Ryan McMahon admits he has an addiction. The 33-year-old Roseville native is a family man as well as one of the hottest up-and-coming fishing guides in town, so to purge his soul and hopefully help others in similar situations he recently produced a compelling video about the object of his obsession.
“Having a big muskie hooked is the perfect blend of so many emotions––sheer excitement and adrenaline,” McMahon said. “But I’m also terrified the entire time I have one hooked that it will get away.”
McMahon’s “The Musky Project” video may not be what you expect. It’s certainly not the typical shaky camera or head-mounted cam showing muskie strikes while heavy-metal music blares and viewers watch a one-dimensional montage of a guy catching a fish, followed by seeing the back of another guy catching a fish.
This web-only video is TV-quality, with HD-footage and high production value that tells a story ––not just McMahon’s story, but that of other anglers who’ve had similar heart-stopping experiences with “the ultimate predator.”
McMahon has made a name for himself for his ability to help both newbies and fellow muskie junkies hook and land trophy fish––up to and over 50 inches––right here in the Twin Cities. The aptly named website for his guide service, TwinCitiesMusky.com, features a jaw-dropping photo gallery of monster muskies caught in local waters.
“These giant muskies live in lakes right in people’s backyard,” McMahon told me as we slow-trolled for muskies last October on White Bear Lake, just a few miles from his house. “We’ve got a neat deal here. The way that the lakes have been stocked with muskies in the Twin Cities Metro area, you’ve got 15 lakes within a short drive that all have trophy muskie potential.”
Of course, those lakes aren’t exactly a secret. An old saying goes, “Bragging may not bring happiness, but no man having caught a large fish goes home through a back alley.”
Muskie anglers are notoriously tight-lipped, but nonetheless word gets out when a lake holds big muskies. Metro lakes do get hit hard, and muskies are a cunning predator who certainly get conditioned quickly, and often seem born with lockjaw regardless of how many lures they’ve seen in their lifetime.
That’s where McMahon comes into play. “There’s a lot of little tricks you pick up on when you’re fishing full-time and putting in so much sweat equity day after day,” he said. “Nothing is more rewarding than helping someone catch their first muskie, or their biggest muskie. But some clients aren’t focused on catching a fish during our day––they hire me so they can learn all about their local lake and how to fish it in the future. Or some people will hire me for a lesson on how they can better use their electronics, and that’s cool, too.”
For my part, I’ve always wanted to understand how to use live bait more effectively for muskies. So when McMahon told me we’d be user suckers on that windy October day on White Bear Lake I was excited for a chance to see how an expert does it.
McMahon hooked $15-a-piece suckers on a live bait quick strike rig by Stealth Tackle. He set our bobbers at 6-feet deep, then set out two rods with 60- and 70-feet of line, respectively. The goal was to slowly drag the bait at .6 or .8 miles per hour, but given the strong wind gusts we faced we occasionally had to accelerate to maintain our position along the weed lines.
“With these milfoil edges it’s easy to get in too deep or out of the weeds, and you really have to be right on the edge to keep your bait where the muskies are,” McMahon explained as he expertly navigated the choppy water. “Late in the season is the perfect time for suckers, and it’s also a great window to get a trophy.”
As we found that day with an empty landing at 9:00am and only one other boat spotted all day, the late season is also a rare chance to have some of these popular metro lakes all to yourself. Nonetheless, throughout the day I asked McMahon what his favorite tactics were for heavily pressured muskies––say mid-summer, when many muskie anglers are out chasing the giants.
Here were his three go-to strategies for hard-hit muskies:
1. Ripping a Magnum Bull Dawg
“It’s hard to imagine a Magnum Bull Dawg as a finesse bait, but in a sense it’s like a jig it. You rip the bait sideways, across your body, then point the rod back at the bait and wind in the slackline,” McMahon explained. “You’re ripping the bait away from the fish, then feeding it back down to them. The pause is the trigger.”
McMahon fishes the lure with Cortland Master Braid Line with a 180-pound, 14-inch fluorocarob leaders on a 9-foot, extra heavy Predator Rod from Thorne Bros. In clearer water, McMahon prefers natural colors such as brown, black or white, whereas in darkly stained water he’ll occasionally try UV or iridescent patterns.
