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Outdoors

][Courtesy Bill Hardman

Wily Florida lobsters can be elusive

LONG KEY The antennae sticking out of the hole gave the creature away. So with great caution and care, I placed my tickle stick behind the lobster and tried to gently coax it into my net. But with one flip of its tail, it shot out between my legs like a cartoon crustacean, leaving nothing but a cloud of crushed she …

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Terry Tomalin, Times Outdoors/Fitness Editor

Terry Tomalin

Terry Tomalin moved to Florida in the spring of 1980 for the sun and surf. After graduating from the University of South Florida in 1983, Tomalin backpacked through Europe, returning a few months later to work for a small Central Florida newspaper, where his stories on the Ku Klux Klan resulted in the resignation of a local sheriff.

Tomalin joined the Times as a police reporter in 1986, but left 18 months later to backpack through New Zealand and Australia. He returned a year later and transferred to the sports department to cover the great outdoors.

During the past 20 years, Tomalin has lived with witch doctors in the Amazon, explored sunken Mayan archaeological sites in Mexico, sailed to Cuba, canoed to the Bahamas and swam around Key West. Tomalin loves to fish, surf, paddle and enjoy all Florida has to offer.

A fellow of the prestigious Explorer's Club in New York City, Tomalin holds a master's degree in Florida studies and is involved in many community organizations, including the Boy Scouts of America.

Phone: (727) 893-8808

Email: ttomalin@tampabay.com

Twitter: @WaterTribe

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  1. Help weed out invasive lionfish species

    Outdoors

    Earn extra lobster

    If you are out bug huntin' this lobster mini-season and come across a lionfish, take that too. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has offered a bounty to any diver who spears 10 lionfish during the sport season — an extra lobster and possibly a T-shirt. Lionfish are an invasive species that displaces native species on coral reefs. The only way to stop the spread of these harmful exotics is to physically remove them. The FWC hopes the thousands of divers in the Florida Keys next week will help stop their spread. In addition, people can take a photo of their lionfish and lobster catch during the two-day season and post it on Facebook.com/LionfishReefRangers to get a "Be the Predator" T-shirt. One photo entrant will also win a lifetime saltwater fishing license via a drawing held shortly after the sport season. In addition, for the 2015 spiny lobster sport season only, divers will be allowed a single spiny lobster over the bag limit per day for each day that they also harvest 10 or more lionfish. Lionfish must be kept as proof of harvest while on the water. When off the water, a photo of harvesters with their 10 lionfish must be kept to document eligibility for harvesting an extra lobster. Lionfish must be harvested the same day and before taking the additional lobster. All other rules, including no spearfishing zones, apply....

  2. Wily Florida lobsters can be elusive

    Outdoors

    LONG KEY

    The antennae sticking out of the hole gave the creature away. So with great caution and care, I placed my tickle stick behind the lobster and tried to gently coax it into my net.

    But with one flip of its tail, it shot out between my legs like a cartoon crustacean, leaving nothing but a cloud of crushed shell and sand in its wake. The Caribbean spiny lobster, as it turns out, is no easy prey. Masters of camouflage, these wily crustaceans can be hard to find and quick to disappear.

    Most divers and snorkelers who head to Florida's east coast and the Florida Keys for next week's two-day lobster miniseason will probably head to spots that have been fruitful before. But lobsters love to move around.

    The best spots may change from season to season. Fluctuations in weather, current, water temperature, even tides can put lobsters on the run, so a successful "bug hunter" — and this is an active sport — must often cover some ground to find the mother lode.

    Though divers will find lobsters in the deeper waters off Tampa Bay, the lobsters tend to be scattered and difficult to pinpoint with certainty. The plus to lobstering local waters is that the bugs tend to be big, some 10 pounds or more, compared with those in the Keys....

