A year after experiencing my very best week of tarpon fishing ever, I returned to the Florida Keys with four of my favorite clients in tow. This time around we had signed up to fish the Marquesas Keys aboard the Eleven Experience Mothership Outpost. Anticipation for a repeat epic tarpon trip was, to say the least, very high.

The Marquesas is a large uninhabited ringlet of keys approximately twenty-five miles west of Key West and four miles in diameter. It has been a favorite haunt for tarpon enthusiasts the world over for decades. One of the principal benefits of a live-aboard operating out at the Marquesas is access to the great fishing regardless of the weather. When winds and tides align to roughen up the Boca Grande Channel, it greatly reduces access for those trying to get there from Key West via flats skiff. Captains have to consider not only the morning forecast but that of the afternoon as well. Making that channel crossing in inclement conditions can be brutally uncomfortable and extremely unsafe for the unknowing or ill-prepared. In summary, fewer skiffs equal less competition for the best spots to stake claim to throughout the day.

Captain Mike Delph (left) and Steve Shaddock (right)

On our first night, we met at the hotel tiki bar for cocktails and then headed to a local eatery called Seven Fish specializing in fresh locally-caught seafood. Spectacular! It was a precursor meal to a week of seafood wickedness delivered by Eleven Experience Outpost Chef, Ethan Greer.

Eleven Experience Outpost

After a gentlemen’s start the next day, we met our transfer boat at the Key West Bight Marina around noon. Eleven Experience owns a fleet of seven Scorpion RIB crafts, this one being a 28’ model with a 300 outboard used for transfers, provisioning groceries, and adding freshly caught seafood to the menu. The weather was perfect, the ’80s and sunny with low winds, making the transfer to the Outpost Mothership a merely 20-minute ride. I’ve spent many a day making runs from flat A too flat B that took longer. After a quick lunch, we met our guides, gathered and rigged gear, and headed out for our first afternoon of fishing.

Captain’s Retreat after crossing the Boca Grande Channel

Between us, I think that first afternoon yielded one landed fish and three jumped, with plenty of opportunities for everyone, giving each of us a chance to shake off some of that winter rust. Champing at the bit, the group was up at the crack of dawn on the following morning.

Up, up and away, living to fight another day

We awoke once again to clear skies and light winds for our first full day of fishing, and much to my surprise only three other skiffs were fishing the atoll throughout the course of the day. That was a telltale sign that fishing from the mainland must have been pretty good as well. Everyone fished hard, enjoyed fresh fish tacos for a light lunch, some napped briefly, some went right back after it. We managed to jump several fish, landing two that pushed a hundred pounds, maybe a bit more. Again, cocktails on the foredeck and an outstanding seafood dinner awaited us at the end of the day.

Big girl’s last chance to get away, 100+ fish ready to be landed

Day three was much the same, both weather-wise and for fish landed and jumped. I think the day three tally was three fish landed, three jumped, several whiffs, and plenty of shots. Everyone was into fish throughout the day, and we reconvened told stories, lies, and bad jokes until it was time to hit the bunks, closing the door on another great day of fishing. A look at the forecast led us to believe that we had likely seen the best of conditions for the trip.

String of tarpon approaches at 9 o’clock

I walked out my bunk door and down the hallway towards breakfast, and there was a distinct sway in my giddy-up. It was not a hangover, just a bit of weather to swing the aft a few feet sides to side. I smiled thinking about the good fortune we had encountered for our first few days aboard the mothership, knowing that the guys in the group got a healthy dose of how good this place can be when Mother Nature cooperates. Now it was a matter of rising to the occasion, 20-25 mph for the better part of the day brought the best out in both the guides and the sports on deck. All in all, we managed to land a fish and jump two more, but still, plenty of opportunities for everyone. We decided that the forecast, calling for more of the same the following day, required us to make some logistical adjustments. So, we launched aboard the mothership as the guides headed back to Boca Grande in the skiffs. The plan was to meet them on the other side of the channel and fish the afternoon on the flats of Key West. The Scorpion RIB performed flawlessly in the 3-5 foot wash encountered in the Boca Grande channel, chipping off the tops of the waves and making the crossing uneventful and even fun. We fished until we called “no mas” around 5 p.m. with whitecaps and sea spray sending us back for early cocktails.


Most of the group elected to have a “no day” the final morning, choosing sleeping in and a relaxed pack up. One boat went out for a few hours to no avail, but, this was a group of veteran salt anglers that know that you can only do so much given lousy weather. It was 85 and sunny, but the winds made fishing very difficult. There was no bitching, no grumbling, just handshakes and hugs and a commitment to see each other next year for another week of fun in the Keys.

(Left to Right) Nico, Mike, Steve, Joe, and Dick

Amazing wizardry from the galley; throughout the week we enjoyed poached black grouper, pink shrimp, hog snapper, flatiron steak with rice and beans (my request), black grouper (crab cake style) served on brioche buns, ceviche, the best shrimp, and grits on the planet, oddly incredible bread pudding for which I will not reveal the secret ingredient!!! . . . and on and on. We are all fatter this week. Our sincere thanks to Captain Tom, Chef Ethan, and Austin for the hospitality. We appreciate all you did for us.

Ethan’s shrimp and grits

If you’d like information on Eleven Experience’s Mothership destinations in the Everglades, Marquesas, Louisiana, or on Andros in the Bahamas, please contact Joe Codd or Joe Linscott at 1-800-245-1950, or e-mail us at jcodd@frontierstravel.com or jlinscott@frontierstravel.com

JOE CODD came to Frontiers in 1999 after a 15-year stint with L.L. Bean. He has hunted and fished pretty much every notable destination around the world. Joe’s perspective is vast, and his willingness to share his knowledge will prove invaluable in planning your next adventure. Joe heads up our North American Big Game Hunting and Saltwater Departments, and is an avid bow hunter.