2. Burning Bucktails
“There are two times to burn bucktails: June in a warming spring, and late summer/early fall when the fish’s metabolism is high,” McMahon said. “The stronger the wind, the bigger the blade you use, to help the fish find the bait easier. Cast with the wind and bring it back against the wind, and be ready for strikes in the first several seconds.”
McMahon likes Cowgirl Juniors and Kramer Bros. 8’s in the earlier summer, and DreamCatchers and Double Showgirls––especially on windblown areas––later in the season. He generally uses nickel, gold or metallic blades with double blades, and opts for more painted colors if using a single blade.
3. Casting Topwaters
“Topwaters are a big fish bait,” McMahon said. “Even when you think about a fish that’s going to eat a baby duck, as people talk about, it’s not a low 40-inch fish. It’s a high 40 or 50-plus inch fish.”
Low-light conditions with a slight chop are the best conditions according to McMahon, who also looks at throwing topwaters over open water stretches early in the year when fish are higher in the water column. Several of his go-to topwaters include the Pacemaker and Big Momma’s The Twisted Sister.
You can’t go wrong with black, or dark colors for topawter sin general, he says.
A few days before I fished with him, McMahon guided a fairly new muskie angler to an exciting muskie attack on a topwater bait. The angler had never caught a muskie before, and unfortunately the fish spit the bait a few feet away from an extended net.
“That’s a killer,” McMahon said. “I wanted that guy to catch one so badly. I’m going to be seeing that fish in my head for a long time. When you lose a fish like that, it can haunt you. In a sense, we’re tortured that way.”
Tortured, but unable to resist the hunt and instead pursue other species more agreeable than the famed fish of 10,000 casts.
“I watch to catch a fish that makes that excitement never wear off,” McMahon said. “A super fish, a monster fish––something’s nobody ever seen before. I want to chase that fish and catch it. I don’t know if that will cure by obsession, my addiction, but it might help.”
To book a trip with Ryan McMahon, call 651-206-8767 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, photos or videos, visit Ryan’s site at TwinCitiesMusky.com or “like” The Musky Project’s Facebook page video at Facebook.com/themuskyproject.
Editor's Note: I'd definitely recommend booking Ryan for a guide trip, but don't just take my word for it; check out his online testimonials.
Not all guides are created equally. I respect any person who makes a living on the water, working hard to put people on fish day after day, but some guides are better than others. And some are simply outstanding.
I’ve been lucky enough to fish with dozens of guides across North America and Europe, many of whom were recommended to me by friends and folks in the fishing industry. So let me pay it forward and tell you about the best 5 guides I have ever fished with, anywhere in the world.
A day on the water with any one of these five people is sure to be an incredible experience.
1) Jim Willcox
Ultimate Keys Fishing
A 400-pound crocodile is glaring at me 15 feet away with its razor sharp teeth on display. A cunning predator, the crocodile has the strongest jaws on the planet with a biting force of 5,000 pounds per inch.
“Crocs can jump through the air faster than you can blink,” says my guide, Jim Willcox.
I am miles away from civilization, in the upper reaches of a narrow river channel winding through the jungle, as Willcox whispers these comforting words. Today I have spotted birds I never knew existed, and caught five types of fish I’ve never before seen.
Now I lock eyes with the crocodile and wonder, for the first time during this extreme fishing pursuit, if I am perhaps no longer the predator.
It feels as though I am in the Amazon, or maybe on the Nile River, fishing in a foreign world where crocodiles are kings––they have been known to attack great white sharks––and every cast holds the promise of catching something bizarre. Instead, I am only 80 miles south of Miami, fishing in the Florida Everglades with a man many say is the best guide in the business.
Click here to read the full story of my day fishing with Capt. Jim Willcox. To contact Jim, email email@example.com or call 305-393-1128.
2) Tim Eissfeldt
Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort
Northwest British Columbia
Our helicopter mirrors the waterfall, descending down 300 feet parallel to the raging waters. At the base of the falls, we hover above the turbulent pool of blue and white. We are above the clouds, in a separate world of 10,000-year-old glaciers and pristine streams that salmon fill and grizzly bears hunt. In this other-world we have hiked and climbed and fished, but at the moment we simply hover. I feel weightless.