    Spiny lobsters can be hard to find, then will quickly disappear. They are called bugs because they have things in common with palmetto bugs.
  3. Take It Outside Planner: Explore Selby Gardens (w/video), Indian River Lagoon and birding

    Outdoors

    COOL SPOT TO EXPLORE: SELBY GARDENS IN SARASOTA

    Sarasota's beaches get top ratings for their sugar sand and turquoise blue waters, but after you rinse off and head home, swing by Marie Selby Botanical Gardens to cool off. It always feels a little cooler strolling through the tropical plants. Nestled on 15 acres on the city's picturesque waterfront, "The Gardens" has one of the largest epiphyte, or "air plant" collections in the country. But Selby Gardens is perhaps best known for its collection of more than 6,000 orchids. Be sure to check out the Towering Bamboo Garden, Banyan Groves and Mangrove Bay Walk. And the kids will love the Children's Rainforest Garden.

    INDIAN RIVER LAGOON: ADVENTURE AND RED DRUM

    Covering about one third of Florida's East Coast, the Indian River Lagoon straddles the border of the temperate and subtropical zones, making it the most biologically diverse estuary in the United States. More than 4,300 different species call this place home. If you care for a breakdown, that's 1,350 plants, 2,956 animals (including more than 700 species of fish) and 310 birds. So bring your field guides and notebook, then start counting. Sandwiched between the Florida peninsula and a string of barrier islands that stretch from Ponce de Leon in the north to Jupiter Inlet in the south, thelLagoon also is known for its world-record red drum. Anglers come from all over the world to fish the Indian River Lagoon for big bull reds that thrive among the oyster bars and sea grass beds. The five inlets that link the lagoon with the sea also introduce a fair number of species normally associated with the open Atlantic. Most people who travel the lagoon do so by powerboat. It is part of a "boaters' highway" called the Intracoastal Waterway that stretches from New York to Key West. If you take the time to look around, you'll notice tiny patches of land every few miles or so. The 212 spoil islands provide some of the lagoon's best camping and picnic spots. Some areas, such as Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, are off limits, so pay close attention to the posted signs....

    Paddlers Darry Jackson, left, and Keith Dudley prepare to leave a spoil island to begin the second day of paddling during their three-day kayak trip in the Indian River Lagoon.
  4. A little hissssstory on Florida's poisonous snakes

    Outdoors

    My big sister warned me about the copperhead snake in the garden. "It was a big one, too," she said. Many folks might take this as a cue to stay inside and watch tennis on TV. But me? I waited until she wasn't looking, then I sneaked outside and started scanning the shrubs for the venomous reptile. Most people don't like snakes. Some even hate them. But there are a few of us who look forward to any chance encounter with these secretive creatures. Snakes, and other reptiles, are more active during the warmer months. So your chances of seeing one increase with these dog days of summer. Florida has 46 species of snakes, and four of the venomous ones can be found here in the Tampa Bay area. Of those four, the Eastern diamondback is the largest and most dangerous. Its venom destroys tissue and blood cells, but your chances of being bitten are pretty slim since these creatures tend to shy away from humans.

    You will find rattlesnakes in just about every habitat in Florida, from salt marshes to scrub lands, and they can grow to nearly 8 feet and strike objects that are two-thirds the length of their bodies away. They are surprisingly good swimmers and travel between barrier islands in search of game....

    George Heinrich measuring an eastern corn snake during fieldwork at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve (photo credit: Amalia Fernand)
  5. Take It Outside Planner: Juniper Springs (w/video), night hiking and catching dolphin

    Outdoors

    COOL DAY TRIP: SOAK IT IN AT JUNIPER SPRINGS

    With the temperature in the upper 90s and the humidity at 100 percent, the air feels like you can cut it with a butter knife. Some people can't deal with the heat and stay inside. Me? I head north to Ocala National Forest where I swear it always feels 10 degrees cooler beneath the trees. There are several great swimming holes hidden out there among live oak and slash pine, but one of my favorites is Juniper Springs. The water's perfect — 72 degrees, 365 days a year — and some say a good soaking will add years to your life. Old Juan Ponce de Leon never made it this far west, but if he had, he probably would have written the Spanish King Ferdinand to let him know he had found the Fountain of Youth. Juniper Springs, one of the oldest and better-known recreation areas in the forest, is about 25 miles east of Ocala. It takes about two hours to get there from Tampa, but it pays to leave early and beat the crowds. By noon the old spring will be packed with snorkelers and swimmers.

