Fayetteville couple enjoys fishing trip to Florida Keys

Fayetteville couple Tom and Frances Morketter have been taking fishing destination vacations for years.

They’ve enjoyed fly fishing in Montana and Virginia, and they’ve wet hooks up and down the Outer Banks.

“We’re not some world travelers or anything,” Tom said. “But we’ve taken quite a few trips over the years.”

Despite the miles traveled, there was one renowned fishing area the Morketters hadn’t checked off their list of must-see spots – the Florida Keys.

“It’s about like going to Yankee Stadium and taking batting practice with the Yankees,” Morketter said. “You know you’re in the big leagues when you go down to the Keys.”

To get to the big leagues of fishing, Tom, 54, set up a surprise visit to the Keys as a late Mother’s Day gift for Frances, 50. The couple visited the area May 16-19, and Tom says the trip was all that the pair could have hoped for.

“It was just amazing,” Tom said. “The water clarity alone. You could just about go down there and stare at the water and have a good time without even fishing.”

That wasn’t enough for the Morketters. Tom’s interest in fishing is so deep that the outdoorsman used to co-own TarHeel Fish Game. Tom said Frances, who owns Betty Kelly’s Gift Shop, shares his love of fishing.

The pair had a fruitful trip, catching a jack crevalle, and plenty of speckled trout and ladyfish.

“I didn’t want our trip to turn into me trying to catch a tarpon because that can take hours and hours,” Morketter said. “I wanted us to catch some fish.”

But Tom said the experience was worth more than the haul of fish.

While he was determined not to get caught up on hunting tarpon, Morketter said one of the best experiences of the trip was looking for tarpon on the Atlantic side before going to the Gulf side to fish.

The Morketters’ guide, Bo Sellers of Shallowminded Charter Fishing, turned them on to the idea of looking for tarpon, which were migrating in the waters near Big Pine Key.

“He knew what we were there for and that we were going to stick to the plan,” Morketter said. “But he said, ‘You are here at the absolute peak tarpon time of the year, period.’ ”

Sold on the idea of seeing hundreds of tarpon migrating north, the Morketters spent a few hours casting out into the Atlantic, where Tom had the lone near-catch.

“I got a cast to one, and I had him on for a couple of turns of the reel before he got off,” Tom said. “It got my blood running on trying to catch a tarpon. I said let’s get out of here right now before I spend all day trying to catch a tarpon.”

The couple spent the rest of the day inshore, loading up ladyfish and speckled trout, spotting sharks and crevalle jack.

“Inshore, in true polling places, where the guide is polling you around in a foot of water or less, you see stuff out there that you are in awe of where you are,” Morketter said.

The experience was such that the couple is certain their first trip to the Keys won’t be the last.

“We’ve got some friends that went to Montana fly fishing with us, and they’ve said something about going to the Keys with us,” Morketter said. “Of course, they don’t have to say too much to us at all. We’re ready to go.”

Staff writer Jaclyn Shambaugh can be reached at 609-0651 or shambaughj@fayobserver.com.

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