Tim is unique. He’s the only fishing guide on this list who can fly a helicopter. Or who wears a rifle while offering tips on where to cast, in the off-chance a giant grizzly bear steps out of the bush beside you. My day with Tim was truly unlike any day I’ve ever had, an incredible experience thanks to Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort’s signature heli-fishing adventure.
Tim looks barely old enough to drive a car, yet you feel safe with him flying you around Nimmo Bay’s 50,000 acres of pristine mountain habitat just south of Alaska.
Click here to read the full story of my adventure at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort. To contact Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, call 1.800.837.4354 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
3) Captain Willie
Little Palm Island Resort & Spa
Tim Eissfeldt may be the only guide on this list who flies a helicopter, but Capt. Willie is the only one who drives a sailboat. And not just any sailboat. His 38-foot Admirable-class Catamaran, the LilyAnna, is a Rolls Royce of sailboats. A day sailing on the ship, built in Cape Town, South Africa, is just one of many adventures available for guests at Little Palm Island Resort & Spa in the Florida Keys.
Capt Willie played Bob Marley’s "Three Little Birds" as we sailed along the Atlantic Ocean on a sunny October day and discovered that indeed we didn’t need to worry about a thing. Fishing is only part of what Willie offers. My wife and I went snorkeling at Hog Reef, arguably the top diving destination in the U.S. We snorkeled among hundreds of fish on a pristine reef in a protected sanctuary. We have snorkeled in hot-spots such as Cozumel and Hawaii, and this site blew both places out of the water.
On our way to and from Hog Reef, we trolled Rapala X-Rap Magnums with great success. I caught a barracuda, goliath grouper and an enormous jack. Talk about fishing in style: We sailed along on the supremely comfortable ship eating cheese, drinking wine and waiting for the heavy-action fishing rods to start bucking wildly from the pull of a fish.
Click here to read the full story of my adventure at Little Palm Island Resort & Spa. To contact Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, call 800.343.8567 or email email@example.com.
4) Dave Smith
Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge
Dave Smith, the former head guide at renowned Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, is in many ways the embodiment of the stereotypical, classic Canuck: he sports a scruffy beard, hunts anything that’s legal to shoot, guides all days then fishes for fun at night, bites his fishing line rather than cutting it with a clippers, chews tobacco and smokes cigarettes while complaining about the $20-per-pack price. He was also a hockey player, and one afternoon described to us in blow-by-blow version every hockey fight he ever got in (Cliffs Notes version: Dave didn’t lose many fights).
But in other ways, Dave is anything but your typical bush-man. He’s into anthropology and archeology, with a passion for European history. He philosophizes about Chrenobyl’s nuclear disaster, knows more about U.S. politics than most Americans and speaks at length about travelling in Italy and marveling over Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.
“My favorite thing about guiding here is getting to know people from all walks of life,” said Smith, who averages 800 hours per season on the water. “By spending 8 or 9 hours a day in a boat with people, three or four days in a row, I have a chance to really get to know them and develop a friendship with the people who come to Aikens.”
Smith unquestionably made my trip to Aikens more enjoyable––not only because he put us on big fish but also because it’s a pleasure to spend a day on the water with him. Our daily shore lunch was a relaxing break for Dad and me, but Smith was hard at work, intently focused on every minor detail as he fried four different styles of fish for us throughout the week.
The moment that stood out for me was Smith dropping a dollop of beer batter into the frying pan to gauge the temperature of the oil. “You want the batter to sink to the bottom of the pan, float back up, and then bubble,” he said while adding new oil and removing the pan from the flame to cool the oil to the perfect temperature. “Otherwise this beer batter doesn’t have quite the right viscosity.”
His attention to detail produced the best beer batter fish I’ve ever tasted.
Click here to read the full story of my four days fishing with Smith. To contact Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, call 800.565.2595 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
5) James Nelson
The Fish Icon
Capt. James Nelson had already guided me to countless spotted bass and my first-ever bonefish earlier in the morning, so I was quick to say yes when he asked if I wanted to try some shark fishing. I believe it’s called playing with house money, right?
