Last updated on April 27th, 2020 at 12:11 pm
A few years ago, you learned about how to feed the tarpon at Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada via word of mouth.
Robbie’s is almost famous 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
In recent years, an ambitious 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:
- Mile marker guide with dozens of stops to help make the most of your drive south.
- Florida Keys wildlife: Places to see animals
- Tiki bars: Soak up the Keys atmosphere
- 12 great kayak outings in the Keys
- Top 10 pit stops on Overseas Highway
- Free beaches in the Florida Keys
Special places to discover in the Middle Keys
- The Old Seven Mile Bridge and Pigeon Key
- Indian Key: Kayak into history
- Sea Turtle Hospital in Marathon
Special places in the Upper Keys
- Original African Queen boat in Key Largo
- Florida Keys Wild Bird Center
- John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Camping and lodging
- Best tent camping in the Keys
- Long Key: Beach camping in the Keys
- Camping in Middle Keys: Curry Hammock State Park
- Camping near Key West
- Camping at the Dry Tortugas
- Classic Keys cabins on Big Pine Key