Tag Archives: Key West


Marquesa is a book penned well before the existence of blogs, but it is the type of published work every fly fishing blogger wishes he’d written. Author Jeffrey Cardena’s  account of his solitary venture by houseboat in the Marquesas Keys, an atoll sitting 30 miles west of Key West, is as compelling a first person fishing narrative as you’ll read.

Cardenas was, and still is, a well-regarded Keys fishing guide, but his words are not confined to that world. He writes without pretense, in a natural voice that perfectly reflects his sheer joy and wonderment from being immersed in this wilderness with tarpon, permit, sharks and even cassiopea.  He limits his descriptions of the actual fly fishing–a very good thing–and when he does talk about it he avoids altogether the angler as hunter-hero stalking prey vibe that bogs down much outdoor writing. Plus, Cardenas is well aware of the historical, cultural, and political significance of his surroundings and his weaving of that into the work gives it heft.

It seems weird to be writing a review of a book first published in 1995. But it has been out of print for years now and, in the process has attained a cult status. I first heard of it in a conversation two years ago, and had been trying in vain to find a copy not selling for $400 on eBay. That Departure Publishing** has republished it as an ebook has given it a rebirth and an entirely new audience. (It parallels the release of Tarpon on dvd, both in buzz and in quality of content.)

As an ex-Floridian who never made the crossing to the Marquesas Keys, I had great expectations for this book. Marquesa met them; I found it hard to put the Kindle down. Cardenas ends the book perfectly but too soon. I want more, and more than ever, I want to get there.

$9.99, Departure Publishing

**(Yeah, my book is published by Departure too, but I have no vested interest in posting about this one. I paid full price for it and wrote this review unsolicited.)

Cayo Hueso

There was a bluegrass duo at the bar and after the 13th request for “Dueling Banjos” the guitar player jumped off the small stage and grabbed the requester by the throat.

This is a place that flips switches. It’s where Wallace Stevens threw down with Robert Frost and tried to punk Hemingway. The guitar player’s response fell within acceptable parameters. But it was time to leave.

The Canadian had built a pickle-fork flats skiff that ran 74 and he put in a foot pedal throttle, like a car. In the morning he intentionally ran over cormorants as we blasted across bayside waters from Big Pine. He hit a well known flat and killed the engine and trimmed up. We did not have a push pole. We drifted and, unbelievably, spotted a group of four bonefish. I tried to strip line off my reel and saw a shrimp impaled on a Mustad fly by my head and the Canadian jumped past me on the bow; saltwater mist shot from the spool of his spinning reel as it gained velocity.

He felt bad about it later. He decided to run oceanside to a channel marker and drop pinfish for barracuda the size and girth of a railroad track cross beam. I hooked one and it jumped and ran and dove deep in a lightning fast counter move,  and I slammed my knuckles on the gunwale and split them open.

The thunderstorms rolled in on the afternoon and knocked out the power at the hotel, and with no air conditioner the room quickly lost its cool. The rain stopped but the Canadian had taken the boat to fix the jack plate we bent.  I walked out behind the hotel building and past the camper lot to the small beach. I made a few blind casts and hooked a nine-inch barracuda. I pulled it in by hand and green shards of bucktail from the abused clouser stuck to its skin and my fingers.

The Canadian was late coming back so I drove down to Key West myself. I couldn’t find the locals bar where he intimately knew the waitress, so I bought a traveler and walked the streets. The strangers moving in and out of the buildings and along the walkways blended together but one face caught my attention.

The guitar player from the bluegrass band; it was him, asleep on the front step of a shaded porch, an unlit cigarette in his mouth. I took two steps then stopped, turned back and threw my half-full cup in his direction. I ran off before I could see the impact and probably wasted three dollars worth of vodka, but I didn’t care.

I love Dueling Banjos.


Growing up in South Florida in the 80s, my friends and I had a certain romanticized idea of what Key West should be, one that never quite met reality when we took the trip down US 1 and hit the bridge from Boca Chica. But it did exist at one time, and that Key West is captured perfectly in Tarpon, the fantastic documentary made by UYA Films in 1973.

Filmmaker Christian Odasso and producer Guy de la Valdene made the film to try and capture the vibe of tarpon fly anglers at a time when it was still generally a cult sport. In doing so they accomplished far more than creating fish porn, they encapsulated a cultural slice of Key West in the early 70s.

Tarpon contains a lot of cool stuff,  from the sound track featuring old school Jimmy Buffett (before he became a corporation), to the sound bites from Thomas McGuane, Richard Brautigan, and Jim Harrison. It also shows many different parts of Key West life, from local characters and partyers to artists and treasure hunters. A lot of the guys have porn-star mustaches, shark tooth necklaces, and cut-off jeans, and you catch people in the background saying things like “Far out, man,” and “Made in the shade like lemonade.” It also has highlights from a roundtable discussion with tarpon guides and anglers interspersed throughout.

But the film mainly follows Guy de la Valdene on the hunt for tarpon in a platform-less Maverick flats skiff that he often poles from the bow. Much of the tarpon footage is contrasted against a party boat scene where the crew is thumping fish after fish and dumping them in buckets, helping clarify the pursuit of tarpon with a fly rod as something altogether different than just fishing.

The tarpon fishing scenes are awesome, with video as compelling as any of the HD clips found today. When Valdene is fishing with Gil Drake or Paige Brown, the instrumental “Brahma Fear” is turned down and the only sounds come from the skiff moving through the water or from the anglers whispering as they stalk tarpon.

If you’re expecting to see fishing footage of the three literary giants you’ll be disappointed. For the most part you see them partying or lounging around in hammocks. But Jim Harrison (with a Michigan accent) delivers one of the more memorable lines talking about how life produces diminishing enthusiasms, “…so you have to have something that gives you this electricity and freshens up your feeling about being alive.” Good stuff.

To order Tarpon, go to www.thebookmailer.com

Check out the trailer over at Midcurrent.com.