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Locals in Tampa Bay area have plenty of outdoors options during summer

Summer is just around the corner. The snowbirds have left. The rains have returned, and it's time for the locals to play. Now that the kids are out of school, you can take off for a swim in one of Florida's crystal clear springs or head to the beach for a little skimboarding in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. If you need a little help planning your calendar, here are few suggestions to get you through the next couple of months.

Tarpon

For more than 100 years, the bay area has been known as one of the best places in the world to fish for tarpon, the silver king of game fish.

While a tiny fishing village to the south called Boca Grande gets most of the national attention, the Tampa-St. Petersburg area has just as many tarpon and only a fraction of the fishermen.

June and July are considered the peak months to catch and release these chrome-bodied brutes in local waters.

You can set out on your own, hire a guide or even try to win a little cash and other prizes in a tournament.

The fourth annual Ed Alber Tarpon Rodeo, named in memory of one of Tampa Bay Watch's most loyal supporters, is limiting the field this year to 35 boats. The Rodeo, which benefits the area's leading bay advocacy group, has grown steadily in four years. The June 20 event is once again expected to attract some of Florida's top tournament anglers.

For information, go to www.tampabaywatch.org or call (727) 867-8166.

The Suncoast Tarpon Roundup, a catch-and-release tournament in its 75th year, continues through June and into July. The Roundup has division for young anglers, and many of the bay area's top charter boat captains got their start fishing during the 10-week tournament.

For information, go to www.suncoasttarponroundup.org or call (727) 822-1300.

Scallops

Every summer, volunteer snorkelers scour Tampa Bay's waters for Argopecten irradians — also known as bay scallops — as part of Tampa Bay Watch's Great Scallop Search. The results have been good. Scallops are on the rebound. But the season is still closed south of the Pasco-Hernando county line.

You can still fill a bucket with these tasty bivalves come July 1, when the season opens, if you are willing to travel north. Scallop season runs through Sept. 10 from Hernando County to the west bank of the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County.

Scallops need a mixture of saltwater and freshwater to survive. If rains are heavy, too much freshwater can flood the bay and wipe out a crop. If the water is too salty, they won't survive, either.

The state's prime scallop grounds — Homosassa, Crystal River and Steinhatchee — have freshwater and saltwater.

In 1994, with scallop stocks declining, state officials shut down the commercial season everywhere and the recreational season south of the Suwannee River, including Crystal River and Homosassa, once considered two of the state's best scallop spots.

But in 2001, they reopened the area between the Suwannee and Pasco-Hernando county line because the stocks had recovered. Recreational scalloping was still prohibited south of the Pasco-Hernando county line, which included the waters surrounding Anclote Key.

Remember, it's against the law to possess bay scallops on the water outside of open harvest areas. It also is illegal to land scallops outside of open harvest areas. For example, you cannot scallop in the waters off of Hernando County then land your catch in Pasco County.

You can land up to 2 gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell or 1 pint of scallop meat each day during the open season. Recreational scallopers may not possess more than 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell or a half-gallon of meat aboard any boat. You may catch bay scallops only by hand or with a landing or dip net. They cannot be sold for commercial purposes.

For more information, go to www.myfwc.com.

Terry Tomalin can be reached at tomalin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8808.

Locals in Tampa Bay area have plenty of outdoors options during summer 06/11/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 12, 2009 11:16am]
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