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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