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A number of factors go into snook fishermen’s planning. The impact of weather, even a small localized thunderstorm, is often overlooked. SCOTT KEELER | Times

Include weather in snook fishing preparations

Top snook fishermen will tell you the key to success is timing. While tide and temperature are key, a knack for predicting the weather will serve an angler well this time of year. A successful angler must be smart, skillful and patient. Sometimes that means waiting till after the evening thunderstorm rolls through  …

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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. Include weather in snook fishing preparations

    Outdoors

    Top snook fishermen will tell you the key to success is timing. While tide and temperature are key, a knack for predicting the weather will serve an angler well this time of year. A successful angler must be smart, skillful and patient. Sometimes that means waiting till after the evening thunderstorm rolls through to go fishing. • Big snook, above and beyond the 34-inch slot limit, are females. They gather in coastal passes during the summer to spawn. The common snook, largest of the four species found in Florida waters (the other three are the sword-spined snook, fat snook and tarpon snook), is a finely tuned eating machine that will shut down when the barometric pressure drops. • A smart snook fisherman understands the factors that influence any species, including moon phase and tide, but the impact of weather, even a small localized thunderstorm, is often overlooked. That's why you should keep your snook outfit handy, right next to your umbrella and rain jacket. • Find a good weather site on your computer so you can watch the storm and wait until it is safe to hit the water. When there is no longer a threat of lightning, head out to your favorite snook spot and start casting. You will be glad you did....

    Nesting Black Skimmers care for their young at a nesting colony along Pinellas’ municipal beaches.
  2. Florida's original water parks: the springs

    Human Interest

    ICHETUCKNEE SPRINGS STATE PARK — In the summer of 1539, the conquistador Hernando de Soto and several hundred men lumbered up the Florida peninsula and stopped by this spring-fed river to rest.

    They had to be hot and tired after months on the trail and probably welcomed a respite in the cool, clear water. Given the choice of continuing into the unknown wilderness, or staying put and chilling out by the creek, more than one Spaniard probably chose the latter.

    Forget gold. Freshwater springs are this land's true treasures.

    Florida has more than 600 freshwater springs. Some are small — barely noticeable — while others are big enough to feed a river. Back in the 1800s, the state's first towns popped up around the most popular watering spots, including Ocala near Silver Springs, Jacksonville near Green Cove Springs, and Daytona Beach, northeast of De Leon Springs. Today, while some springs are privately owned, there are dozens still held in the public trust, and most still serve as old-fashioned swimming holes on a hot summer's day.

    Ichetucknee Springs State Park

    For decades, the Ichetucknee has been a favorite getaway for students at the nearby University of Florida. Just walk down the path from the parking lot to the first of several springs and the air suddenly feels 10 degrees cooler. All together, nine springs pump 233 million gallons of crystal-clear water into the Ichetucknee River, which then flows south into the Sante Fe and Suwannee rivers. Right off the main parking lot at the north entrance to the park you will find Head Spring, which has a bluish hue that makes it particularly appealing....

    Ten-year-old George Rowan of Tampa plunges into the main spring at the Juniper Springs Recreation Area in the Ocala National Forest.
  3. Take It Outside Planner: Fort De Soto's fort, scallop season and sea turtles

    Outdoors

    A HISTORY LESSON: DISCOVER THE FORT AT DE SOTO

    Fort De Soto Park, once called America's best beach, has a lot going for it: an 800-foot boat ramp with 11 floating docks; a 238-site campground; two great swimming beaches; two fishing piers; 14 group picnic shelters; a 7-mile-long, 12-foot-wide paved recreation trail; a 2-mile canoe trail; and a 1-mile nature trail. There also are places to run, surf, kite surf, windsurf, skim board, mountain bike, skate, bird-watch, surf cast, even fish for tarpon. But this 900-acre natural wonderland, located at the southern tip of Pinellas County on Mullet Key, also has a rich history many visitors never see. In 1849, the island was surveyed by Robert E. Lee, who recommended the government build a fort. The Army got to work during the Spanish American War, but the battery never fired a shot. The park offers regular guided tours (check at the ranger station) or you can explore on your own. You also can catch a ferry and head to Egmont Key, which has its own set of battlements.

    FRESH SEAFOOD: A RIVER OF SCALLOPS

    Scallops need a mixture of freshwater and saltwater to survive. That's why Homosassa and Crystal River always yield bumper crops. Now that scallop season is open, if you don't mind the drive, check out Steinhatchee, a sleepy little fishing village located about three hours north of Tampa Bay. While the name may translate to "River of Man," it could just as easily have been named "River of Scallops." The Steinhatchee River, which starts in North Florida's Mallory Swamp and flows 28 miles to the Gulf of Mexico, also offers great kayaking and paddleboarding after you are done shellfishing. See Wednesday's Taste section for more on scallops, including delicious recipes....

    Consider casting a line from one of the two fishing piers at Fort De Soto Park. This is Bay Pier.
  4. New size limit for amberjack approved

    Outdoors

    making news

    new size limit for amberjack is approved

    Offshore anglers will have a new size limit for amberjack when the season reopens Aug. 1. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved new rules this week. Amberjack, known for their belly-bruising fighting ability, must now measure 34 inches fork length. State-water regulations in the Gulf will now be consistent with pending federal regulations. Stock assessments show greater amberjack in the Gulf of Mexico are overfished. Officials hope that the minimum size limit will mean more amberjack will reproduce before being harvested.