    KISSIMMEE PRAIRIE: NIGHT HIKES AND STARGAZING

    Families are headed out on vacation and quite a few will end up in campgrounds and state parks. Remember, summer's a great time for a night hike. It's cooler when the sun goes down and the best show on earth is, and always has been, the one that takes place each night in the sky above. Stargazing is easy and inexpensive. Before setting out, check the weather report. Even a thin layer of clouds can ruin a night of sky watching. Also, if possible, plan the trip on or near a new moon. A full moon is good for a night hike, but it won't help your chances of seeing the moons of Jupiter or the rings of Saturn. An inexpensive star guide from a bookstore will help to identify the major constellations, including the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper and Orion the Hunter. Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park near Okeechobee is one of the darkest places in Florida. This preserve is home to one of the largest remaining tracts of dry prairie left in the state. The park has more than 100 miles of dirt roads for hikers, bikers and horseback riders to explore. But it is Kissimmee Prairie's remote location that makes it one of the premier stargazing spots. On a new moon, it is possible to see the major constellations with the naked eye....

    Visitors cool off in May at the Juniper Springs Recreation Area in the Ocala National Forest.
  6. Shark Week brings reminders to be shark smart

    Outdoors

    A string of shark attacks in North Carolina made for a good preamble for the Discovery Channel's Shark Week. As a surfer and former ocean lifeguard, I have great respect for the King of the Sea. But every time I hear the word "shark attack" I stop and wonder what really happened. Most of what I know about sharks has been learned on the job. Years ago, surfing at Ponce Inlet on Florida's east coast, I noticed that the locals knew when to pull their hands and feet out of the water. A hurricane, spinning more than 250 miles out in the Atlantic, had kicked up a swell that pushed big schools of bait up close to the beach. The fish, caught between two sandbars, had nowhere to go. So the sharks, mostly blacktips and spinners, swam through the swash channel eating at will. The surfers, well aware of the feeding habits of the resident apex predator, kept one eye on the waves and the other on the bait. When fish start jumping out of the water, it's time to bring in your appendages, and we hope, watch a shark swim harmlessly beneath your board.

    But every now and then surfers lose focus. They forget the rules of the game and paddle when they should sit and wait. A shark sees a white palm or sole and mistakes it for a flash of a baitfish....

    You don’t have to stay out of the ocean due to fear of sharks. Just be shark smart.
  7. Take It Outside Planner: River Rapids Nature Trail, at the beach and best places to scallop

    Outdoors

    WEST COAST CRAZE: PRIME SCALLOP GROUNDS

    It's scallop season north of the Anclote River. You'll find Argopecten irradians scattered throughout the Gulf of Mexico, but the best places to find scallops are where freshwater rivers flow into the ocean. The state's prime scallop grounds — Steinhatchee, Homosassa and Crystal River — have the perfect combination of both fresh and saltwater.

    If you are looking to get in on "the hunt," you'll need a saltwater fishing license, mask, snorkel, dive flag and a way to get out to shellfish beds, which are usually located several miles from shore. The best time to go is on a slack tide, when the grass blades stand straight up.

    Bay scallops, like other types of game, are masters of camouflage. It takes a keen eye and steady hand to locate these critters as they hide in the thick beds of eel and turtle grass that flourish in the shallows off the state's west coast. Once you spot a scallop, get ready for a chase. These mollusks, unlike their clam and oyster cousins, can swim. And also pinch. Beware.

    HIKING: RIVER RAPIDS NATURE TRAIL

    Most folks know that Hillsborough River State Park has some of the best canoeing and kayaking in the state. But if you are looking for something a little different, get up early and hit the trail for a summer hike. Sure, it's hot and humid, but you'll find the temperature cooler, the air a little fresher, in the shade....

    Terry Tomalin gathers scallops off the gulf floor off Homosassa.