Cecil Keith Dies

If you happen to have lived in the past half-century and fly fished in salt water, you’ve benefited from the experience of a few folks who struck out in small boats and went and did things that others probably thought were ridiculous. One of these was Cecil Keith, who began guiding in the Florida Keys in 1947 at the age of sixteen. As Sandy Moret said in a recent note about Keith’s death, “Cecil was one of the true pioneers of both inshore and offshore sport fishing as we know it today. He had the opportunity to fish the Keys when they were virtually untouched and I loved Cecil’s stories of ‘the old day’ with Ted Williams, Jimmy Albright, Jack Brothers and so many more of my angling heroes.”
I remember being speechless after Bob Montgomery introduced me to Cecil Keith and Jimmie Albright at my induction into the Florida Keys Guides’ Association in 1987. I often wish I could rewind the clock to that moment and ask the two the hundreds of questions that came with more years on poling platform. As a “protege” of Jimmie Albright, Keith really was one of the first guides who learned the trade from older, more experienced guides, beginning a tradition that still exists today. (By the way, Albright himself had learned to bonefish from Bill and Bonnie Smith and had been guiding the flats for only four years when Keith caught the bug.) Fly fishing for sailfish was also very popular in those days, and Keith helped refine many of those earliest techniques. I’m sure they didn’t know it at the time, but Keith and Albright enabled the dreams of almost every guide in their wakes.
Cecil Keith died on his birthday at the age of 76 last Wednesday. A memorial service will be held on February 17 at 3:00 PM at Bud n’ Mary’s in Islamorada. You can be sure to hear many veteran guide stories and plenty of Keys flats lore. Like so many great guides, Keith’s unlikely to get due credit for many of his contributions to the sport, but you’ll get some sense of his importance from the size of the crowd in attendance. You’ll always see Cecil Keith’s name engraved on the Gold Cup Tournament trophy, but his legacy lives most strongly in the tradition of flats guiding.

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  • Diana Rudolph

    Thanks, Marshall.

  • Cliff Rugg

    Cecil was my first Flats guide and the best. Patient with a beginner, he raised the bar for all of us when he showed us how to read water, sense the fish and have a ball. I remember his first compliment on a cast I made in a blow. I have forgotten the date, the fish and where exactly we were. But I will not forget Cecil and his helpful “hints”. His standards and insights will continue thru all his proteges and sports. Tight lines.Thank you, Cecil.

  • Tom Downes

    I fished with Cecil Keith when I was around 12 years old. He took me out of Islamorada in the early am to the mangroves to catch mullet with a throw net. Then went out on the ocean to catch Tarpon. My father fly fished with him in the Florida Keys for tarpon . I have pictures of them pulling Jack Nicklaus, his son, and his boat out of the keys with a rope, as Jacks boat broke down.

  • Bill Van Every

    I grew up fishing with cecil in the seventies, and probably last saw him some six years ago. As a kid, there was nothing greater then to stake up in “the pocket’ and wait for the tide to push the fish. I caught my first tarpon on fly (an old glass rod borrowed from roger martin I think)with cecil, as well, bonefish. Later in life, we would meet with Cecil and Peggy up the coast in homosassa. Like so many clients back then, my dad was consumed with getting the first 200 pound tarpon on fly. my favorite memories of cecil are when the fishing was off and we would sit and talk about just about anything. Cecil and Peggy invited us into their home and treated us as friends. I’ll never forget Cecil and will always feel a tremendous love and admiration for him. I regret having not seen him more in the past six years or so. The last time we fished was off tea table.

  • Stacie Jutgren

    I would like to say hello to everyone. My name is stacie Jutgren. I am Cecil & Peggy’s granddaughter. I am here in the keys this weekend visiting my mother and her husband Dick. I was intoducing the world of computers to them and we where surfing around and came across this wonderful article about my grandfather Cecil Keith. I am so happy to see all the wonderful things that has been written about my grandfather. He indeed was a wonderful man, fisherman & grandfather.

  • Lloyd L Lathrop III

    I was very sad to hear of my friend Cecil’s passing.I was intoduced to him by my father at approx. ten years of age or so. I like so many others caught my first tarpon with him as did my wife,Heidi. Over the time I new him he was always a true gentleman who seemed to take great pleasure in sharing his love and knowledge of fishing with others.Thanks for all of the wonderfull times Cecil,I think of you every time I pick up a fly rod.You were truly one of a kind! Lody