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Outdoors

Ed Walker returns to the surface with an African pompano speared while freediving. 

[Special to the Times]

National Free­diving Championship in Tarpon features top teams

TARPON SPRINGS — Many hook and liners think spearfishing is like shooting fish in a barrel. But that's because they never had to hold their breath for three minutes and pick off a grouper hiding on a rock ledge in 60 feet of water. But that is just what you might have to do if you want to win next week's U.S. Natio …

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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. National Free­diving Championship in Tarpon features top teams

    Outdoors

    TARPON SPRINGS — Many hook and liners think spearfishing is like shooting fish in a barrel. But that's because they never had to hold their breath for three minutes and pick off a grouper hiding on a rock ledge in 60 feet of water.

    But that is just what you might have to do if you want to win next week's U.S. National Free­diving Championship in Tarpon Springs. The five-day event, hosted by the Florida Skin Diver's Association, will feature the top teams in the nation from five regional qualifying divisions. The winning team will move on to the World Spearfishing Championships in Greece.

    Tarpon Springs was the site of previous National Spearfishing Championships in 2001 and 1978. While California and Hawaii might get all the press when it comes to freediving, Florida has a long and storied spearfishing history as well. Miami has produced many world-class free divers. In 1955 two legendary spear fishermen from South Florida, Fred and Art Pinder, earned a spot in history when they became the first (and only) free divers on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

    Here on the Gulf Coast, free diving can be a challenge because poor water clarity can make it hard to see the fish. Still, the sport has a small, but loyal following. Ed Walker, a 48-year-old charter boat captain from Holiday, has been shooting fish sans tanks for more than 20 years....

    Ed Walker returns to the surface with an African pompano speared while freediving. 

[Special to the Times]
  2. Take It Outside Planner: Paddle through magical mangroves (w/video), pier fishing and lobster season

    Outdoors

    PADDLE BY: MANGROVE TUNNELS

    Looking for a great half-day trip? Check out the Lido Key Canoe/Kayak Trail in Sarasota. This well-marked waterway can be as short or as long as you like. Paddling through these tree-covered corridors, it is easy to imagine yourself in another time and place.

    Five minutes from the boat ramp, you turn and follow the signs into what looks like an enchanted mangrove forest. The trees have grown over the water and formed a canopy just large enough for a canoe or kayak to navigate. Inside the darkened tunnels, you will see raccoons hunting among the "walking trees" as mangrove crabs scurry for cover. Wading birds prowl the dimly lit corridor, feeding on fingerlings illuminated by the shafts of sunlight filtering through the treetops.

    The water clarity is so good you can even see sponges in some of the deeper areas. Don't be alarmed if you surprise a silver-sided snook resting in the shallows. To get there, head south to Sarasota and follow the signs to St. Armands Circle on Lido Key. Go around the circle, exiting south on the Boulevard of the Presidents to Taft Drive and South Lido County Park. Get there early — the parking lot fills up fast....

    Spiny lobster season is about to open in the Florida Keys.
  3. Missing Florida teen boaters reinforce need for safety precautions

    Outdoors

    When Chris Turner was a boy growing up on the shores of Boca Ciega Bay, his father set strict limits on how far he could go in his boat.

    "I was allowed to go to this bridge but not past that channel marker," said Turner, a 52-year-old yacht captain from St. Petersburg. "As time went on and I got more experience, my boundaries expanded. But there was always a discussion on where I could and couldn't go."

    As authorities search a vast swath of the Atlantic Ocean for two missing Tequesta teens, many are questioning how much independence young boaters should have.

    "It is something every parent who lives on the water goes through," said Turner, who has trained his own 17-year-old son to be careful and cautious when venturing offshore. "You want them to have fun, but at the same time you want them to come home."

    According to published reports, 14-year-olds Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos were supposed to stay in the relatively sheltered waters of the Loxahatchee River and Intracoastal Waterway on Friday. But later that afternoon, the boys' 19-foot, single-engine boat was spotted headed out of Jupiter Inlet into the path of an oncoming storm.

    The boys had mentioned going to the Bahamas, which lie more than 70 miles away, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, but their vessel was recovered some 180 miles to the north off Ponce Inlet....

    Perry Cohen, left, and Austin Stephanos, both 14, were last seen Friday afternoon.
  4. 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....

  5. 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....

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  6. 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.
  7. 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)