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Birthplace of the Charter Fishing Captain

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In the late 1940s, Bud and Mary Stapleton came to Florida from New England and bought what was once a fishing camp at mile marker 79.8 in Islamorada on Florida’s Overseas Highway. They named it Bud N’ Mary’s, set up a tackle shop and a small motel with a second-floor apartment to live in, and went about getting people to come fishing.

They had the right idea. Located in the heart of the Keys, Islamorada was acquiring a reputation as a world-class angling destination. Resting on the Straits of Florida, with the shallows of Florida Bay and the Everglades to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the waters were teeming with hundreds of fish species, from tarpon to marlin and sailfish.

Soon, scenes such as the one shown above became commonplace at Bud N’ Mary’s, where happy clients were always found holdng up fish for their friends to admire. But the allure of this location was about more than the catch. The region had also spawned a new breed of fisherman—the charter skipper. It was up to this professional to find the fish for paying customers. With local knowledge, experimentation and innovation, these captains pioneered the modern charter fishing industry.

Among them was Capt. Don Gurgiolo, who ran the 26-footer Gonefishin’. It was equipped for sailfish with a pair of ordinary chairs bolted to the deck. Gurgiolo helped pioneer light-tackle billfishing using live ballyhoo as bait. His fellow skipper was Capt. Allan Starr, who took his ballyhoo to shallower water, where, from his perch on a tuna tower (a rarity in those days), he saw sailfish follow schools of mackerel and small tuna. Capt. Jimmie Albright was another master angler working out of Islamorada. He was popular with celebrities and fished with President Harry Truman and baseball star Ted Williams.

Over the next decades, this new breed of fishing captain would be found in places like Mexico, Costa Rica and South America, passing their knowledge onto generations of anglers. They showed by example how to be a great fisherman, and how to put a smile on a client’s face. 

This article was originally published in the June 2021 issue.

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