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Robbie’s Marina: Feed the tarpon; it’s best cheap fun you can find in the Keys

Last updated on June 10th, 2021 at 02:59 pm

The dock at Robbie's Marina in the Florida Keys, where visitors gather to feed the tarpon.  (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The dock at Robbie’s Marina in the Florida Keys, where visitors gather to feed the tarpon.  (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

A few years ago, you learned about how to feed the tarpon at Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada via word of mouth.

Robbie’s at Mile Marker 77 is famous now — it draws big crowds.

It’s still fun, although more crowded and commercial. The nearby restaurant, the Hungry Tarpon, has expanded to provide extensive waterfront dining. When we first visited, it was little more than a weathered wooden cottage.

The big draw at Robbie’s Marina is the chance to see 50 to 100 enormous tarpon swimming around the dock in clear water only a few feet deep. You pay $2.25 to go out on the dock and it’s another $4 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.

Sign at Robbie's Marina, where you feed the tarpon. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Sign at Robbie’s Marina, where you feed the tarpon. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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 or rent a kayak. It became the favorite buffet for tarpon through an act of kindness.

More than 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 the fish for 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.

You can feed the tarpon at Robbie's Marina by tossing fish to them. Some want to brave the experience of hand-feeding the toothy fish. (Photo: David Blasco)

You can feed the tarpon at Robbie’s Marina by tossing fish to them. But some visitors want to brave the experience of hand-feeding the tarpon. (Photo: David Blasco)

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.

Be prepared for aggressive pelicans that try to steal the fish before they reach the tarpon. Visitors often see manatees or nurse sharks near the docks too. 

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. Now, the Hungry Tarpon has spread tables out along the waterfront for expanded seating. 

A tarpon at Robbie's Marina, waiting for visitors to toss some fish. (Photo: David Blasco)

A tarpon at Robbie’s Marina, waiting for visitors to toss some fish. (Photo: David Blasco)

Feed the tarpon at Robbie’s Marina: Useful links

Hungry Tarpon, a restaurant at Robbie's Marina

Hungry Tarpon, a restaurant at Robbie’s Marina. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Resources for planning a Florida Keys vacation:

Special places to discover in the Middle Keys

Special places in the Upper Keys

Camping and lodging

 

From the Editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but can change without notice. Please confirm rates and details when planning your trip by following the links in this article.

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