We navigated to a spot between Coronado Island and San Diego Bay, dropped anchor and threaded a mackerel head onto a giant hook with a 1-ounce weight. A few minutes later, the heavy action rod in the back of the boat began to bend wildly.
I set the hook as hard as I could and seemingly ripped into a small car driving downhill in the opposite direction. “Wow,” I muttered, while holding on for dear life. “This thing is strong.” Little did I know it would take more than eight minutes before we’d even catch a glimpse of what we were up against: a monstrous bat ray, with a wingspan around 5-feet.
I’ve caught 25-pound muskie, 45-pound catfish and sturgeon over 5-feet long, but I must say that ray has an unfair advantage when it comes to fighting––the sheer shape and dynamic of its body gives it incredible leverage in the water. It went on huge runs, stripping out 30-pound braided line with ease, then buried itself in the mud, then took off again. We had to chase after it several times as it stripped the line down almost to the backing.
In total it took 33 minutes to land the beast, and during that time I was sorely reminded how badly I need to start lifting weights. I barely had any time to recover before hooking another ray, this one much smaller, and a sting ray as opposed to a bat ray.
A little later, as we neared the end of our morning together, I caught a beautiful leopard shark–– another coveted species for which the area is known. The diversity of the fishery, in the shadow of downtown San Diego, is amazing. Potential catches include halibut, corvina, croaker, yellowtail and dorado, depending on the season. For folks looking to catching something mean, Nelson also specializes in guiding for mako sharks.
And, if you’ve got kids in tow for a family trip to San Diego, you’re in luck. Nelson will take two kids out for free with every one paying adult.
Click here to visit Captain James Nelson’s website. To contact Nelson, call 619.395.0799 or email email@example.com.
Patrick Trudel first came to Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge 15 years ago to work the docks as an 18-year-old high school grad without much fishing experience. He lived and learned the “Aikens Experience” day by day, year after year, ascending the ranks to become the longest tenured head fishing guide, the first-ever full-time salaried employee at Aikens and––most importantly––even meeting a lovely waitress named Janelle who eventually became his wife.
Today, a decade and a half after boarding a float plane to fly out to some lodge his high school friend mentioned her parents owned, Trudel has become part-owner of the lodge In-Fisherman’s Doug Stange called, “still the finest all-around experience I’ve ever had on a fly-in trip.”
“I can’t fully express the pride, satisfaction and gratitude I feel towards becoming a partner in a company that has had such an important impact on my life––and my growing family’s life,” Trudel said. “Having my sons grow up in this setting is truly a gift I will not take for granted.”
Last spring, majority shareholder Christopher Jensen surprised Patrick and Janelle with an unexpected but well-deserved reward by offering them the chance to own a stake of Aikens, widely considered one of the premier fly-in fishing resorts in the world.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Trudel said. “My drive remains the same as always, but it gives me so much satisfaction to know I am helping grow a company in which I am now a part-owner.”
“It is fun to look back, too. Things have changed around the lodge in the 15 years I’ve been here. Beds, boats and bar. Rods, reels and residences. Dining, docks and dogs,” said Trudel, “The ‘Aikens Experience’ has re-invented itself, but the essence of what makes it stand alone has never changed: happy people, unparalleled service and consummate stewardship.”
Trudel can still remember the first time he hung out with Aikens manager and co-owner Pit Turenne at a staff party. The two future best friends ended the evening with a drink on the rooftop of Pit's parents' house. Pit and his wife, Julie, run the family business that is Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, and Patrick is their right-hand man.
“My friendship with Pit was born out of rivalry and took a while to come around, but we have become best friends,” Trudel said. “He is more of a brother to me, and I was proud to have Pit stand next to me as the best man at my wedding. Pit and Julie are always looking out for our family, and we couldn’t thank them enough.”
Over the years, Trudel has accumulated a boatload of fishing memories shared with friends and guests at Aikens. One of his favorites involves a night out with Pit and former head guide Kik Dupont, who had landed dozens of trophy pike for his guests but surprisingly had never caught one himself. The trio were leaving Secret Bay when a giant pike tail slapped the water 25 feet in front of the boat.
