There are six Keys that make up Islamorada. For a tourist on their way to take a selfie next to Mile Marker Zero, it's just another stretch of tackle shops and boat rentals along Route One. For sportfishermen, it's akin to the promised land.
Situated between the shallows of the Everglades and the depths of the Gulf Stream, Islamorada is prime territory for tarpon, snook, permit, snapper, mahi, sailfish and more. It's no wonder this stretch of islands has earned the name Gamefish Capital of the World.
It's also no wonder that a guy like Gary Skrobeck Jr., an Islamorada native and son of a Keys guide, would in due time find his way to the water.
"Fishing has been a constant since I can remember," Gary told us. "A lot of guys will take breaks here and there, but I've been on the water my entire life."
For Gary's father, Gary "Skip Paxton" Skrobeck Sr., the journey to the water took a little longer. "I'm originally from Detroit," he told us.
"I came to Islamorada in 1969. I was a musician. I became friends with many of the local Keys guides of that era, and that got me started. I fished during the day and played music at night for 40-some years."
Of course, if you're going to be a fishing guide, you're going to need a boat. And for Gary, that boat came in the form of a 1972 Willy Roberts Skiff that he and his father painstakingly restored over the course of five years.
"The boat belonged to a friend of mine years ago in the '70s. There's only been three owners of that boat—the original owner, another gentleman who owned it when it sank, and us," Skip told us. "I was friends with Willy Roberts back in the day, and owned several of his boats. But when we found this one, it was a great opportunity for my son to own a Willy Roberts. It was an ordeal restoring her, but the outcome was worth it. Honestly, I get a little choked up every time I watch my son head out. A lot of fish have come over the side of that boat."
"People appreciate the boat," Gary told us, as we started the engine and made our way to the flats. "People from this area, especially the oldtimers, recognize the boat immediately. There's just no mistaking that design. She's really a piece of Florida Keys history, built right down the road in Tavernier. As far as I'm concerned, it was really the basis of the modern day skiffs that you see today. And to be able to continue to take people out fishing and use it as a working boat is pretty incredible. I get a kick out of thinking about all the people and all the fish that that boat's seen."
But for Gary and Skip, fishing is much more than a passion or a vocation. Simply put, fishing is life. The fact they get to do it together just makes it that much sweeter.
"Fishing and working with my dad is an awesome experience," Gary said. "It's one of those things that I try not to take for granted. I feel extremely fortunate to be able to work alongside my dad, not only to carry on the family business, but to do something that we're both really passionate about and enjoy and get to share with other people on a daily basis. It's pretty incredible."
There's an old saying in the fishing world—a fishing guide get's to give somebody the best day of their life, and they get to do it every day. This idea is not lost on Gary and Skip.
"Getting back to the slip after a long day on the water, being able to congratulate people on new species they've caught and reflect on the day we've shared together, it's a great feeling," Gary told us. "A lot of my charters have started with strangers and ended with lifelong friends. I feel really grateful."