Local kids grow up to be industry professionals


Tony Palma and his family fish for king mackerel, his favorite type of fishing. CONTRIBUTED

When visitors and locals pour in to the Original Marathon Seafood Festival this weekend, they’ll be thinking about the tasty seafood. Maybe they’ll wonder about the commercial fishermen who do battle to provide the delicacies. Few will consider how young some of these fishermen are.

Tony Palma and his family fish for king mackerel, his favorite type of fishing. CONTRIBUTED

Well, we GROW fishermen in the Keys. They come out of the womb and, seemingly, in no time they’re holding a pole. Or driving the boat. Or working the stern.

That’s the case for two young men from Marathon — Cole McDaniel, 16, and Tony Palma, 15. They do it for fun and they do it for work.

Palma is a sophomore at Marathon High School. When he’s not at the books, he’s working with his dad Robert Palma or uncle Paan aboard one of two 57-foot commercial fishing boats. (In town, they are known as “the green boats” for their distinctive hull color.)

“We go after lobster, stone crab, golden crab, king mackerel and Spanish mackerel,” Palma said. His favorite, though, is the king mackerel “derby.” All the local captains agree to fish for the kings on a certain day to even the playing field, as it’s a short season with a small quota. “We have big nets and it happens at night, so it’s pretty fun.”

Palma said he hopes to make a career as a commercial fisherman, too.

“I would love to continue the family legacy we’ve started. I’m the third generation fishing in the Florida Keys,” he said.

When it’s not about work, it’s about fun fishing. Palma also finds time to compete in sport fishing tournaments. In 2018, he placed first in the junior division in the Bull and Cow Tournament.

Cole McDaniel also scores a snowy grouper. He tags along with family on charter fishing trips and fishes tournaments whenever he can. CONTRIBUTED

McDaniel likes the tournaments, too. His best catch, he said, was a prize-winning 69-pound mahi mahi. He, too, is a third-generation fisherman but plans to take his spot on the other side of the industry as a charter captain.

“After graduating high school, I’ll probably learn outboard mechanics and then come back to the Keys and fish,” said McDaniel.

He’s learned his trade from his stepdad, Capt. Jeff Rella of Superfish Charters. McDaniel said his favorite is offshore fishing, in deep waters up to 2,500 feet using electric reels.

“He tells me the night before if we’re going deep sea fishing. He says, ‘You better wear your big boy pants’ and I’m always stoked to go, 10 or 30 miles offshore,” McDaniel said. “Fishing with those big spinning reels, it gets wild. It’s a man’s sport.”

Tight lines, guys. 

Sara Matthis
Sara Matthis thinks community journalism is important, but not serious; likes weird and wonderful children (she has two); and occasionally tortures herself with sprint-distance triathlons, but only if she has a good chance of beating her sister.