Watch a video of Trudel helping Kik land the giant pike.
“First dibs be damned, in a split second, I grab my rod and bomb my lure out over the heads of Kik and Pit whom are now standing directly in front of me,” Trudel recalls. “Pit fires one out and a couple seconds later Kik is after it too. I remember watching my lure hit the water. One of those perfect casts; the ripples of the fish’s tale splash still a tight circle on the surface and my spoon lands dead center. Pit’s cast is slightly right of there and Kik’s is way out left side. Silence. We each reel in thinking we’ve got this thing beat.”
Suddenly, it nails Kik’s bait and the battle is on. It gives him a hell of a fight. We land it, measure her up (44” x 18.5”). Just an absolute tank!” Trudel said. “I couldn’t be happier for my friend who waited eight years to put his hands on her. Kik is so pumped that after releasing the massive fish he takes a celebratory swim in the drink, clothes and all! Needless to say, a celebration in Big Molly’s (the full bar on-site at the fly-in lodge) ensued.”
The Trudels have been celebrating their good fortune from fishing to friendships and are thrilled to raise their family at Aikens––a family that recently expanded by one. In the early morning hours of January 17, Janelle gave birth to the couple’s second son, a beautiful boy named Arthur weighing in at 8lbs 5 oz.
Arthur and his 2-year-old brother, Oscar, will be mainstays at Aikens for years to come, and that’s a blessing that Patrick truly appreciates.
“Janelle and I would like to thank the whole ownership team for trusting in us and generously rewarding our efforts,” Trudel said. “From the first few days I arrived at the lodge in 2000, I knew this was a special place. There is no place I’d rather be.”
The website for Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge is www.aikenslake.com. For more information, call 1-800-565-2595 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
My wife and I love to travel, but with a 4-month old baby we sought something close to home this fall for a staycation.” We found a special experience at The Hotel Ivy, in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. The historic hotel is connected by skyway to many Minneapolis highlights, and is conveniently located next to Orchestra Hall, Nicollet Mall and the Minneapolis Convention Center––not to mention countless restaurants and the Mighty Mississippi.
“Being part of The Luxury Collection of hotel and resorts, we offer unique, authentic experiences that evoke lasting and treasured memories,” said Betsy Bartholomew, Director of Sales and Marketing. “Regardless if you are a new or an experienced explorer, we can create the ultimate road map to your perfect excursion.”
Our excursion––a rare night away from the baby, watched lovingly by Grandma and Grandpa––was indeed memorable, thanks to the hotel’s outstanding staff and ideal location. We checked into our spacious suite and marveled at the view. Our suite was phenomenal. It consisted of a spacious entry way, a chic living room, an executive-style office, a guest bathroom, a deluxe bedroom and a master bathroom that resembled a mini-spa, complete with a hot tub and overlook of downtown.
The tower was actually commissioned originally by the Second Church of Christ Scientist, a religion that was eager to accommodate its growing congregation in the area. Nebraska-based architect Thomas R. Kimball was tapped to design the complex, which was originally conceived as four slender towers surrounding a larger, domed center. Kimball already had national acclaim for designs such as the Trans Mississippi and International Exposition, he was about to introduce Minneapolis to a style of architecture, the likes of which the city had never seen.
Upon the tower’s completion in 1930, the Depression brought further development of the complex to a halt, as church members were unable to fund the second phase of construction. The church itself was facing dwindling numbers in its own congregation, as the prevalence of automobiles increased and the allure of the suburbs beckoned.
Used mostly as an administration building, the building was purchased by W and T Investment Company in 1965 and named the Ivy Tower. S and P Properties purchased the property in 1991, though the tower was boarded up in 1993 when the building’s heating system failed. The Ivy Tower remained relatively untouched until its transformation into a luxury hotel in 2008.
The Ivy Tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, a flag it flies with honor today.
After settling in to our suite, we headed over to the Ivy Spa Club and treated ourselves to a wonderfully refreshing couples massage. What a way to start the weekend! It is hard to think of a more relaxing treat, especially for sore and sleep-deprived new parents. It’s also easy to see why many Minnesota dignitaries indulge in the Ivy Spa Club; the spa’s simply elegance and unique experiences are designed to replenish and invigorate.
