of Recreational Fishing in the Florida Keys
South Florida fishing guide we can put a name to was Charlie Thompson,
chartering from the Royal Palm Hotel. Thompson was also the guide
for the Astors. Born in 1873, he was the son of the Cape Florida
Lighthouse keepers. Thompson fished both Miami and Keys waters,
but it was the first day in June, 1912, the captain would never
forget. His vessel was halfway to Key West, just south of Marathon,
off a little island called Pigeon Key
thought he had hooked into a sea monster. It was certainly believed
to be the world's largest fish. Now we know the mysterious creature
was a whale shark, a docile critter, feeding mostly on plankton
and small fish. If any human were ever injured by one of these,
it was accidental. While his passengers were begging him to cut
the line, Thompson pursued his life's dream of catching the world's
biggest fish. After a 39-hour battle and being towed many additional
miles, Thompson's will to triumph over this mysterious creature
prevailed. After using five harpoons and 151 bullets, Thompson hired
a tug boat to tow his catch 110 miles, back to Miami.
the question became what to do with a 30,000 pound fish beginning
to emit foul odors? The Smithsonian Institute sent taxidermist J.S.
Warmbeth to Miami with 15 barrels of formaldehyde and other chemicals.
Every undertaker for miles around was called upon for help. The
creature was 45 feet long, had a circumference slightly under 24
feet and a tail measuring ten feet from tip to tip. The hide was
three inches thick.
Beach resident Carl Fisher, thinking nobody would believe the story,
mounted the exhibit on a Flagler flat car touring the country, taking
it to his home town of Indianapolis, Indiana, just to prove it was
not a fish tale. Historian Eyster recalled his mother taking a photograph
of himself sitting in the huge fish's mouth in 1925. However, the
Eyster family lost all in Hurricane Donna, in 1960, including the
photo. Ironically, almost a century later, Eyster serves as a member
of the Pigeon Key Foundation. This group is currently charged with
the historical restoration of the tiny island going back to the
days of when and where Charlie Thompson fought his 30,000-pound
whale shark, only three miles away.
year Thompson landed his whale shark, Flagler finished construction
of his railroad, connecting to Florida's southern-most point and
busiest deep-water port, Key West. Henry Flagler died the following
year in 1913. Conventional charter fishing, both in Miami and Key
West, was rapidly growing. However, almost everything in-between
remained virtually untouched with the exception of Long Key. Almost
exactly midway between the two expanding cities, Long Key's south
end served as a major construction site for the railroad.
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