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Capt. Mike Gore shows off a monster snook he caught in Tampa Bay. (photo courtesy of Mike Gore)

Snook season back in session

Snook are an easy sell to tourists and locals alike, according to Tampa-based charter boat captain Mike Gore. "They'll bust a bait like a large-mouth bass and fight like a tarpon," he said. "There's really nothing like them." Snook season reopens today after a long summer closure, and Gore, along with thousands of  …

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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. Take It Outside Planner: Zip 'The Canyons,' surf without a board and float on the Blue Run

    Outdoors

    ON HIGH: ZIP THE CANYONS

    Florida flatlanders don't get many opportunities to enjoy a little elevation. Living at sea level, even driving over a little hill can give you a thrill. But head two hours north to "The Canyons" in Ocala, and you'll get all the height you can stand and more. The zip line complex, built atop a 94-acre limestone quarry, has the highest and longest wires in the state. It takes about 2 ½ to three hours to get through all nine zips, and unlike many complexes where you have to climb towers, most of the runs are cliff to cliff. The longest zip is "Speed Trap." It's 1,100 feet long, and at the peak, you are 135 feet off the ground. Canyons also has a special "Super Zip," where the rider lays prone, that measures 1,600 feet long and carries you 165 feet in the air. Be prepared for a workout. The entire course is about a mile long. There's a special, surprise rappel at the end that will test your nerves. As expected, with the longest, highest and fastest zips in the state, demand is high, so reservations are recommended. Cost is $96 per person. zipthecanyons.com.

    HUMAN SURFBOARD: NO EQUIPMENT NEEDED

    ...

    The Rainbow River, 100 miles north of Tampa Bay, is a popular tubing and kayaking destination. The 5.6-mile run also features public swimming at the Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon.
  2. Snook season back in session

    Outdoors

    Snook are an easy sell to tourists and locals alike, according to Tampa-based charter boat captain Mike Gore. "They'll bust a bait like a large-mouth bass and fight like a tarpon," he said. "There's really nothing like them."

    Snook season reopens today after a long summer closure, and Gore, along with thousands of anglers like him, will hit the water from Crystal River to Everglades National Park hoping to land the fabled Florida linesider.

    "They are hard to catch," said Gore, 44, who grew up fishing the flats of Tampa Bay. "But I think another big draw is that you won't find a better eating fish."

    According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, about 90 percent of all snook caught are then let go. The species is particularly hardy in this respect. Studies by state biologists show that 98 percent of snook, a higher percentage than red drum or spotted sea trout, survive upon release.

    For decades, snook were not prized as table fare. They were called "soapfish" because when cooked with the skin on, the meat had an unpleasant "soapy" taste. But when properly cleaned and filleted, snook are the finest tasting of all inshore species.

    Many anglers, even those who consider themselves conservationists, might keep one or two fish a year for the grill. State biologists are conducting a major assessment on snook stocks, and initial reports indicate that numbers are up....

    Tampa-based captain Mike Gore shows off a snook he caught in Tampa Bay. “You won’t find a better eating fish,’’ he says.
  3. It's Florida lobster season; here's how to cook them

    Cooking

    There seems to be no debate among Florida lobster aficionados concerning how to cook this delicacy of the sea.

    "You have got to grill them," said restaurateur Frank Chivas. "There is no other way."

    But Chivas and his longtime friend Tom Pritchard, the creative force behind many of his restaurants, disagreed on the next step.

    "I like to start them out shell down," said Pritchard, one of America's top chefs. "You want to protect the meat."

    Chivas, a Florida native who has spent weeks at a time diving and fishing in Lobsterland, a.k.a. the Florida Keys, had another idea.

    "I like to cut them in half, then put the meat side down first," he said. "You let them cook for a few minutes, then flip them over and add a little grouper stuffing."

    Florida lobster is best grilled or broiled but never boiled. Save the big pot of water for their cousins from Maine. While related, the Caribbean spiny lobster has no big, crushing claws. All of its meat is in the tail, which cooks up nicely on the grill.

    Recreational scuba divers and snorkelers get first crack (no pun intended) at Florida lobsters during a special, two-day "mini season" at the end of July. The regular season opened Aug. 6 for commercial fishermen....

    Fresh lobsters from the Florida Keys await grilling. The regular season opened Aug. 6 for commercial fishermen.
  4. With hurricane season heating up, take steps to secure your boat

    Outdoors

    Danny has disappeared. But Tropical Storm Erika is gaining strength. Maybe it is time to make sure your boat is prepared to weather a storm.

    If you are like me, you probably don't start thinking about hurricane season until the end of August. That's when low pressure systems seem to line up like freight trains and start barreling across the Atlantic. Over the years, several have made landfall on or near the Labor Day weekend, including an epic Category 5 storm 80 years ago.

    This small, tightly-compacted storm took many by surprise in the Florida Keys. With winds of 185 mph and one of the lowest barometric pressures on record, the Great Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 left 408 people dead in its wake.

