Sunday, February 18, 2018

Florida winter is the perfect time to get outdoors

For most of the country, November means hunkering down for another winter. It has a much different meaning around here. November means it's time to get outdoors. Fishing picks up, deer hunting seasons open, and manatees start making their way back to canals and rivers.

Red snapper extension

There's nothing much better than a nice piece of lightly grilled red snapper, except for maybe catching the snapper yourself.

Red snapper season would usually be closed by now. But fishermen get an extension in Gulf state waters (shore to 9 nautical miles).

Because Hurricane Hermine halted recreational fishing for several days, seven days were added to the season. The first two days were last weekend, and Friday and Saturday have been added. The last three days are Nov. 25-27.

There are recreational regulations. Red snapper must be at least 16 inches, and there is a daily bag limit of two per person.

That's more than enough for a nice dinner.

Time to hunt

General gun season opens in November throughout much of Florida. Deer is the main target, and wild hogs may also be taken.

The state is divided into four zones. In our area, Pinellas, Hernando, west Pasco, and west and south Hillsborough counties are in Zone C. The season opened Saturday and runs through Jan. 22.

The area east of I-75 in Pasco County and east of I-75, and north of Highway 60 in Hillsborough County is in Zone B. The season runs from Dec. 3 to Feb. 19.

Check your zone at

There are different bag limits for deer, depending on whether it's private land or a wildlife management area. There are rules on what guns and ammunition can be used and when a deer can be shot. (Did you know you can't shoot a deer while it's swimming?)

Check out the FWC website and look at the hunting manual.

Here come the manatees

November is Manatee Awareness Month. Makes sense, since the huge mammals migrate to warmer waters this time of year. They can be found in rivers, bays or Intracoastal waters. And when the manatees are around, it's time for boaters to be careful.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the manatee population is on the rise. During an aerial survey of Florida waters in 2016, 6,250 manatees were counted. There were 6,063 in 2015.

An FWC report also pointed out that there were 91 manatee fatalities due to boat strikes in 2016. These "sea cows," as they are sometimes called, have no natural enemy, except humans and their boats.

Despite being about 1,000 pounds, manatees are sometimes hard to spot because they hang out just below the water's surface.

Wearing polarized sunglasses helps, and look for the bubbles that manatees produce as they surface for air.

It is the boater's fault when speed is involved. Many seasonal manatee protection zones go into effect Nov. 15. But it is a good idea to slow down in shallow waters anywhere during winter.

To view manatees, you don't necessarily need a boat. Here are a few reliable places to check them out, along with canals and bays all over the area:

Tampa Electric Company Manatee Viewing Area, Apollo Beach: Open now until April 15. It's free and there is an observation tower and a trail. The best time to go is when the weather is cold. The warm water discharged by the Big Bend Power Station is a magnet not only for manatees, but for all kinds of other fish.

Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge: A great place to learn all about manatees and see them in the wild. Three Sisters Springs is a popular spot, especially from now until March. There is a boardwalk for viewing. Three Sisters Springs is the only spot where land access is available. There are also places to swim with the manatees.

Spring Bayou, Tarpon Springs: Craig and Coburn Parks are located on Spring Bayou. The sheltered waterway is a perfect place for manatees in the winter. It's free to park and view.


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