This story begins not on a skiff in the Gulf but on the banks of Loxahatchee. It’s a story of a little boy fishing with his grandfather with nothing but a cane pole and watchful eyes for alligators and snakes. A boy that started by mastering mudfish and grew to master crafting fishing rods in the Keys. Randy Towe loved to fish when he was a boy, but he never dreamed of making a life out of it. He dreamed what many little boys do, of becoming a professional baseball player. Though difficult to achieve, it seemed like Randy would make it a reality. That is until he injured his pitching arm when playing college ball.
The injury put an end to years of practice, years of developing his skills, and years of fun. It was hard to let it all go, but Randy had also spent those same years practicing, developing, and enjoying another skill: fishing. He fell back on his secondary passion only to realize over time that it was what he was meant to do all along. He had actually stepped foot on his true path when he was only 10 years old and walked into a bait and tackle shop with his mother. He was hoping to convince her to buy him a handmade fishing rod like his friends had, but the price tags quickly put an end to his attempt.
However, the store’s craftsman, Charlie March, offered a more affordable alternative. He told Randy’s mom she could buy the parts, and her son could make the fishing rod himself. Randy couldn’t have been more grateful to Charlie, especially since he used to hop Charlie’s fence and catch bass from his pond uninvited. Thankfully, Charlie didn’t hold a grudge because little did he know that those fishing rod parts would become so much more than a fishing pole. 50 years later, Randy Towe is a well-known, highly regarded custom rod builder in the Keys. He moved to the islands in his early twenties and absorbed everything he could about fishing and rod building from his employers and his own experiences. Once in the Keys, Randy fished an average of 280 days a year as a guide and on his own time. He used the time to learn, test, and improve his fishing rods. Every trip, every type of fish, and every location revealed a challenge he was determined to overcome with his rod designs.
Many of those days were spent fishing the backcountry and figuring out how to make the perfect rod for sight casting, fishing the edge of mangroves, and other backcountry challenges. His fishing rods were ever-evolving until they were better than anything else available. Now, Randy has a line of backcountry fishing rods with 9 models ranging from 8-10 lb to 30 lb rods at his store, Islamorada Fishing Outfitters. Unlike other custom rod builders, Randy has in-store inventory, so customers can buy a premium handmade rod on the spot or have it further customized.
Though Islamorada Fishing Outfitters is in an unassuming building, customers’ eyes light up when they enter the store. They are surprised by the deep blue accents and the smell of cedar from the custom displays. But people don’t just go to Islamorada Fishing Outfitters for its impressive displays. Some don’t even go there for the fishing rods. Some go just to talk with Randy and absorb whatever wisdom he can impart from his lifetime of fishing everything the Keys. Whatever the case, people leave Islamorada Fishing Outfitters feeling more confident for their next fishing trip, whether it’s in the backcountry, offshore, or fly fishing.
Shop online at IslamoradaFishingOutfitters.com or learn more from Randy Towe’s Podcast Untold Stories.
–Jerrica Mah is a writer, Army wife, and freelance book editor, who loves to travel with her family.