As with most high-quality spas, the treatments are not inexpensive, but it’s hard to put a price tag on increasing your mental health and decreasing your blood pressure. I’d definitely recommend the Ivy Spa Club, and would offer this tip to get the most bang for your buck: Schedule your appointment for mid-day so you have time to enjoy the spa before and after your massage.
The 14 treatment rooms reveal specialty massages, body treatments and facials; meanwhile relaxation areas and hydrotherapy room complement a whirlpool, steam rooms, saunas and a state-of-the-art fitness facility. We lounged and lingered going back and forth between the sauna, whirlpool and steam room––with the occasional brief, chilly dip into a shower––before finally gathering ourselves and heading back to our room to prepare for a night on the town.
The hotel prepares multiple itineraries and has a first-rate concierge available to create unique, custom adventures. “The Luxury Collection brand has not only partnered with exceptional and alike brands such as Bentley and One Kings Lane, but with world famous Global Explorers that travel around the world and help us discover indigenous, exceptional experiences,” Bartholomew said. “Life is a collection of experiences, let us be your guide.”
The Hotel Ivy offers suggested experiences with different themes, such as the Music Enthusiast itinerary which intrigued Jodie and me:
If it’s vintage music you enjoy, you will appreciate Hymie’s. At this vintage record shop, scoop up an awesome Ramones LP or a rare 45 – or just spend time hanging out at one of the listening stations. You might catch a live performance by a local band.
Thereafter, your day takes you to The Loring Pasta Bar. This institution features whimsical décor and free live music. Combining the inspirations of the moment and beloved dishes, the Loring Pasta Bar offers a menu featuring innovative and house made noodle creations, luxurious entrees, incredible appetizers and wildly decadent desserts.
This is the sort of place savvy Twin Cities residents make a point of showing off to visitors from New York, Los Angeles ad London. Fun fact: when this was Gray’s Campus Drugs, Bob Dylan lived in an apartment upstairs.
Our dinner at The Loring Pasta Bar was a highlight.
The food was delicious, and the atmosphere lived up to the billing in the above itinerary.
This place has such a unique, fun vibe––you can definitely feel the energy when you walk in the door. The staff clearly works hard and enjoys providing good service.
“Our staff really appreciate the privilege of being involved with The Loring Pasta Bar,” said manager Joe Henkin.
There’s definitely a reason why The Loring Pasta Bar is one “the” places that Twin Cities residents like to show off and bring out-of-town guests. We discovered those reasons first hand.
The place has such a fun vibe I’d strongly recommend it. Even the bathrooms are cool! The Loring Pasta Bar has actually been voted as having the Best Bathrooms in town. Didn’t even know there was a distinction for that, but can sure see why this place won it.
We returned to The Hotel Ivy quite late after dinner and music at The Loring Pasta Bar and strolled around the hotel grounds. There was no wedding reception that evening, but the hotel frequently hosts weddings and offers a ballroom which can seat up to 64 guests. “Our brides tend to seek elegance, sophistication and a bespoke experience for her family and friends,” Bartholomew said. “Our ballroom can seat up to 64 guests; which allows the bride to keep her guest list small and intimate.”
The hotel is clearly a great choice for a celebration, a work meeting or, as in our case, a quiet “staycation.” In the morning, we enjoyed a terrific breakfast at Porter and Frye, Hotel Ivy’s signature restaurant. The restaurant has won multiple awards and is considered by many to embrace the essence of an indigenous Midwestern dining experience, as it uses locally sourced and sustainable ingredients to create a unique menu. Entree options including grass-fed lamb, free-range poultry and grain-finished beef.
The modern ambience is accentuated by its positioning in the historic Ivy Tower as well as by works of local artists. In short, the restaurant is definitely worth a stop, whether it’s for breakfast, dinner or happy hour.
After all the great food, rest and relaxation, my wife and I ventured outside and walked to the Mississippi River, a mere mile away. Of course I had fishing poles in tow, and we managed to catch and release a few smallmouth bass––along with a half dozen suckers––from the bank.
