Captain Joe Mercurio still wakes up at 5:30 a.m. every morning, but now he no longer has to check the wind and sea forecast while loading ice and gear onto his Triple Time charter boat at A&B Marina.

Mercurio, who has been an integral part of Key West waters since his family moved here in 1946, when Mercurio was 3 years old.

“My dad, also Joe Mercurio, started here in 1946 with a party boat called The Storm King. They used to fish grouper on the bottom. Then I bought my first boat when I was 18 around 1951, but back then you couldn’t make a living chartering all year round, only in January, February and March. Otherwise, there weren’t enough people in town to support a family, but charter fishing. Lots of charter guys worked at the shipyard when they couldn’t fish.

But Captain Joe has always wanted to fish. “So I started commercial fishing, first for yellowtail, but then I realized the money was in the lobster, so I did that for a number of years.”

This all dates back to the days before the establishment of the marine sanctuary and before strict fishing regulations required a saltwater product license to sell fish.

“There were no licenses for anything back then; you just needed a boat registration,” he said. “My first commercial yellowtail boat was the Ruth C. I had that for four or five years before I decided the money was the crawfish. So I bought the Donna Marie commercial lobster, then the Tine Marie. Then around 1965 we bought the Fiji III and that’s when I started doing charters again and was out of Garrison Bight, before the current Charter Boat Row was there .

Over 40 people dressed in custom blue shirts celebrate Captain Joe Mercurio’s last charter. DAMALI PHIPPS/Contributed

Mercurio had the Fiji III until 1979, “then I bought the lead boat Gulfstream III and the charter boat Jolly Roger, which was next. It’s funny, the Gulfstream was my dad’s competition, but I’d known these guys since I was 4 or 5, and I always said I’d buy the boat from them as soon as they were ready to sell it. .

This childhood dream came true in 1979, and Captain Joe was taking 50 people on the boat he had been fishing at once because he could barely see over the rail.

“Eventually I got tired of dealing with 50 people at once, and just went on charters on the Jolly Roger,” he said. “We bought today’s boat, Triple Time, 23 or 24 years ago and I’ve been running that boat ever since. I sold Jolly Roger to my son, Joe III, and we moved downtown Triple Time to A&B Marina.

Mercurio’s wife, Sandy, always handled reservations, reservations, and all phone calls and questions from charter clients, most of whom returned year after year.

“Sailfish, marlin and all blue water fish have always been my favorites to catch,” he said. “But we will pursue whatever customers want, including mahi mahi and snapper. But if I had my druthers, I’d go after the big ones, and always catch and release. I was always taught, when I was young, that you never take more than you need and that you never fish in the same place two days in a row.

So what’s next for Captain Joe?

Key West Charter Captain Joe Mercurio, who has been fishing in Key West for 61 years, completes his last charter before retiring June 29. MAISON BENITEZ/Overseas Media Group

“I always wake up at 5:30 a.m., but I have nothing to do. I’ll find another job, though. He said he planned to apply for a job driving the tender back and forth in Sunset Key, which would keep him on the water and around people.

“That way I don’t have to worry about maintaining or repairing the boat,” he said.

Looking back on 61 years doing what he loves, Mercurio has no regrets.

The Triple Time charter boat remains at its usual location at A&B Marina. The Mercurios sold the boat to their longtime companion Keith Hebert. “He’s been with us for nine years, so most of our customers already know him, and we really wish him the best.

“The fishing experience isn’t always about catching, it’s about having a good time on the water with good people,” he said. “It’s the best way to make a living, and I was lucky to have lived the old adage, ‘If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.'”

Captain Joe and Sandy Mercurio celebrate their last rental after selling the boat Triple Time to their longtime companion Keith Hebert.