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Islamorada fishermen, marinas struggle in aftermath of Hurricane Irma

Craig Davis, Sun Sentinel on

Published in Outdoors

The last text from Islamorada, Fla., before Hurricane Irma plowed into the Keys was about fishing.

"Look forward to a visit after things get back to normal. Bonefish are making a comeback," wrote Richard Stanczyk, proprietor of Bud N' Mary's Marina for the past 40 years.

Fishing is always a central topic in Islamorada, with its well-earned reputation as the sportfishing capital of the world. But the industry at the center of the local economy has been at a standstill since Irma roared through the Keys in the early hours of Sept. 10.

Now concern is widespread about when and if normal will return for the fishing community, and whether those whose livelihoods depend on it can endure in the meantime.

"We have no income coming in right now. Hopefully, the mortgage companies are going to work with us so we don't lose our homes," said Bill Bassett, 56, a backcountry guide who has fished out of Bud N' Mary's since he was 10.

Bassett is among about 45 fishing guides and offshore captains and crews who run charters out of Bud N' Mary's, a cornerstone of the industry in the middle Keys at the southern tip of Islamorada since 1944.

A hall-of-fame roster of fishing talent has passed through its docks, including numerous celebrity fishing enthusiasts, such as baseball legend Ted Williams and former President George H.W. Bush.

There have been many brushes with hurricanes over the years, but Bud N' Mary's has never met with the likes of Irma.

Stanczyk rode out the storm in his condo near the marina, which was far enough from the eyewall that passed through the lower Keys to avoid the worst of the wind. He said he never feared for his life as he had two years ago at an island home in the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin, when he spent 22 hours huddled under a mattress in a bathroom.

What Stanczyk didn't see during Irma's overnight rampage was the 8-foot wall of water that rolled over the island and decimated his marina. He barely recognized it the next morning, buried under a thick blanket of debris.

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