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 $2.50 to go out on the dock and it’s another $5 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.) They’re nicknamed the Silver King.
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 four 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 (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.
The tarpon-feeding dock is open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Dining at Robbie’s Marina
Overlooking the marina and fish frenzy are outdoor tables from the Hungry Tarpon, a funky wooden fish shack built in 1947 and expanded in recent years to a large outdoor waterfront patio.
For years, its breakfasts have been famous and its fish sandwiches popular for lunch.
Thanks to photos on social media, the Hungry Tarpon is now famous for its “Trailer Trash Bloody Mary,” made with house-infused cucumber vodka with bleu cheese, pickle, garlic olives, pickled green beans, crisp strip of bacon, celery, meat straw and a shrimp cocktail!
The Hungry Tarpon is open 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Robbie’s Marina also has several booths at an open-air market, where you can browse.
We particularly liked the excellent Key Lime Pie Ice Cream at Charli’s Shave Ice at Robbies, located in an adorable Airstream camper. (In summer 2023, Charli’s specialty ice creams are $7 for a 6 ounce serving; $8 for an 8 ounce serving and $9 for a 12 ounce serving.)
Robbie’s Marina as a base for outings
Robbie’s has become a full-service destination for Keys recreation seekers. You can book charter fishing boats, snorkeling tours, party fishing boats, and sunset cruises. You can rent kayaks and jet skis.
Our favorite outing is to rent kayaks and paddle to an island ghost town — Indian Key Historic State Park, where you can explore the remains of a once-thriving village. It takes about 30 to 45 minutes to kayak to Indian Key.
It’s an uninhabited, undeveloped island where you still walk the roads of the original village, past the ruins of historic building foundations. It’s sparsely visited, perfectly quiet and seems utterly timeless. It’s also a great place to snorkel.
A new offering at Robbie’s Marina in fall 2023 is glass-bottom boat tours. The new Transparensea glass-bottom boat is offering day and night tours of reefs such as nearby Alligator Reef. It’s a 46-foot boat that has a stabilizer to reduce motion. It can carry 49 passengers. Details: glassbottomtour.com.
Feed the tarpon at Robbie’s Marina: Useful links
Robbie’s Marina is located on the bay side of the Overseas Highway at Mile Marker 77.5. Phone number for the tarpon booth and booking office is 305-664-8070.
- Robbie’s Marina
- The Hungry Tarpon, the restaurant at Robbie’s Marina.
- Trip Advisor on the Hungry Tarpon
- Robbie’s on YouTube
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
- Best 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 near Robbie’s Marina
- Best tent camping in the Keys
- Camping in the Middle Keys: Curry Hammock State Park
- Camping near Key West
- Camping at the Dry Tortugas
- Houseboats on Big Pine Key
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.