It finally occurred to us that we better return to our “normal lives” back home, 20 minutes away, and check on the baby. We thanked the hotel staff at checkout and told them the truth: We would definitely return, and perhaps try another of the hotel’s recommended itineraries.
The website for the Hotel Ivy is www.thehotelivy.com. For more information call (612) 746-4600.
The website specifically for the Ivy Spa Club is www.ivyspaclub.com. For more information, call (612) 343-3131.
The website for The Loring Pasta Bar is www.loringpastabar.com. For more information, call (612) 378-4849 or email email@example.com. For catering inquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a travel journalist, people often ask me: “What’s the best place you’ve ever been?” Or, “If you could go back to one place, where would it be?” In the past half decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit many of the world’s most beautiful vistas and stay at some of the fanciest resorts in picturesque settings such as Italy’s Amalfi Coast, Ireland’s Ring of Kerry and Scotland’s remote highlands.
So it’s a challenging––and fun––question. Having given it serious thought, I have to say that if I could return to one resort out of all the destinations I travelled in the past couple years, it would be Little Palm Island Resort & Spa off the Florida Keys.
The private, 5-acre island resort off-shore from the southernmost tip of the United States offers its own unique slice of paradise. Countless factors make Little Palm Island stand out––it was named the No. 1 beach resort in the U.S. by Travel & Leisure––so I’ll do my best to highlight 5 reasons why it tops my list.
1. The Setting
You leave your car and main-land mentality behind at Little Palm’s welcome station near Key West, then take a 15-minute cruise onboard a 1930s-style motor boat to reach the private island. When my wife and I visited in October of 2013, we were immediately greeted at the landing dock by Renda, a blonde from Ohio who fell in love with the island a decade ago and is now a Little Palm Island manager. “Welcome! You must be Tony and Jodie! The staff will take your bags. Come with me, I’ll give you a tour of the island.”
We smiled in awe of the path Renda led us down––a West-facing dining room on the edge of the beach; a sequestered pool shaded by giant palm trees next to an outdoor bar; a marina with kayaks, paddle boards and motorboats for us to use whenever we wanted; a rustic library with a take-a-book, leave-a-book policy as well as the only TV on the island; an over-size chess board beside the trail to a plush spa; a Zen garden and a gazebo overlooking the ocean; and, finally, at the far corner of the island, our romance suite: a thatched-roof bungalow on the water complete with our own fire-pit, deck, outdoor Jacuzzi and open-air bamboo shower.
“The reason we’re consistently voted one of the top hotels in the world is because we truly embrace our mantra, ‘Get Lost,’” said Matt Trahan, the regional managing director of Little Palm Island’s parent company, Noble House Hotels & Resorts. “Guests get to disconnect from the real world and re-connect with each other, and the island has a very peaceful vibe in the lap of luxury.”
It’s a vibe similar to that found in the South Pacific or West Indies, and as amazed as I am that such a luxurious, jungle-island paradise exists anywhere on earth, I am almost equally surprised that all I had to do to reach it was jump on a plane to Miami and drive a couple hours. To me, that convenience and low-cost in reaching the resort scores it major points. It also makes it more desirable to return to Little Palm Island, since it’s not exactly easy to devote days to traveling to far-flung corners of the globe.
“Many people think that the serene ambiance of Little Palm can only be found thousands of miles away,” Trahan said. “With only 30 suites on a 5-acre island, privacy and solitude are definite. Of course, there are many activities to do, from deep-sea fishing to sea plane tours.”
2. The Service
Every Noble House Hotels & Resorts property I’ve ever visited has offered truly great service. Not the easy-to-claim “great service” you see plastered on the website of every hotel in the U.S., but the type of dedication by committed individuals, like Renda, who learn your name and your preferences, and who make your stay so much better that you remember them years later.
At Little Palm’s welcome station on the mainland, a greeter checking us in before the boat ride to the island had asked if there was any special occasion that brought us to Little Palm. Jodie had responded casually: “No, not really, but we’re kind of celebrating our anniversary.”
