All anglers and outdoors folks hold a special fascination for islands. When this magic is blended into a compact land mass rich in foliage, reachable only by boat (and that means no landing strip for small planes), and featuring an "Olde Florida" destination that offers wonderful food, libations, cool lodgings and loads of tours and activities for just about everyone, you're in for a memory-making experience. Cabbage Key rests on a delightful tripod-platform of an excellent restaurant, historic inn, and cottages, the original aspects dating back to the 1930's. So whether you come by boat for food and beverage or whether you stay on Cabbage Key, you cannot go wrong.
The historic inn-or "old house", as some call it, is the epicenter of the operation as it sits on a bluff of shell mound overlooking the marina, gift shop, and arriving guests plus visitors. The inn itself has six remodeled rooms which wrap around the restaurant. I was fortunate to be able to get one of the rooms with an excellent waterfront view. The room was furnished in nautical, Olde Florida renderings and featured a king-sized bed, convertible couch, vibrant air conditioning, plus much more.
And the best part was that the restaurant — open for breakfast lunch, and dinner — was a dozen steps away and perhaps a hundred yards from where my guide Captain Eric Flett would pick me up for two days of fishing. The corner table near my room became the customary spot to eat hearty traditional breakfasts, and peel-shrimp or cheese burger lunches. In the evening the dining room switched to the rear of the Inn where I dined on some excellent grouper and tripletail entrees.
Cabbage Key offers seven stand-alone cottages. All are spacious, striking, well-placed and capable of handling anywhere from a couple to a family-sized group. The cottages are away from the center of activity-especially the hungry lunchtime boaters — and offer more a measure of seclusion.
The on-island recreation afforded me some long nature paths for exercise as well as a wooden vista tower from where I was able to take some panoramic photographs. On my walk I spotted a pair of otters, loads of ducks, a tortoise, and some big egrets. When I spent some time at the gift shop for a chat, I found out that Cabbage Key can help with skiff rentals as well as arrange a day of beaching on nearby Cayo Costa Key.
My arrival day passed quickly and I was happy to start my next morning fishing with Captain Erik Flett. Erik arrived in his spiffy Lake and Bay skiff coupled with a large Yamaha outboard — this was a rig that would get us around extensive Pine Island Sound with speed and comfort.
We began our day fishing the beaches of Cayo Costa and caught some nice snook and a gator trout pitching whitebait to sighted fish. When the fish wised up, we tried a bunch of islands and saw many snook — but no takers. Erik was committed to moving until we got the right combination of current, wind, and enough turbidity to relax the snook. We hit the jackpot against Pine Island when I fought and released a seventeen pound snook. Six more snook of smaller size were caught along with a redfish. I asked Erik if we could catch a trout to complete a West Coast Slam — and we had that accomplished in one half an hour.
We finished the day fishing some docks where we caught another four snook as well as hooking a giant "linesider" at least 20 pounds that cut Eric's leader.
The results of the second day were consistent as well. We started in a different area and caught four snook to 12 pounds. We explored some other spots, catching a few more snook, but had to be back at Cabbage Key at 1 p.m.
On our way in, Erik told me of some superb spots for juvenile tarpon that would be responsive to a well-presented fly. As we said goodbye, I was already thinking about what dates — and how quickly-would I be returning.