Florida Keys / Funky / Kayak & Canoe / Unique Eats

Robbie’s Marina: Feed the tarpon, stay for dinner

The dock at Robbie's Marina in the Florida Keys

The dock at Robbie’s Marina in the Florida Keys

Sign at Robbie's Marina

Sign at Robbie’s Marina

~A few years ago, you learned about Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada and its giant tarpon via word of mouth. Robbie’s may be better known now, but its appeal hasn’t changed.

It’s still a don’t-miss stop on a Florida Keys trip. And the nearby restaurant, the Hungry Tarpon, has only gotten better, so there are even more reasons to pull off US 1 at Mile Marker 77.

The big draw at Robbie’s is the chance to see 50 to 100 enormous tarpon swimming around the dock in clear water only a few feet deep. You pay $1 to go out on the dock and it’s another $3 for a bucket of fish pieces to toss to them. It might be the most entertainment you’ll find in the Keys for a few bucks.

Tarpon being fed at Robbie's Marina

Tarpon gets a bite at Robbie’s Marina.

Tarpon grow to 5 to 8 feet long and weigh 80 to 150 pounds, so these aren’t the usual fish that gather when you throw bread crusts into the water in the Keys. These are among the great saltwater game fish, prized for their fight (but not as food.)

Robbie’s is a good marina to book a fishing charter, diving trip, a tour of nearby island state parks or rent a kayak. It became the favorite buffet for tarpon through an act of kindness.

A tarpon at Robbie's Marina

A tarpon at Robbie’s Marina

Almost two decades ago, the owners of Robbie’s saw a tarpon they named Scarface floundering in shallow water. When Robbie went to guide the fish into deeper water, he discovered its jaw was ripped open. According to the story on Robbie’s website, he summoned a friend who stitched the jaw with twine and a mattress needle. After hand-feeding and six months in a tank, a healthy Scarface went back into the wild. But not quite. Scarface kept coming back. And then he began bringing his friends.

Today, the dock is filled with visitors in awe of the tarpon convention that happens every day. The powerful silver fish flash in the sunlight as they lunge for the snacks dropped by visitors. Brave (I would actually say dumb) visitors try to hand-feed the fish, providing entertainment for those content to keep a distance.

Overlooking the marina and fish frenzy are outdoor tables from the Hungry Tarpon, a funky wooden fish shack built in 1947. For years, its breakfasts have been famous and its fish sandwiches popular for lunch.

Recently, however,an ambitious new chef has made the Hungry Tarpon one of the Islamorada’s favorite dinner destinations, with a good wine list, award-winning desserts and tiki torches lighting the night.

Resources for planning a Florida Keys vacation:

Special places to discover in the Middle Keys

Hungry Tarpon, a restaurant at Robbie's Marina

Hungry Tarpon, a restaurant at Robbie’s Marina

Special places in the Upper Keys

Camping and lodging

 

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