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September 18, 2009

Fishing Key Largo

The locals know full well that the fishing in Key Largo stands up to any of the other islands in the chain...

Every time I exit the Florida Turnpike just past Homestead and get on Route 1 heading south toward the Florida Keys, my breathing eases, the shoes slip off and I don't mind adhering to the 45 mph speed limit. The whole rush, rush, rush of everyday life takes a back seat, and I find myself thinking about pulling over after every bridge I cross to see if there might be tarpon or snook underneath. That's what the Florida Keys does for me: It slows things down and feeds my need to play on the water - and I'm not alone.

Thousands of anglers flock to the Keys each year to enjoy some fishing and relaxation. According to the International Game Fish Association, the Keys are home to more world-record catches than any other destination. And while there are plenty of spots to hang your hat in the Keys, many anglers overlook Key Largo and keep heading south, watching the mile markers tick down toward zero. Islamorada, Marathon and Key West certainly offer a ton of fishing opportunity, but when you cruise right by Key Largo, you miss out on a great stretch of reef and a good time.

The locals, of course, know full well that the fishing in Key Largo stands up to any of the other islands in the chain. So when one well-known local, former football coach Jimmy Johnson, invited me out fishing to show me firsthand why he loves these waters, not even a Cowboys lineman could keep me away. Johnson has called the Keys home since the mid-1990s, and whenever the weather and his schedule permits, you'll find him offshore fishing on his 39-foot Sea Vee Three Rings (so named for the collegiate championship ring he won coaching at the University of Miami and his two Super Bowl rings with the Dallas Cowboys).

From the minute I stepped aboard Three Rings, I could tell that Johnson is the real deal. He set up his boat for one thing - fishing. The boat is tricked out with a small tower and full controls, outriggers, more rod holders than I can remember, a complete electronics suite and plenty of fish boxes. And rather than sporting quad outboards as most of these center consoles do, Johnson's 39-footer is powered by twin 480 hp Cummins inboard diesels. It's fast and fuel efficient, which is perfect for running over to Cay Sal Bank in the Bahamas, one of Johnson's favorite wahoo spots.

"I'm not big on live-baiting or bottomfishing," Johnson says. "I like to cruise and look around. When we find something that we like - maybe a weed line or some birds working - then we start fishing."