The Conch Republic, where palm trees sway to the tune of Margaritaville, and solid ground is merely an afterthought. A stroll down the famous Duval Street suggests an all too successful day on the water. Don’t be surprised if a whiff of drawn butter and garlic lures you into a local haunt serving conch fritters, spiny lobster, and stone crabs. This week, join Stomping Grounds on a journey 113 miles down the overseas highway and anchor down in every boater’s paradise. Discover the lure of Key West as you meet the seafarers who write her story and the vessels that bring it to life in Episode 5 of our Stomping Grounds video series.
Above: Watch the full episode of Stomping Grounds 5: Key West – A Boater’s Paradise with the Boat Trader crew and host Ryan McVinney, as the gang explores the region’s famous boating highlights.
Underwater Eco-Adventures with Honest Eco
Above: Captain Brady Stonesifer with Honest Eco tours in Key West Florida, aboard a custom power catamaran that features 6 solar panels and a Torqeedo hybrid-electric drive. Photo by Scott Sanders/DSV for Boat Trader.
“Key West has always been a super open-minded town, super friendly town, accepting of anybody no matter where you’re coming from and your lifestyle,” Brady Stonesifer tells the Stomping Grounds crew when we’re first introduced on Bight Marina. Brady is Head Captain at Honest Eco, a sustainable nature tours company that brings visitors to the Key West National Wildlife Refuge. Brady invites Stomping Grounds host Ryan McVinney aboard Squid, Honest Eco’s hybrid-electric catamaran—the only one of its kind certified by the US coast guard.
SQUID: A Custom Hybrid-Electric Catamaran
Above: “SQUID”, a custom hybrid-electric power catamaran navigates a shallow sponge garden in the Key West National Wildlife Refuge where passengers jump off to enjoy some great snorkeling and tropical fish viewing. Photo by Scott Sanders/DSV for Boat Trader.
Honest Eco’s founder Captain Billy Lipmer envisioned a vessel that could move through the shallow waters surrounding Key West without disrupting its marine habitats. She enlisted David Walworth, an MIT-educated naval architect and engineer, to help bring her dream to life. With her passion and his expert boat-building abilities, they created a vessel with six Sunflare solar panels and onboard lithium-ion batteries.
Above: Ryan McVinney alongside Captain Brady Stonesifer onboard the custom power catamaran “SQUID”. Photo by Scott Sanders/DSV for Boat Trader.
The unique boat features a hybrid diesel-electric propulsion system from Torqeedo that is quiet enough to cruise through the Key West National Wildlife Refuge without disturbing any wildlife, making it an ideal vessel for dolphin watching and snorkeling. She also has propellers mounted on the hull in a position high enough to keep them from hitting the ground and damaging or disturbing the seagrass meadows and delicate habitats in the refuge’s waters.
Hook Boats and Sponge Gardens: A Storied History
Above: Hook boats harvesting sponges from sponge gardens in Key West Florida. Photo via Pond5.
The Boat Trader team hops aboard Squid and joins Honest Eco on a snorkeling trip to one of the refuge’s many sponge gardens. Sponges play an essential role in the local coral reef ecosystem, filtering water and providing a nursery to sea creatures like lobsters and stone crabs. Yet, at one time, sponges were the very center of an industry deeply intertwined with Key West history. The island once had a monopoly on the sponge trade, with workers and fishermen harvesting the organisms on hundreds of hook boats. Hook boats were small workboats powered by oars with open layouts and small bottoms. They earned their name from the long pole rigs used to hook the sponges from the water.
Best Sandbars On Key West: Living Like a Local
Above: Captain Mike with Low Tide Charters in Key West Florida with Snipe Keys sandbar in the background. Photo by Ryan McVinney for Boat Trader.
Next, Stomping Grounds brings viewers to Hurricane Hole Marina to meet up with Captain Mike from Low Tide Charters. Captain Mike offers private charters for fishing excursions and sunset cruises but specializes in local experiences, and that can only mean one thing: sandbars.
Snipe Keys Sandbar – A Hidden Beach Gem
Captain Mike and Stomping Grounds host Ryan McVinney hop on Mike’s center console boat, a 2020 Sea Hunt 255 Ultra SE, to explore the backwaters of the island and find the best sandbars around Key West. The first stop is Snipes Key, a sandbar whose visitors are almost exclusively locals, and that may be because it’s challenging to get there—and equally tough to leave. The water is as shallow as two-and-a-half feet in some spots, so it’s easy to get stuck out here if you’re not watching the tides. With all kinds of boats anchored for the day, Snipes is a local hotspot above and below the surface. It’s not unusual for visitors to encounter lemon sharks, manatees, and stingrays hanging around this sandbar.
