Escape to Hawks Cay
Scattered like jewels across the Florida Straits, the Florida Keys are the embodiment of a vacation paradise. About an hour’s drive south of Key Largo is the secluded island of Duck Key, where the outdoors and relaxation meld into one at the Hawks Cay Resort.
“They’ve done a great job remodeling,” said Hawks Cay Marketing Manager Wilner Henri as we walk across the less-than-a-year-old tile of the main lobby. “The property has undergone a $60 million restoration after Hurricane Irma, and in the process, moved away from the former motif of dark West Indies woods to this brighter more vibrant color.”
The resort’s complete makeover is fresh, with new décor and flawless landscaping. You are transported to a happy place as you pass a huge saltwater aquarium on your way to the blue water lagoon on the opposite side of the main atrium. You hear island music throughout the terraced pools and saltwater lagoon as you step out onto the pool deck where guests mingle, frozen daiquiris and Pina Coladas in-hand. As the on-set location for popular shows like Salt Water Experience and Into the Blue, the resort specializes in accommodating anglers. Whether you are taking advantage of the offshore reefs and wreck fishing or throwing loops at bonefish between postcard-perfect islets, it’s the perfect jump-off spot for Keys angling experiences.
“Can we catch a shark?” was all my ten-year-old son asked when given the choice of heading to one of the patch reefs or to backcountry where we could jump a few tarpon or snook. My wife and youngest son opted to stay behind and enjoy the resort amenities.
My eldest, Eland, and I booked a last-minute fishing charter from the comfort of our room. Located just a short walk away, we hopped on a twenty-four-foot bay boat at the marina. After a short ride into the backcountry, were casting soft plastic jigs for trout, snapper, and ladyfish.
While the action was steady for the first hour, Eland was confused as to why we weren’t hooking any sharks. After he reeled up his second ladyfish, our captain cut it in half and attached it to a large circle hook tied to a steel leader with a much bigger spinning outfit than what we were using.
“Looks like we’ve been catching the bait buddy,” I joked.
My son’s eyes widened, and a huge smile crossed his face. The heavy rig splashed behind the boat, and the captain stuck the rod into the gunnel. A few minutes later, the reel’s drag sounded off and a huge wake took off behind the boat.
“That might be our shark,” I said, as the captain handed Eland the rod.
It was too much torque for him to contend with at first, so we both fought the big fish together. Then Eland was ready to fight it alone. After a grueling, but short, battle, he wrestled a six-foot lemon shark boatside. The captain held the leader for Eland to touch its dorsal fin before releasing it.
“That’s the biggest fish we’ve ever caught!” shouted Eland, still watching in amazement as the shark swam away.
“I can’t believe I just caught a shark!” he shouted again.
“And a really big one too,” I said.
Arriving back at the marina, we dropped off the snapper we’d caught at the Angler and Ale Restaurant. The chef prepared our catch as part of the restaurant’s Hook and Cook special. For Eland, the whole idea of catching and eating your own food began to sink in. We sat down to dinner, and Eland proudly reminded his younger brother and mother how we’d caught our dinner for the night.
The meal tasted excellent. The grilled snapper, followed by a slice of classic Key Lime pie, made for the perfect dinner. Afterwards, we walked past the lagoon deck where dolphins swam in the gentle waves as the sun sank low. As the last bit of light faded, we found a few empty chairs around a stone fire pit. A live duet nearby sang an Eagles cover into the night air.
Watching the mix of laughter and conversations from the illuminated faces gathered around the fire, I glimpsed Eland gazing in a tired-kid kind of way. He looked a little older with a week’s worth of sun on his cheek.
“You still thinking about your shark?” I asked.
“Yes sir,” he answered.
“Can we stay one more day?” he asked.
“Maybe next year,” I replied.
“I wish summer would never end,” he said
Dustin spent his childhood exploring the bass-rich ponds that once blanketed the Central Florida landscape. At age 16 he headed east to hone his skills on redfish and sea trout in the famous Mosquito Lagoon. After high school He graduated with a B.S. Degree in Environmental Science began his career as a Senior Environmental Engineer while also traveling the U.S. as a freelance outdoor writer in search of fishing and hunting adventures. Over the past decade hundreds of Dustin’s works have been published in numerous well known travel, fishing, hunting and outdoor publications throughout the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom.