On the way out to Whitewater Bay, we encountered this very sluggish American crocodile. John was stoked; he’d never seen one of these endangered lizards before. (Enter for your chance to win a trip for 2 to the Florida Keys! Find out how at the end of this photo gallery).
Capt. John McMurray, who hails from Long Beach, New York, is an old friend, colleague in the outdoor writing world and brother in arms on the conservation front. John even introduced me to my wife, Ericka, when she was living in Long Beach, surfing a lot with John and trying to save the surf and surf fishing there from an Army Corps boondoggle dredging project. During the summer months, I have to endure report after report of John and clients catching huge stripers in really skinny water. I’ve fished with John a few times up that way, and it’s some of the greatest fly- and light-tackle action in America. During the winter, though, I taunt him with reports from sunny Florida. John’s wife, Danielle, is pregnant with their first children–the twins should arrive mid-March. In the middle of one of the worst New York winters in memory, Danielle told her stir-crazy husband to take one last adventure before getting down to diapers. The fishing has been superb in Southeast Florida all winter, especially the bluewater action. Cold winters really fire up the fish. So I threw out the concept of road trip through the Keys, stopping along the way to fish with some friends of mine. He said he’d always wanted to ride a bike through the keys. A fishing buddy owns a Suzuki dealership in Miami, and he hooked John up with a sweet bike.
We were supposed to go straight to Key Largo, then run across Florida Bay to Flamingo with Capt. Jason Swensson (, but John brought the coldest cold front in memory with him. Instead of riding 90 minutes round trip across a 3-foot chop in 40-degree weather, we drove straight to Everglades National Park, down to Flamingo, where we fished some areas protected from the wind. John was dying to catch a tarpon, so we ran up some remote rivers where juvenile ‘poons stack up in the winter. I hadn’t been back there in a couple of years, and I had no idea that that particularly day brought the lowest tide in 50 years. We damn near spent the night. John kept saying, “How do you know the way out? It all looks alike.” I told him to follow the tide, and handed him the wheel. He figured it out.
We had some luck in the creek connecting Whitewater and Coot bays. John caught a fat gray (a.k.a. “mangrove”) snapper.
At the top of the creek, we found some clean water and a huge school of glass minnows. Under the minnows lurked a school of juvenile snook. We caught a pile of them. John caught one of the smallest snook I’ve ever seen right as the tour boat went past. The captain got on the loudspeaker and asked, “What kind of minnow is that?”
Another cold, blustery day made backcountry fishing with Capt. Jason a no-go on Super Bowl Sunday. But northeast wind creates ideal sailfishing conditions, pushing the bait right against the reef edge. Capt. Richard Stanczyk, owner of Bud & Mary’s Marina, called to say get our butts down to Islamorada–the sailfish were chewing. The first order of business was making bait. Mate K.J. Zeher applied his castnet prowess.
Scooped up baits headed for the livewell–and hopefully a sailfish’ maw.
Sailfish pack up like wolves, and the fish were ravaging bait balls. Everywhere you looked, someone was hooked up.
A NOAA weather research buoy.
McMurray puts the screws to his first Atlantic sail.
Acrobatic leaping ability is what makes sails so much fun to catch.
Capt. Nick Stanczyk, Richard’s son, on the left, and First Mate KJ Zehar, flank a joyful McMurray with his first sail. These are the two best sailfishermen I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch at work.
My first sail of the trip.
When conditions are right, hooking up doesn’t take long.
KJ’s holding those scissors to remove a tag in this sail. Catching a sail with a tag in it is an honor like shooting a banded duck. I’ve never caught a tagged fish before. Unfortunately, we didn’t recover the tag. In clear water, you have to use very light leader and despite KJ’s gentle coercion, the fish eventually wore throught the leader.
When we got back to Dove Creek Lodge (, we went over to Snapper’s to celebrate and to watch the Super Bowl. What a scene. This dude had painted his dog in Pittsburgh team colors.
Barmaid, bring a pitcher, another round of brew . . .
A family drove up in their boat, complete with kids and their yellow lab on the bow.
The girls were hamming it up while their parents lived it up.
Day three, we went swordfishing. Record low tides made it impossible to get the 53-foot Catch 22 out of the marina at first light. So Capt. Scott Stanczyk and KJ brought it out during high tide at 3 a.m. and we ferried out there at daylight.
