Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Need a scary adversary for Halloween? Meet the Florida Swamp Ape


Deep in these woods on a moonlit night, it is easy to imagine you are not alone. The 37,000-acre wilderness, one of Florida's oldest state parks, has 39 miles of trails that snake through every type of habitat — cypress swamp, pine flatwoods and hardwood hammocks.

It is the perfect place to get lost, or not be found. The word Myakka is Seminole in origin. Some say the exact meaning has been lost to history, but I've heard it mean "hairy man," or at least that is what I tell the youngsters that I am camping with.

Unlike most folks, I don't need a holiday such as Halloween to scare the living daylights out of little kids. I do it every chance I get. Just ask any of the boys in my scout troop.

Sometimes I go for the standard ghost story, but I am also fond of the one about the homicidal lunatic who just happened to have escaped recently from the home for the criminally insane, which you find conveniently located somewhere near every state park in Florida.

But my all-time favorite is a large opportunistic omnivore that can make a quick meal of a scout. No, I'm not talking about bears. I'm referring to the legendary Florida Swamp Ape, also known as Skunk Ape. Over the years I've encountered evidence of this bipedal beast from the Green Swamp down to the Everglades.

Friends often laugh at my fascination with this creature, but I quickly counter that history is full of examples of previously unclassified species going mainstream. The mountain gorilla, first reported by an explorer in 1860, was not officially recognized until 1902.

For the past 25 years, I have dedicated much of my life to the discovery and identification of species yet to be classified by science. Many of my fellow cryptozoologists tend to focus on "mega monsters" such as the Mokele-mbembe, a supposed living sauropod dinosaur thought to inhabit the Likoula Swamp region of the Congo, or its more famous cousin, the Loch Ness monster. I have specialized on a more modest creature, a.k.a. "wildman."

I began my formal studies in 1972 after viewing one of the greatest movies of all time, The Legend of Boggy Creek. This film, ignored by critics, chronicled the exploits of an Arkansas Bigfoot bearing striking resemblance to the Sunshine State's Skunk Ape.

Florida has had numerous reports of hairy hominids, including one that was said to have been captured and held by federal authorities at Everglades National Park in the 1960s. Unfortunately, the beast proved too strong and escaped by knocking down a concrete wall.

There have been numerous other sightings, including several from nearby Ochopee, where a group of British tourists spotted something described as "6-foot tall, with long brown hair" walking across a road. There have been other reports closer to the Tampa Bay area, including several from the Myakka River area, as well as Hillsborough River State Park, one of my troop's favorite camping spots.

The best time to look for Swamp Apes is at night. And remember, if you bring back suitable evidence, i.e., a hair sample, foot cast or better yet, the real thing, you will have the honor of getting to name the new species. I recommend you choose a campsite with a fire ring so you can educate your junior cryptozoologists before hitting the woods.

Remember — while there have been no documented Skunk Ape attacks in Florida, similar creatures such as Sasquatch and Yeti have been known to get a bit testy when confronted by humans. These are wild animals and should only be approached with caution.

If you are looking for a good place to search for the Swamp Ape this weekend, please consider my following favorites. I've had excellent luck over the years, and while nothing is for certain, your chances are better than 50/50 if you hunt on Halloween. But please note, that while the Skunk Ape may stink, it can still smell, so it's best if you don't bathe for three or four days to ensure a successful hunt.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Captainís Corner: Swimmer crabs attract big permit

Captainís Corner: Swimmer crabs attract big permit

The outgoing tides of last weekendís new moon washed thousands of small swimmer crabs, known locally as "pass crabs," out of the estuaries and into the gulf. This suddenly abundant food source offshore works as a natural chum line and draws big permi...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Captainís Corner: With full moon, tarpon are on the move

With the full moon this next week tarpon are moving down the beaches and making their way out of the bay and moving out to the bridges and the passes to feed before some of them leave to go out and spawn on the full moon. Early in the morning along t...
Published: 05/21/18
Updated: 05/22/18

Captainís Corner: Cloudier water improves the bite

Windy conditions this week have actually slightly improved fishing. The waters of Saint Joseph sound had become so clear that it made finding fish easy, but getting bites very difficult. Snook have been gathering in great numbers all along the beache...
Published: 05/19/18
Updated: 05/21/18

Captainís Corner: Red grouper fishing continues to be good

Red grouper fishing continues to be steady in depths of 100-120 feet. Large bait stacks are holding a fish or two, but larger concentrations are on very small rolls and potholes in those depths. Zooming in on the bottom 10-15 feet of the water column...
Published: 05/19/18
Updated: 05/20/18

Captainís Corner: Catching a giant cobia

Cobia is the topic this week. Capt. Tom Markham, aboard the Simply Hooked, was beginning his daily bait routine. It turned out that one of the markers located near Clearwater Pass, surprisingly, had a giant fish waiting for him. The captain slid up t...
Published: 05/16/18

Captainís Corner: Tarpon showing up on beaches, bridges

This week shouldnít be a total wash out. While there is a chance of rain every day, it should only be sporadic. Hopefully it wonít dirty up the water too much. If you are a tarpon fisherman and look forward to their arrival like I do, then you are in...
Published: 05/14/18
Updated: 05/15/18

Captainís Corner: This is best time of year for bay area fishing

Itís the best time of year for fishing in the area. Tarpon can be targeted off of any of the bridges. The Gandy, Howard Frankland and Skyway are my top choices. While awaiting a tarpon strike, I kill time by dropping smaller baits for Spanish mackere...
Published: 05/13/18

Captainís Corner: Change tactics for fly fishing success

Most fly fishers would prefer minimum wind and cloudless skies to increase chances for a banner day. This has been a problem lately. The wind makes casting more difficult, unless very experienced, and clouds interfere with sight casting opportunities...
Published: 05/11/18
Updated: 05/14/18

Captainís Corner: Tips on handling burgeoning baitfish

Schools of baitfish have arrived and taken up residence in all depths. Birds are diving on them close to the beach, all the way out to the midwater artificial reefs. Farther offshore, bait schools might not be visible on the surface but can be detect...
Published: 05/11/18
Updated: 05/12/18

Captainís Corner: Buckle up, the tarpon are here

Tarpon season is here, and the fish are showing up in numbers along the beaches. While there have been tarpon in the bays and backwaters for awhile, there were very few schools cruising the coast until a few days ago. Then, seemingly overnight, big p...
Published: 05/11/18