The Secret Ramp

Cow Key MarinaEveryone needs a secret ramp.  They let you get in and out of the water without enduring a parade of bad launchers, discourteous boat owners and nosy fishermen.

My last secret ramp was at Cow Key Marina, a tiny and historically rundown entry point on the west edge of Stock Island.  I loved the history of  the place: Stock Island was originally called “Cow Key” because that was where the herds of cattle and other meat-providing animals were kept.  It wasn’t renamed Stock Island until entrepreneurs realized they’d never sell real estate on something with an unglamorous name (not that Stock Island was a major improvement).  Somehow this place held onto the old name. And the filming of the movie based on Thomas McGuane’s 1975  “Ninety Two in the Shade,” starring Peter Fonda and Margot Kidder, was centered at the marina and its bar.

From 1990 to 1997, no other skiffs launched there.  And as I was in the mode of waiting for all the other guides to leave and drive past my favorite fishing spots, it was the perfect setup, with the added benefit that there was no one at the dock at the end of the day asking how our fishing was.  In fact, no one cared at the Cow Key Marina.  And every day’s fishing was somehow more perfect when no one wanted to know where we had gone or what we had done.

Of course secret ramps don’t last forever. The marina’s famed bar was dismantled before I got there, and by the time I left the place was gussied up and filled with jet skis.  Still, the tiny ramp there holds lots of great memories–of stretches of months at a time without a day off, of many big fish caught and released, and of favorite clients, some of whom have now passed on.


  1. Good little read. Well done, Marshall.

  2. Is that near the ramp that has the jail on one side, trash dump on the other and multi million dollar condos on the other….Only in the Keys.

    • Marshall Cutchin says:

      That’s the one, Matt 😉 They bulldozed the trailer park that used to be Crack Central on US 1 and put up “vacation homes” there, and the Boca Chica Bar, which featured nightly knife fights, is now gone, but I hope Stock Island never loses its flavor.

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