We prepare for the fishing battle of our lives–swordfish. More on our Spring Fling tomorrow…
A decade ago, we managed to get longlining for swordfish banned in state waters. The populations bounced back, and night-time swordfishing off Southeast Florida became the rage. But most fish caught at night are small. The Stancyk’s pioneered daytime angling for swordfish. It’s more engineering than angling. You’re trying to keep a bait on the bottom in as much as 1,600 feet. You can’t fish more than one line at a time.
Rough seas made fishing tough, but John got his first broadbill swordfish at the second place we stopped, about 45 offshore. The fish was 100 pounds.
We took a risk and ran to a sharp undersea wall where it’s easy to get hung up and lose $300 of tackle in one fell swoop. When the fish hit, there was a five-minute debate as to whether we had bottom or a swordfish. I was thinking bottom. I’ve never felt a stronger fish on the other end of a line.
This photo was taken about an hour into the fight. I’m in a harness, and in a harness you gain on the fish by bending your knees as you lower the rod, then straightening your legs to lift the rod. I figure I did at least 500 seated leg presses with 255 pounds of pissed off fish on the end of the line. I literally fell out of the chair once the fish was onboard.
I was exhausted, and trying to understand the significance of catching the biggest fish I’ve ever caught and with the family who pioneered the fishery. I’ll never forget that day. Many thanks to the Stancyk clan and KJ.
After spending a day in the backcountry catching snook and redfish with Capt. Bob, we rolled down to Key West to spend a couple days bluewater flyfishing with Capt. Tony Murphy. We got blown out the first day. Day two, it was blowing 27 knots on the reef, but thankfully straight offshore. We were hooked up on Cero Mackerel and bonitos in no time.
These Cero mackerel were hitting popping bugs and streamers, sometimes launching 15 feet out of the water to attack the fly.
We did a little deep jigging, but man was it rough. Here’s an almaco jack, cousin to the amberjack. Tony’s a really hard worker, and he wouldn’t let us head for the bar until we hooked a few “reef donkeys.”
For more photos of the trip- continue through this gallery!

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Heading home on a hawg with a swordfish in tow! READY to learn how you can win a chance for a fishing trip for 2 to the Florida Keys? Click ‘Next’ to find out!
Ready to win your chance for a week long Florida Keys fishing vacation? It includes three nights at the Grand Key Resort in Key West (seen here). Click ‘Next’ to find out more…
It also includes three nights at La Siesta Resort in Islamorada (seen here). There’s even more! Click ‘Next.’
Alright, we’ve kept you in suspense long enough. Earn your chance to win a trip for 2 to the Florida Keys! Your trip includes: – $850 American Airlines air gift card provided by Florida Keys & Key West ( – Three nights at La Siesta Resort in Islamorada ( – Offshore charter on the Bn’M out of Bud N’ Mary’s Fishing Marina ( – Three nights at the Grand Key Resort in Key West ( – Fishing trip out of Key West with Captain Tony Murphy from Saltwater Angler (phone: 305-296-0700 or – Two VIP passes to Key West attractions – Two Florida Keys & Key West fishing guide hats CLICK HERE TO ENTER. You must be an registered member to enter. If you have not already made an account with us, do so now! Email if you are having problems with this form. OFFICIAL RULES __ Win A Trip For 2 To The Florida Keys Contest __ The Win A Trip For 2 To The Florida Keys Contest (the “Contest”) is sponsored by Outdoor Life Magazine, a publication of Bonnier Corporation (“Sponsor”). ONE (1) GRAND PRIZE: A week-long Florida Keys angling vacation to include: $850 American Airlines air gift card, three nights at La Siesta Resort in Islamorada, offshore charter on the Bn’M out of Bud N’ Mary’s Fishing Marina, three nights at the Grand Key Resort in Key West, Fishing trip out of Key West, two VIP passes to Key West attractions, two Florida Keys & Key West fishing guide hats., approx. retail value $4,000. __ All federal, state and local laws and regulations apply; void where prohibited. __ ELIGIBILITY: The Contest is open only to individuals, 18 years or older at time of entry, who are legal residents of the United States and have signed up for a free account at Employees of Bonnier Corporation and its parent companies, subsidiaries or agents, their immediate families (defined as parents, children, siblings, spouse and grandparents), and those domiciled with any of the foregoing are not eligible. __ TO ENTER: Submit your name, mailing address, email address, phone number, a list of fishing trips taken recently and a 200-word max essay on “Why should you win a trip to the Florida Keys?” To enter electronically, visit our website at To enter by mail, mail your username (you must sign up for to be eligible), your full name, mailing address, email address, phone number, a list of fishing