My last “boys’ trip” to Vaca Cove took advantage of one of the off-season specials they offer. Units are available for rent at a price that is discounted enough for it to be a good value for guys to arrive on a Wednesday and fish, dive, snorkel, whatever Thursday, Friday, and Saturday morning. You can obviously get there earlier, since you’ve rented the place for the entire week, but a Wednesday arrival is what’s worked well for our group.
For this type of trip we all fly in and don’t mess with bringing a boat down, although you certainly could if someone lived close enough. There are some boat rental places: Captain Hooks, which I’ve previously mentioned for snorkel supplies, and Tropical Boat Rentals. Most places will include some fishing equipment, although you need to buy your own bait and tackle.
If you don’t know the area, I think it’s worth paying for the expertise of some of the local captains. Most of them are pretty good, but the ones I recommend are Best Bet Sportfishing and Main Attraction Sportfishing. Both are a short walk away on Sadowski Causeway next to Sparky’s Landing. If you go in the morning, Leigh Ann’s Coffee Shop is right next door and phenomenal! Great coffee and breakfast menus, in addition to cupcakes, cookies, scones, you name it.
Another charter option is Sea Squared Charters. It requires a bit of a drive, but they’re also very, very good. Typically, they fish different waters, closer to the Seven Mile Bridge on both the Atlantic and bay sides.
My best advice for is to let the captains take you wherever they think you’ll have the most action. If you’re a real salty fisherman and know exactly what you want to do, great, but if the captain tells you they haven’t seen a sailfish in weeks, but the Mahi were greyhounding all around the boat in the morning, listen up and change your plans—unless you’re prepared for an uneventful boat ride! All the captains are very motivated to put you on fish. Make a note: tips are important. The charters want your advertising and repeat business.
If you fish in the afternoon, Sparky’s is right on the channel between Coco Plum and Key Colony Beach, and is a great place for an evening cocktail. The best part? They’ll cook your fish for you and provide the sides.
Another fun option is the Marathon Lady party boat. Morning and afternoon trips are very affordable. It won’t be as much of a personal experience because there are other groups there, but this can be a very fun day, as the reefs around Marathon are loaded with fish and the “Lady” usually knows how to find them. The ship always has a few mates on board who will give out bait, help with fishing techniques, untangle bad snags. There are also snacks and drinks on board, but you can bring your own, too.
After a long day of fishing, nothing feels better than jumping in the pool at Vaca Cove! We typically come in, wait 30 minutes or so for the guides to clean the fish, then jump in the pool for an hour and drink a beer (or two). We always cook fish a few different ways at Vaca Cove—nice gas grills for grilled fish, we fry some, and typically bake some. I like to put the fillets in a baking dish with some coconut milk, cut up jalapeño, butter, salt, pepper, red onion and lemon slices on top. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes and presto!
There’s no magic formula for the perfect day in the Keys; it’s all good. Sometimes we play poker after dinner, or watch sports and movies. Sometimes we sit on the balcony and smoke cigars while we tell fish stories. We usually go out at least one night during the trip. Sparky’s or the Island are great stops. A personal favorite is Castaways. I love their tap menu and sushi.
With good weather and great friends, you’re in for the adventure of a lifetime when you stay at Vaca Cove. Hope to see you soon!