In the early 60s, Mike Abel brought his new bride fresh out of high school from Indiana to the Florida Keys.
His parents purchased a sliver of property along the canal adjacent to what is now Holiday Isle and established the family business – a modest tackle shop and marina.
Mike worked alongside his father overseeing the day-to-day operations of the outfit.
These days, Mike ambles downstairs long before sunrise to open the shop at 5:30 for local captains.
“If they call ahead, we can pre-dip their bait for ‘em and have it ready to go by the time they get here,” said Justin Dean, who began working for the Abels late last year.
Mike and his wife Joyce purchased the property from his parents in the early 70s and operated Abel’s Tackle while the started a family.
In the early 80s, Mike and Joyce leased the operation out to friends who smoothly maintained the family’s established reputation while they relocated to Tennessee and invested in the real estate market.
“For the past 27 years, we’ve been in Crossville,” said Joyce who’d grown to enjoy seeing her three grandkids on a daily basis.
It was late last year that Mike brought his bride back to their first home in the three-bedroom apartment above the tackle shop and though she’s happy to continue the family’s legacy, Joyce admitted that she’d forgotten how hot the Keys can get in the summer months.
This week, though, she’s enjoying the company of her oldest granddaughter, Morgan, who bounds into the shop with a giant fuzzy manatee tucked into her arms.
“Yesterday, she saw one right back here in our canal,” Joyce beamed as Mike hung hooks and jogs along the display wall.
For the past two years, Abel’s Tackle fell so quickly under poor management that the couple found $80 Hawaiian print shirts filling the walls upon their return.
“Those were all donated to the church,” chimed in Greg Wallace, better known by most as “Wally” who’s been in Keys kitchens for nearly two decades.
Wally’s Island Deli is turning out classic breakfast sandwiches and subs for the boat captains every morning beginning at 6 am.
“People eat one of my sandwiches their first day on vacation, and they come back every morning for the rest of the time they’re visiting,” Wally boasted.
As Mike ventured into the backyard, proud of the first tiki he and his brother built for their parents. The outdoor bar covered with a thatched roof is strategically positioned to see all the customers coming into the front door.
“We used to sit out here and play cards,” he laughed of the memories.
After a grand opening event at the first of the year, Mike is slowly but surely reconnecting with the captains who’d stopped purchasing their daily bait and sharing reports from the water. They’re now helping book charters for more than two-dozen captains between Holiday Isle and Abel’s Marina. Mike also invites them to join the Captain’s Club that requires only a membership number for deep discounts on already well-priced bait and tackle.
“When you come here, you get local advice and friendly, personal service,” Mike concluded.
For the Abels, this is the Keys they remember and aim to continue.
Abel’s Tackle Box is located at 84341 Old Highway at Mile Marker 84.5 in Islamorada. This bait, tackle and deli is open every morning at 5:30 and open until 7 or later 7 days a week. (305) 664-2900.