trips taken recently and a 200-word max essay on “Why should you win a trip to the Florida Keys?”to Outdoor Life Florida Keys Fishing Contest, Bonnier Corporation, 2 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10016. All information provided by entrant must be complete, true and correct. Submissions to the Contest must be received by July 1, 2009 in order to be eligible; entries received after that date will be deemed ineligible to win. All submitted entries become the property of Sponsor and will not be acknowledged or returned; Sponsor is not responsible for lost, late, inaccurate, incomplete, damaged, illegible, or misdirected entries. All entries may be published on the Outdoor Life web site, whether selected for a prize or not. Nothing in these Contest rules obligate Sponsor to publish or otherwise use any form questions submitted in connection with the Contest. Each entry must be submitted on an individual basis (i.e., no team, joint, or corporate entries) and all components of the entry must be the original creation of the submitting participant. Only non-commercial work may be submitted. Entries may not contain profanity, nudity, pornographic images, violent images, anti-competition messages, illegal material, or material that violates the rights of third parties. Entries may not include confidential information, trade secrets, trademarks or copyrighted material belonging to any person or entity other than the participant absent a suitable license or permission agreement (proof of which is required). Entries containing any forbidden matter or material otherwise deemed by Organizer to be inappropriate will be disqualified. Online entries will be deemed submitted by the authorized account holder of the e-mail address submitted at time of entry. __ JUDGING: A panel of judges consisting of Outdoor Life editors will select the winning entry based equally upon the criteria of originality, skill, humor, sincerity and relevance. By entering, you agree to be bound by these Official Rules, and that the decisions of the judges are final and binding in all respects. Judging will be completed by August 1, 2009, and potential winners will be notified by email, phone call or postal service on or before September 1, 2009. Potential winners will be required to sign and return a sworn Affidavit of Eligibility and Liability and Publicity Release. If required documentation is not returned within seven (7) business days of notification, or if notification is returned as undeliverable, any prize will be forfeited and an alternate winner will be selected. __ PRIZE AWARDS: Prizes will be awarded within sixty (60) days after winner verification. No prize substitution or transfer is permitted, except that Sponsor reserves the right to substitute a prize of equal or greater value for any reason. All taxes and any other incidental expenses on Prizes are the sole responsibility of each winner. __ GENERAL RULES & LIMITATIONS: By entering, you represent that: (i) your entry is your own original work; and (ii) you own or have the rights to convey any and all right and title in any material submitted as part of your entry into the Contest. By entering, you grant to Sponsor a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free license to edit, publish, promote, republish at any time in the future and otherwise use your submission, along with your name and likeness, in any and all media for possible editorial, promotional or advertising purposes, without further permission, notice or compensation (except where prohibited by law). By participating in the Contest, you agree to release Sponsor and its parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries, employees, directors, officers, and agents from any and all liability, claims or actions of any kind whatsoever for injuries, damages or losses to persons and property which may be sustained in connection with the receipt, ownership, possession, use, or misuse of any prize. Sponsor is not responsible for technical, hardware or software failures, or other errors or problems which may occur in connection with the Contest, whether computer, network, technical, mechanical, typographical, printing, human or otherwise, including, without limitation, errors or problems which may occur in connection with the administration of the Contest, the processing or judging of entries, the announcement of the prizes, in any Contest-related materials, or that may limit prize fulfillment or a participant’s ability to enter the Contest. Sponsor reserves the right to permanently disqualify from the Contest any person it believes has intentionally violated these official rules. __ WINNER IDENTITY: For the identity of the winner(s), send a self-addressed, stamped envelope after September 1, 2009 to Win A Trip For 2 To The Florida Keys Contest Contest Winner, Bonnier Corporation- Outdoor Life, 2 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10016.

Check out OL’s most recent fishing trip to the Florida Keys and enter for your chance to win your very own trip!