The next night we had dinner on the beach by the tikki torches. When we opened the menu, we saw a shocking headline at the top of the menu: “Happy 4th Anniversary Mr. and Mrs. Capecchi.” Even the banana split I ordered for dessert was adorned with a chocolate “Happy Anniversary” wish. All because of one comment my wife made. Now that, is truly great service.
With personal touches like that, it’s no wonder why guests return to Little Palm Island Resort & Spa as if it’s a religious pilgrimage. One couple was married at Little Palm Island 18 years ago (the island offers a wedding coordinator among its 110-person staff and celebrates 30 weddings a year) and has returned every year since. In 2014, the couple brought their twin daughters to celebrate their birthday with a Sweet Sixteen celebration on the beach.
3. The Fishing
It’s easy to see why Little Palm Island was once the favored fishing camp for Presidents Truman, Roosevelt and Kennedy. Besides the setting, the service and the food (which I’ll get to next), Little Palm Island is literally surrounded by fish. I caught close to 100 fish a day during my stay, including over half a dozen species that were new to me. Most of my fish came simply while fishing from shore while my wife sunbathed on the beach a few yards away, but my favorite highlight came catching a shark while fishing on a stand-up paddle board.
It was also quite entertaining to feed the fish I caught to Spencer, Little Palm Island’s resident heron. After tossing Spencer a few snappers, I became his new best friend and he took one fish literally out of my hand.
4. The Dining Experience
Dining at Little Palm Island is quite the experience. The Dining Room, created by distinguished executive Chef Luis Pous, was named “Best Hotel Dining Experience” in Florida and third best in the entire U.S. by Zagat Survey. For good reason, it received Zagat’s highest possible scores with an “extraordinary to perfection” distinction.
Pous’ Cuban heritage and love of the Caribbean have inspired him to create unique dishes such as Foie Gras Cuban sandwiches and Key West lobster with apple, truffle, tarragon and Key Lime risotto. The food is delicious, but the atmosphere is what takes the dining to another level.
I already mentioned the personalized dinner menu for our anniversary, but I failed to describe our table. It was on the beach, mere feet from the ocean. A key deer wandered up to our table, while a live pianist played in the background, and the stars above teamed with tikki torches to provide us with light. Unforgettable.
5. The Adventures
The quantity and quality of activities and adventures awaiting at Little Palm Island are amazing. My wife and I enjoyed a private sailboat ride on the LilyAnna, a sleek 38-foot Admiral-class Catamaran built in South Africa. Our captain brought us to the best snorkeling site we’ve ever enjoyed, plus we trolled along the way and caught barracuda and goliath grouper.
Every stay at Little Palm Island also includes complementary usage of stand-up paddleboards, Boston Whaler motor boats, fishing poles and shrimp for bait. The staff provides a helpful map and instructions on fun adventures you can go on yourself with the boats––for example motoring to nearby snorkeling hotspots or visiting one of Little Palm’s nearby vacant islands for birding or beachcombing.
It’s tempting to spend all day at Little Palm Island on the beach or in the pool with a drink in hand (and you should definitely do that for at least one day), but by the same token you could spend a month at the resort and never get bored with all of the adventurous possibilities.
Of all the places I’ve traveled to in the past couple years, Little Palm Island Resort & Spa is definitely the one place I’d most like to return. Lucky for me, I’ll have a chance to do just that in May of 2015! To say I’m excited would a huge understatement.
I rarely return anywhere twice because there are so many sites in the world I won’t get a chance to see even once before my one and only life is over, but Little Palm Island is a very, very special place. The more days I spend on that island, the better. And as the website says, it is “so close, yet so far away.”
I will be writing a series of articles on my adventures at Little Palm Island this spring, as well as shooting a daily video blog highlighting my life on paradise island. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll hook another big shark on a paddle board, or have a key deer buck walk up to me during dinner on the beach, or catch a giant barracuda while sailing into the sunset.
I do know this: It will be memorable, and I will have many great photos, videos and stories to share. So please wish me well on the adventure, and stay tuned for terrific tales of island adventure next spring.
The website for Little Palm Island Resort & Spa is www.littlepalmisland.com. To contact the resort, call 800.343.8567 or email email@example.com.