Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Surviving a Florida summer

A professional outdoorsman, I spend a lot of time in the sun. So I always find it amusing when summer comes around and some sweat-soaked colleague feels compelled to ask, "Is it hot enough outside for you?"

I usually smile and answer: "Hot? I didn't notice."

That's because after two decades on the outdoors beat I've learned to adapt to my environment.

Summers here can be trying, but remember, long before ceiling fans, air conditioning and iced caramel macchiatos made life bearable on this subtropical peninsula, Floridians got along just fine sipping spring water beneath the shade of a live oak tree.

But that is not to say that the summer season is not without its hazards. And the greatest is the sun. When I worked as a lifeguard on Clearwater Beach, we didn't do many open-water rescues, but we did treat our share of tourists who had a little too much sun.

Heat-related emergencies, such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke, can occur on any summer day, especially after strenuous activity. The elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions are particularly at risk.

Signs and symptoms include altered mental status, muscle cramps, weakness or exhaustion, dizziness or fainting, rapid pulse and skin that's moist, pale, cool in temperature or hot and dry. Treatment includes calling for help, shading the victim and cooling the victim with cold packs or cool sheets or towels.

And don't forget the sunscreen. Even on overcast days, as much as 70 to 80 percent of the sun's damaging rays can find their way through clouds or water. You may not feel burned while playing in the surf, but you will feel it at the end of the day.

After heat-related emergencies, stingray strikes were probably our most common medical emergencies. As a beach lifeguard, the first critter you learn to identify is the cownose ray. These are the batoid fish that school along the beaches and often send swimmers running for dry land. But they are harmless.

The ones you have to fear are the ones you can't see. The primary villain, the Atlantic stingray, is one of the smaller species in local waters, and it is responsible for most of the "stings" or "hits" on beachgoers. So do the "stingray shuffle" when wading in shallow waters to prevent stepping on them.

As a beach lifeguard, I also developed a healthy respect for summer storms. Remember, lightning kills, plain and simple.

An average of 100 people are killed by lightning strikes each year in the United States; about 10 of these deaths occur in Florida. If you see lightning in the distance and wonder if you are in danger, don't bother counting. Just get off the beach and find a safe area.

After the coast is clear, wait 30 minutes before leaving your safe area. More than half of all lightning deaths occur after a storm has passed. Some of the most powerful lightning often occurs at the front and rear of storms, hence the phrase "a bolt out of the blue."

And of course, Florida does have its share of dangerous mega fauna. Summer is the time when alligators are in top form. Remember, most alligator attacks occur in residential areas: canals, lakes, golf course ponds.

Attacks in wilderness areas are rare. If you do get attacked, the best advice is to fight back. These reptiles are looking for an easy meal. So if you struggle — kick, punch, scratch, yell, scream, gouge an eye — you might just get away.

Florida also has its share of shark "attacks." I put that in quotes because most human-shark interactions are accidents, except when it comes to bull sharks.

Your chance of being attacked by a bull shark is slim. But if you are, chances are it will result in serious blood and tissue loss. People do survive bull shark attacks, usually because they tried to fight off the beast.

Your best bet is to avoid an attack in the first place. Don't swim at dawn or dusk. Stay away from river mouths and passes.

But sharks, like alligators, are everywhere in Florida. While bull sharks are more commonly found in the bay this time of year, they do swim along local beaches in search of tarpon.

In fact, an old lifeguard buddy once showed me photographs of a large bull shark biting a tarpon in half inside the buoy line of the swim area at Clearwater Beach. The funny thing: The swimmers in the water never noticed a thing. The shark just finished its lunch and went on its way.


Captainís Corner: We need warmer weather to improve fishing

With the water temperature, still in the mid to upper 50s and the cooler winter nights, the fishing is in a not-so-good place. We need those mid to upper 70s during the days to get fishing back on track. The best places you might want to look for are...
Published: 01/21/18
Updated: 01/22/18

Captainís Corner: Bundle up and head out to the bay for bass, sheepshead

The water is cold, but that doesnít mean that fishing is over for the winter. There are still target species available that are fun to catch and will provide a fresh meal. Friday, we left the docks a little later than normal to give the sun a chance ...
Published: 01/20/18
Updated: 01/21/18

Captainís Corner: Live baits outperforming artificials

Amberjack have been the hot topic in the area since their season opened Jan. 1. Anglers have been targeting wrecks and other large structures in depths of 80-120 feet for these tackle-testing monsters. Although amberjack are caught on a wide variety ...
Published: 01/19/18
Updated: 01/20/18

Captainís Corner: What to expect from fish coming out of the cold spell

Extreme cold has brought backcountry water temperatures down. As in years past, extreme dips have shocked many fish, especially snook, which take the biggest hit and become extremely lethargic and often near death. Luckily the cold wonít be long, and...
Published: 01/19/18

Captainís Corner: Divers, anglers going after amberjack

Over the past two weeks divers and anglers have been in search of amberjack. The season opened Jan. 1 and ends Jan. 27. The short season for gulf amberjack has pushed many divers and anglers to venture offshore, even in questionable weather. Donít fo...
Published: 01/18/18

Captainís Corner: Cold weather brings different but effective fishing styles

This past week has seen a variety of different fishing styles prove effective. Fishing for trout in deeper depressions with live shrimp has provided steady action. Rig as follows: Use a ?-ounce jighead, grab a shrimp from the well and pinch the tail ...
Published: 01/17/18

Captainís Corner: Devise a strategy before heading out into the cold

The quality of fishing this month depends on how many cold fronts are in our future. When the water creeps down below 60 degrees, many fish will slow their metabolism in order to survive. They require less food than in the warmer months, making some ...
Published: 01/16/18

Captainís Corner: Make sure the fly gets in front of a hungry fish

Back-to-back winter cold fronts not only confuse inshore fish but the fly fishers who pursue them. The most perfectly tied fly is not effective unless it is in front of a fish that is anxious to eat it. The best daytime tides, very low early and inco...
Published: 01/12/18
Updated: 01/14/18

Captainís Corner: Cold, windy days just fine for trout fishing

Trout have been my most productive target during the start of this new year. Winter cold fronts and cold water are making conditions difficult to target snook and reds. Strong winds from passing fronts make it hard to work the shallow-water flats. Th...
Published: 01/12/18
Updated: 01/13/18

Captainís Corner: Cold driving out kings, but there are alternatives

Mother Nature gives and she takes away. Nature gave us warm water and great king fishing until Dec. 31. She ushered in the new year with a severe cold front with high winds and rough seas that kept us in port every day. The cold air and overcast skie...
Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/12/18