VIDEO: Fish ID book gets put to good use during Florida Keys adventure

ISLAMORADA, Fla. -- "The Sport Fish of Florida" book aboard the 23-foot ProLine Gary Moeller piloted during our recent trip to the Florida Keys got a good workout every day we were on the water.

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ISLAMORADA, Fla. -- "The Sport Fish of Florida" book aboard the 23-foot ProLine Gary Moeller piloted during our recent trip to the Florida Keys got a good workout every day we were on the water.

Many was the time we had to page through book, which covers 213 species, just to figure out what we had at the end of our lines. By week's end, the four of us who made the March 31-April 7 excursion had tallied nearly 20 different kinds of fish.

Without the book, a lot of those species would have gone down in our memory banks as "sea bass."

Moeller, of Baudette, Minn., had access to the boat and a rental property in Islamorada through a business partner, and he invited three of us to join him on his second trip to the Keys in as many years. Also making the trek were Steve Martin of Baudette and Jeff Greteman of Carroll, Iowa.

Aside from Greteman, all of us live about as far north of the Florida Keys as you can get in the continental United States.


We hired guides one day to take us into the shallow backcountry waters of Florida Bay, which borders the Everglades to the north and the Florida Keys to the south and west. The rest of the time, we fished on our own.

As a saltwater novice, I was surprised to find the fishing techniques weren't much different than that what we use to fish catfish on the Red River or walleyes on Lake of the Woods. We spent a lot of time anchored and fishing with cut bait, either still-fishing on the bottom or jigging it with a circle hook.

One evening, I caught a 20ish-pound stingray on a walleye rod while jigging a chunk of cut bait. It hugged the bottom like a big walleye, but that's where the similarity ended.

After spending a week in Islamorada, it's easy to see why the south Florida community bills itself as the "Sportfishing Capital of the World." There are a lot of species to catch here, and most of the time, the wait between bites isn't very long.

We went through several pounds of cut bait during the week.

There were a few disappointments and things we'd do differently if the opportunity to fish the Keys presents itself in the future. The tarpon that are a big attraction were elusive, but we didn't see any other anglers hook one of the massive, hard-fighting fish, either.

And in hindsight, I think all of us wish we'd taken an ocean charter instead of a daylong guided trip into the backcountry. We spent more time traveling than fishing, and in the end, we didn't fish any differently than we did on our own; we just traveled a lot farther to do it.

Had we taken an ocean charter, we could have tangled with species such as mahi-mahi, amberjack and perhaps even tuna.


Still, the variety of fish was impressive, and having to page through a reference guide to identify the catch was a first for me. Some of the fish, such as the yellowtail snapper that were too small to keep and a species called white grunt we couldn't keep off our lines, would have been colorful additions to any saltwater aquarium.

Others, such as the puffer fish we caught on several occasions, were just plain ugly and quickly returned to the water. Ditto for the needlefish, an eel-like species with a bill full of sharp teeth that was attracted to the chum we hung from the side of the boat while fishing a few miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.

The coolest -- for lack of a better word -- fish of all, though, had to be the flying fish we encountered on the Atlantic. We didn't catch a flying fish, but we had schools of the bluish-colored fliers sailing around us on numerous occasions as they glided effortlessly across the water for 50 feet or farther.

Groupers took the prize as strongest fighters, pound for pound. We caught dozens of them up to 7 or 8 pounds. Considering the battle they gave us, I can only imagine tangling with a grouper weighing 40 pounds or more. They're excellent eating, too, I'm told, but season wasn't open so all were returned to the water.

The stingrays gave us the longest battles. Martin caught one during the guided trip that weighed 70 or 80 pounds, and we tag-teamed a stingray while fishing on our own the last morning that looked to be even bigger.

You'll find a video clip of that fish on our website at It was an impressive ending to an impressive fishing trip, one I hope to make again someday.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send email to .


Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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