    Fortunately, times have changed. The National Hurricane Center has a great website (nhc.noaa.gov) that keeps us all informed. Boaters have days, if not weeks, to prepare for a storm. And remember, you need not only be concerned with Cat 5 storms. A tropical depression or storm can also damage your boat.

    Tropical storm systems typically damage boats in one of two ways. A big storm can push a wall of water, i.e., a storm surge, toward land. The water level can rise several feet above normal high tide. If your boat is not properly secured, the lines will break and the rush of water will carry the watercraft and leave it sometimes miles inland....

    Jeanne Follow up on damage and cleanup from Hurricane Jeanne in North Pinellas.--3) A sailboat sits on the northside of the Dunedin Causeway on Monday morning (9/27/04) after having washed ashore from the wind of Hurricane Jeanne.
  5. Take It Outside Planner: Courtney Campbell trail (w/video), how to catch tarpon and how to beat a gator

    Outdoors

    SUNSHINE DAY: CAUSEWAY TRAIL

    Looking for a great sunrise? Take a hike on the new Courtney Campbell Causeway Trail. The 9.5-mile paved pathway that connects Clearwater and Tampa is an urban hiker's dream.

    You will find parking on both sides of the bridge. It's a little easier on the eyes if you start in Tampa (Ben T. Davis Beach) and walk west. You'll share the road with other walkers, joggers and bikers, so there's plenty of company. The 5.5-mile portion in Hillsborough County opened in 2013. The 4-mile extension, opened this summer, offers easy access to the Pinellas Trail and the Duke Energy Trail via Clearwater's Ream Wilson East-West Trail.

    You will find great panoramic views, including a good photo stop atop the main span of the Courtney Campbell, but be forewarned — it gets hot if you don't start early. Pack water, snacks and don't forget the hat and sunscreen.

    FRESH CATCH: THE SILVER KING

    When hard-core anglers rank the best tarpon fishing destinations, Boca Grande and the Florida Keys usually rank at the top of the list. But Tampa Bay, the state's largest estuary, has also long been synonymous with Megalops atlanticus, the "silver king" of gamefish....

    Summer is the time to fish for tarpon, prized for their aerial acrobatics and fighting prowess.
  6. Guide to summer survival gear to help beat the heat

    Outdoors

    The last week of August always seems like the hottest time of the year. I don't know if there is any empirical evidence to support this assertion, but I can tell you that when I hit this point of the summer, I'm tempted to trade the outdoors beat for something cooler, such as air-conditioned city hall.

    But if you are a dedicated, boater, angler or paddler, somebody who pursues your passion 24/7, 365 days a year, you've got to carry on in spite of the elements. Fortunately, gear technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years. Today's outdoor clothing and accessories make fishing the flats a little easier, even if it is, as author Thomas McGuane would say, Ninety-two in the Shade.

    The key to coolness is coverage. If you don't believe that, take a look at one of those old French Foreign Legion movies. Those guys marched through the Sahara Desert covered from head to toe. Sure they were miserable. But at least they weren't sunburned.

    But their old uniforms of wool and cotton were far from high-tech. What they would have given for an ExOfficio Sol Cool Ultimate Hoody. ExOfficio, a pioneer in the technical clothing business, was one of the first manufacturers to come out with clothing that actually cools. A recent gear test in Backpacker Magazine called it "cooler than wearing nothing at all."...

     Merchandise supplied by Bill Jackson Shop for Adventure. [    MONICA HERNDON | Times]
  7. Take it Outside Planner: Canoe Juniper Run (w/video), cruise the bay and search for scallops

    Outdoors

    YOU CANOE IT: JUNIPER RUN

    Ocala National Forest's Juniper Run has been named one of the top 25 canoe runs in America. The 7-mile paddle through riverine swamp, hardwood forests and Florida scrub takes about three hours to complete, and when you are done, you will wish it were longer. The paddle starts at Juniper Springs, one of the oldest and better-known recreation areas in the forest, about 25 miles east of Ocala. During the Great Depression, men from the Civilian Conservation Corps built the surrounding roads, campgrounds, picnic areas and a water-powered millhouse that still stands today.

    Juniper Run is a tough paddle thanks to countless twists and turns, but your efforts will be rewarded with one of the few whitewater runs in the state. You will start your journey just below the springs and follow the run through Juniper Prairie Wilderness to a take-out at State Road 19. The canoe launch at Juniper Springs Recreation Area opens at 8 a.m. and the latest you can launch is 11:45 a.m. You can rent a canoe for $35 or bring your own, but no inflatables. There was a fatal alligator attack on this waterway in 2006. (352) 625-2808.

    FLOAT YOUR BOAT: SPOTS TO CRUISE

    ...

    Hundreds of snorkelers will hit the water Saturday for Tampa Bay Watch’s Great Scallop Search, a catch-and-release effort designed to help researchers determine how healthy the local scallop population is.