fishing charter boat legend


History of Recreational Fishing in the Florida Keys

The first 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

Thompson 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.

Now, 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.

Miami 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.

The same 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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