    Diver down

    With scallop season opening this weekend, boaters should watch for "diver-down" flags. Divers and snorkelers have the option of displaying a buoy with a series of divers-down symbols (red field with a white, diagonal line) instead of the traditional divers-down flag. The buoy can be three- or four-sided and must have a divers-down symbol of at least 12 by 12 inches on each of the flat sides. Divers-down symbols displayed onboard a boat must still be a flag at least 20 by 24 inches and displayed at a high point where it is visible from any direction. Divers may still use a divers-down flag of at least 12 by 12 inches on a float when towed with them while in the water. Divers should stay within the required distance of their flag or buoy — 300 feet in open water and 100 feet in rivers, inlets and channels. Boat operators should stay at least the same distances away from any divers-down flag or buoy. ...

  5. Strategies to keep bugs from bugging you

    Outdoors

    Summer is high time for mosquitoes, no-see-ums and ticks. Some people just stay inside to avoid these pesky bugs; however in my line of work I can run but I cannot hide.

    Over the years, I've encountered some pretty savage biting bugs — sand flies in New Zealand, black flies in Maine and a variety of mosquitoes in the Amazon — and as a result, have developed a three-tiered battle plan for combating ravenous insects.

    Here in Florida, a state with more than 80 species of mosquito, it pays to have various weapons in your arsenal. I typically start off with the basic, "old school" approach — smoke.

    Florida's first inhabitants had an ingenious defense against mosquitoes and biting midges, a.k.a., no-see-ums. They covered their body with the smell of smoke from their campfires.

    Mosquitoes seem hungriest in the early morning and late evening, which is usually the time I'm cooking over a campfire. A good fire, especially when stoked with the right (or wrong, depending on your point of view) kind of wood, is a great way to put a good "stink" on. Bathe in smoke for a few hours and you will smell so bad the mosquitoes will leave you alone.

    Another option — light a cigar. I have not seen any scientific data supporting my theory but nearly 40 years of anecdotal evidence supports my belief that a good stogie keeps the bugs away. I always carry a few in my tackle box, sea kayak and/or first-aid kit....

    Brent Long, manager with Bill Jackso's, left, and Tampa Bay Times' Outdoor/Fitness Editor Terry Tomalin discuss a mosquito coil holder while comparing insect repellent products at Bill Jackson's in Pinellas Park. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]
  6. IT'S A REACH

    Features

    When Chris Brown was 17 years old, his mother sent him on an Outward Bound expedition, where he learned to rock climb. It was a life-changing experience.

    "I was totally hooked," said Brown, now 36. "Then I came back home to Clearwater where there was nothing to climb."

    Luckily, he heard about a new gym in Tampa that featured an indoor rock climbing wall.

    "That was it," said Brown, co-owner of the new Vertical Ventures St. Petersburg. "From that point I was there every day."

    A decade ago, climbing was a fringe sport. But as more Americans are looking for new ways to get fit, many are turning to indoor climbing gyms for a chance to build muscle and blow off a little steam. All you have to do is take a look at a hardcore climber to realize the benefits of this total-body workout. Hit the wall and you'll use your hands, arms, shoulders, back, legs, feet, abdominal muscles and, of course, your mind.

    "It is definitely a physical sport," said Brown, an avid climber. "But there is also a mental aspect that is often overlooked. Getting up the wall is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle."

    Brown started working at Vertical Ventures Tampa after high school. He also had a brief stint as a cable inspector on the Sunshine Skyway bridge. "Amazing job," he said. "I hung around all day from ropes on the bridge."...

    Elle Smith, 7, of St. Petersburg enjoys the view atop a climbing wall at Vertical Ventures.
  7. Gag grouper season nears for most counties

    Sports

    making news

    gag grouper season set to open on july 1

    Stock up on hooks, line and sinkers — gag grouper season opens July 1 in most state and all federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. But if you live in Franklin, Wakulla, Jefferson and Taylor counties, hang up your grouper sticks. The gag season closes in state waters off your coast. The gag season will remain open in state waters (except in those previously mentioned areas) through Dec. 3.

    State waters off Franklin, Wakulla, Jefferson and Taylor counties are open from April 1 through Monday. The four-county region includes all waters of Apalachicola Bay and Indian Pass, including those in Gulf County, and all waters of the Steinhatchee River, including those in Dixie County. Monroe County is excluded from this season because it follows the Atlantic season for gag grouper.

    In state and federal Gulf waters, the minimum limit for gag is 22 inches. The daily bag limit is two gags per person within the four-fish grouper aggregate limit.

    Bears are back

    Bears in Northern and Central Florida are doing just fine, according to population estimates released by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. In the North Bear Management Unit (BMU), researchers estimate black bears to number more than 500, more than double the estimate from 2002. In the Central BMU, the population estimate is more than 1,200 bears, an increase of nearly 30 percent over the previous estimate....