The Dolphin Playground – Swimming With Bottlenose Friends
The backwater journey continues to the crown jewel of Captain Mike’s tours, the dolphin playground. Thanks to shallow waters and an open seabed, hundreds of local bottlenose dolphins have taken up residence here. It doesn’t take long to spot them in the crystal clear water, and they’re anything but shy. The dolphins swim right up to the Sea Hunt to greet the Stomping Grounds crew. These playful creatures are known to be some of the happiest in the world. As the cameras peer down into this idyllic underwater landscape, it’s not hard to see why.
Sea Hunt Center Consoles
Above: The 2022 Sea Hunt 255 Ultra SE owned and operated by Low Tide Charters in Key West, Florida. Photo by Ryan McVinney for Boat Trader.
Captain Mike’s Sea Hunt has a 300-horsepower engine, a freshwater tank, and sixteen-inch Garmin’s, perfect for exploring uncharted waters. Jani Gyllenberg from Marine Connection, a local Sea Hunt dealer, shares his insight on why Sea Hunts like Captain Mike’s are the top center console boats in the country. Thanks to Marine Connection, South Florida waters are brimming with these popular center consoles, as they consistently enrich the lives of families and fishermen alike.
Above: Jani Gyllenberg with Marine Connection explaining the current model year line up of Sea Hunt boats that the boat dealer offers for sale around South Florida.
From here the crew stops by Marine Connection, a local South Florida Sea Hunt dealer, to speak with Jani Gyllenberg and learn a bit more about the Sea Hunt brand. The company’s current model line up of center console boats are family-oriented, versatile fishing platforms that offer comfort aboard and an open day boat layout.
Offshore Sportfishing Expeditions
Above: Charter Captain Chris Trosset of Reel Fly Charters onboard his Contender 35ST center console boat heading out to go offshore sportfishing in Key West, Florida. Photo by Scott Sanders for Boat Trader.
The next stop on the itinerary is Ocean Edge Resort and Marina, where Ryan McVinney and the Stomping Grounds crew meet Chris Trosset, a Key West sportfishing captain who owns and operates Reel Fly Charters. Fishing is in Chris’s blood—his brother is a dive charter captain and his father is an internationally-recognized sport fisherman who has also been a guide in Key West for over forty-five years. Aboard his Contender 35ST, the Boat Trader team ventures out into deep waters for a big game fishing adventure.
Shrimp Boats and Big Game Fish Charters
Above: A shrimp boat flying the waters 60 miles offshore from Key West Florida. Photo by DeepSee Visuals for Boat Trader and Contender Boats.
Chris brings his charters between thirty to sixty miles offshore to the commercial shrimp boats, usually in the springtime. A parade of big game fish follows behind, from blackfin tuna and bonitos to cobias and mackerel. Key West fishing guides have a unique bond with the shrimp boat crews. On the water for months at a time, they’re fairly isolated and frequently run out of supplies. The guides bring fresh vegetables, beer, and candy, and in exchange, the crews often provide fishing tips, baitfish, bycatch, and chum.
Contender 35ST – A Rugged Center Console Fishing Boat
Above: Chris Trosset’s Contender 35ST center console tournament fishing boat heads offshore from Key West, Florida. Photo by Scott Sanders/DSV for Boat Trader.
Chris’s custom Contender 35ST is a true fishing machine, decked out with triple 300 Suzuki’s and all the latest SIMRAD electronics. One of Chris’s favorite features is the boat’s ride, perfectly equipped for long runs and those spring trips to the shrimp boats. Chris has enhanced his center with big live wells, a half tower on the console, a giant fish box, and rod holders. Even without these advanced angler upgrades, Contender Boats have garnered attention for their tournament-winning fishing boats for over thirty-five years, thanks to world-class fishing features and unmatched seakeeping ability.
Captain Chris sums it up perfectly when he says, “Key West is fish and beers and sandbars.” Whether your ideal day on the water includes wildlife-spotting on an eco-adventure, kicking back at a local sandbar, or reeling in big game fish offshore, the Conch Republic is heaven on a boat. It’s been another successful Stomping Grounds expedition. Grab a slice of Key Lime Pie and head to YouTube.com/boattrader to watch the episode now.
Visit the Stomping Grounds video series page to watch more episodes and learn more about what types of boats are popular in different regions of the country for various activities.
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