 40 years on the water.

Let me know if you are coming for a visit and I'll try to help with your plans.