Fishing Lines: Florida casts its spell

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HERE is a warning for anyone going on holiday to Florida this year. Whatever you do, don't forget to take a fishing rod and reel.

Miami does not have the most savoury of reputations, but Roy Marlow, a Leicester businessman, reckons the lower Keys is one of the safest parts of the United States. He should know. He travels the world in his job as a tackle consultant, and has spent every holiday for the past 23 years fishing the coastline around Florida and the Bahamas. 'The fishing is incredible. You can catch a big fish every cast. British anglers just can't believe how good it is.'

Marlow, who designs rods and other gear for Daiwa, the giant Japanese manufacturer, heads for Miami next week to enjoy what many consider the most exciting angling in the world - fly-fishing for tarpon. In water only a couple of feet deep, he will try to catch 7ft-long fish that look like giant herring and leap from the water like salmon.

'I have caught them up to 115lb on fly. The problem is getting them out because they are so fast and strong,' he said. A couple of years ago, he hooked a tarpon that towed the boat for 11 miles. After six hours it was grabbed by a shark, which broke the line.

Marlow says that the secret of 'back-country fishing' is finding a top boatman. 'The best ones are booked 12 months in advance and it isn't cheap: about dollars 320 a day for two people.' But you do not need to fish on the sandbars or among the mangroves. For those with family commitments, there is terrific fishing from bridges and pontoons anywhere in the state, he says. 'The area offers some of the best light-tackle angling in the world. All you need is a spinning rod and 10lb line. Buy a packet of shrimp and you can catch yellowtail, grouper and snapper from 3lb to 5lb every cast.

'There are plenty of bigger fish there, too, such as tarpon and stingray, but you won't get them in. On several occasions, I have had a fish strip off all the line on my reel.'

Marlow also recommends paddling the shallows and casting to big fish that cruise the beaches in water scarcely deep enough to cover their backs. There are plenty of shark averaging 50lb - tremendous fun on 10lb line, he says - along with a fish that many believe to be the fastest and most sporting in the world. Bonefish, although they rarely grow larger than 10lb, are fitted with twin turbochargers and make catching trout and salmon seem like winding in a polythene bag.

North America is far more conservation-minded than Britain. There are strict limits on the number of fish that can be kept, but most anglers return everything. Marlow sees this as a key factor in explaining the excellent fishing. 'Commercial fishing for kingfish was banned a couple of years ago and the population is booming. It's a good lesson for us.'

The owner of a tackle shop in Leicester, Marlow is happy to help visitors with advice on fishing. Contact him on Leicester (0533) 537714.