Saturday, March 24, 2018

Marine Quest: Feed a thirsty mind

ST. PETERSBURG — At all of my speaking engagements — and it doesn't matter if I am talking to second-graders or Shriners — the conversation usually turns to alligators and sharks.

Both have teeth. Both can be dangerous. And both are great discussion topics, especially when I run out of things to say.

"How fast can an alligator run?" I'm often asked.

"Not as fast as me," I always reply.

Some may disagree. If you've lived in Florida as long as I have, you've probably heard that an alligator can run as fast as a horse. Not true.

How do I know? The answer is simple: personal experience. Once, on Cumberland Island off the Georgia coast, I was chased by an alligator and a wild horse in the same day and lived to tell the tale.

But sharks … they are far more mysterious.

"How many teeth does a shark have," a youngster recently asked.

"I have no idea," I replied. "And I don't plan on trying to count them."

And while I'm what my wife likes to call "an endless repository of not-necessarily insignificant trivia," there are many subjects that I leave to the professionals.

One such topic is the fascinating world of batoid fishes, which are more commonly known as the skates and rays. Take, for example, the cownose ray, which, when seen schooling along local beaches during the spring and summer, sends swimmers out of the water.

If those uneducated souls had been to Marine Quest, they would know that these creatures are harmless. The ones you have to watch out for, I've come to learn, are the ones you can't see.

The primary villain, the Atlantic stingray, is one of the smaller species in local waters. This species is responsible for most of the "stings" or "hits" on beachgoers.

Don't worry. The rays you see in "touch tanks," such as the one on display at this weekend's free Marine Quest in St. Petersburg, have had their spines clipped.

The educational fair, an open house for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, is a great place to pick up lots of great water cooler chit-chat, such as my previously mentioned alligator anecdotes or this interesting factoid: All rays have "spines," which most people mistakenly call "barbs," that are razor-sharp and range in length from 1 to 10 inches.

But Marine Quest has more than touch tanks full of batoids. Nature lovers can also learn about a variety of other marine-related issues, such as how to properly catch and release fish to increase their chance of survival.

My favorite exhibit is the reptile and amphibian booth, where you can learn, once and for all, how to distinguish an alligator from a crocodile. Hint: It has nothing to do with how fast they run. And while you're there, get up close and personal with a 100-pound snapping turtle.

Those with strong stomachs might also find the ecology and fish biology exhibits of interest. If you've ever wondered what's inside a snook's stomach, here's your chance.

And if that's not enough to hook you, check out the man-eating plant show. Well, that might be stretching things a bit, but they do have carnivorous plants — sundews, Venus flytraps and cobra lilies — that actually feed on insects and small frogs. That should be enough to stir up some lively office banter on Monday.


Captainís Corner: Erratic weather making offshore fishing unpredictable

Continued heavy winds have kept offshore fisheries from settling in to predictable patterns. When things have calmed, nearshore baitfish have bunched up and kingfish and Spanish mackerel settled in around them. Unfortunately, each cold front has chur...
Published: 03/23/18

Captainís Corner: Snook bite is best now in afternoon

So what happened to our spring weather in February? The weather has the fish moving back and forth between their winter and summer spots, and with April just a few weeks away, the air temperature is warming up and should be in the upper 70s and low 8...
Published: 03/21/18
Updated: 03/22/18

Captainís Corner: Windy conditions limit fishing options

The weather and water temperature roller coaster continues. Finding consistent action has been difficult with windy conditions keeping us from fishing many open parts of the bay or out into the gulf. Hiding in secluded backwater areas or on leeward s...
Published: 03/20/18
Updated: 03/21/18

Captainís Corner: Grouper moving in as water temperatures rise

Red grouper have made their move inshore this past week as waters closer to shore have warmed up a bit. Concentrate your efforts on hard bottom areas in depths of 100-120 feet for the rest of the month, and remember that all shallow water grouper are...
Published: 03/18/18
Updated: 03/20/18

Captainís Corner: Cold causes spiny lobsters to go into hiding

The cold front that ended Wednesday drove the offshore bottom temperatures back down into the low 60s. On dives Friday, my dive computer read 62 degrees at the bottom in 54 feet of water. On the next dive it read 60 in 62 feet. We were looking for ho...
Published: 03/18/18

Captainís Corner: Snook are the hot bite

Surface water temperatures have dipped into the low 60s, but the fish donít seem to mind. The longer days get the temperature up and helps keep it from getting into the danger zone at night. Snook have been the hot bite this past week and, believe it...
Published: 03/16/18
Updated: 03/17/18

It has been a crazy month regarding all the drastic weather changes. We experienced a record-breaking warming trend in February, followed by an endless amount of cold weather this month. The arrival times for many spring migrations of fish has been i...
Published: 03/16/18

Captainís Corner: Big trout moving out of the shallows

February seemed like March with record-breaking heat, but now March seems like February with below-average temperatures. This is a good thing. Spring fishing has started way too early in the past few years. The cold-water temperature we have now will...
Published: 03/14/18
Updated: 03/15/18

Captainís Corner: Temperature changes affect fly fishing

Having a fantastic river trip one day where we caught a lot of snook in shallow water on a fly and going back to the same location three days later and not finding any cooperative fish can be very puzzling. What happened? Recent warm weather was repl...
Published: 03/11/18
Updated: 03/14/18

Captainís Corner: Warming trend increasing activity over grass flats

Water temperatures have finally started to climb into the low 70s on the flats. The temperatures have been fluctuating with the past few cold fronts moving through. Large schools of reds should start showing up on the flats in the Pinellas Point area...
Published: 03/11/18
Updated: 03/13/18