Friday, December 15, 2017
Outdoors

Take it Outside Planner: Free entry to National Wildlife Refuges, scrub jay sightings and Smart Wool

GET IN FREE: WILDLIFE REFUGES

National Wildlife Refuges are getting a lot of attention as of late but for all the wrong reasons. Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, its headquarters recently occupied by armed antigovernment protesters, is also a great place to see birds. So are Florida's St. Marks NWR (established in 1931, it's one of the oldest in the United States), J.N. "Ding" Darling NWR and Ten Thousand Islands NWR. If you have never explored one of these American treasures, now's your chance. Admission is free on Monday (Martin Luther King Jr. Day), Feb. 13-15 (Presidents Day Weekend), Sept. 24 (National Public Lands Day), Oct. 9 (first Sunday of National Wildlife Refuge Week) and Nov. 11-13 (Veterans Day weekend). The NWR System, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is the nation's premier habitat conservation network, encompassing more than 150 million acres in 563 refuges and 38 wetland management districts. Most refuges admit the public free year-round, but some of the more popular ones charge a small entrance fee to cover maintenance and visitor services. Visit fws.gov/refuges.

GREAT GETAWAY: OSCAR SCHERER STATE PARK

Just down the coast in Osprey, Oscar Scherer State Park is one of the one of the best places in the state to see the elusive Florida scrub jay. Hike 15 miles of trails through the pine flatwoods or rent a canoe or kayak and paddle South Creek, a tannic stream that flows into the Gulf of Mexico. The park also has great full-facility campsites as well as one of the best youth/group camping areas on the west coast of Florida. The Lester Finley Barrier Free Nature Trail, in South Creek Picnic Area, accommodates those with sight, hearing or mobility impairments. It has a wheelchair-accessible fishing dock, butterfly observation area and drinking fountain. The park also links to the Legacy Trail, a paved "Rails to Trails" project that's ideal for walking, biking, jogging or inline skating. It runs all the way to Venice, where you can comb the beach for fossilized shark teeth. Bring your fishing pole because the creek has freshwater and saltwater species. The park's nature center is a great place to introduce youngsters to the ecology of this area. (941) 483-5956. floridastateparks.org.

ABOUT THOSE SCRUB JAYS: FAMILY LOVE

The scrub jay, one of the state's rarer birds, is a 12-inch-long jay that prefers classic Florida scrub land. This friendly bird likes shrubs and brush in the 5- to 8-foot range, which means the area must burn frequently. They mate for life and nest in a shallow basket of twigs lined with palmetto fibers, usually about 3 to 10 feet off the ground. Scrub jays live in family groups, sometimes with birds "adopted" from other families. Scrub jays exhibit a well-established "sentinel system" and will warn each other about the approach of predators. Their original range, estimated at 7,000 square miles, has been reduced by development, and as a result, they are now considered a Threatened Species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

SMART WOOL: YES, IN FLORIDA

Most folks can't imagine wearing wool in Florida, but the new Corbet 120 from Smart Wool is an ideal jacket and/or underlayer for adventurers looking for warmth without weight. The wool insulation on the front of the jacket will keep you cozy even when wet. It's ideal for backpackers, kayakers and any other outdoor enthusiast looking for a high-tech base layer. Price: $200. smartwool.com.

   
Comments

Captainís Corner: Drop in gulf water temperature means itís sea trout time

The gulf temperature has dropped significantly since our first real cold front last week. One day the water was in the mid 70s, then after the front, it fell to the low 60s. That caused speckled sea trout to become a reliable target. Redfish have bee...
Published: 12/14/17

Captainís Corner: Good time for shallow-water flats fishing

Shallow-water flats fishing can be very exciting this time of year. Trout and redfish are available in good numbers, and the opportunities to catch some gator trout have made recent trips very rewarding. Some of the largest trout have been in very sk...
Published: 12/11/17
Updated: 12/13/17

Captainís Corner: Seek clear water for bottom fishing as temperatures plummet

The great weather, calm seas and exceptional fishing we experienced at the end of November and beginning of December came to a screeching halt with the cold front that came through. Surface water temperatures plummeted from an unseasonable 71 degrees...
Published: 12/11/17
Updated: 12/12/17

Captainís Corner: Sheepshead action lively in cooler weather

Conditions after the cold front are cool and are going to be for a while. That doesnít mean you canít or shouldnít fish. Many anglers get stuck on snook, reds and trout and forget how fun it is to catch sheepshead. Many reefs are already holding good...
Published: 12/09/17
Updated: 12/10/17

Captainís Corner: Fishing will return to normal, but when?

The severity of this cold front will determine the fishing forecast for the next several days. Bait that had been abundant inshore will scatter. Nearshore gulf waters will muddy, and water temperatures. at least temporarily. will plummet. How cold, h...
Published: 12/08/17
Captainís Corner: Planning around fronts can lead to productive days

Captainís Corner: Planning around fronts can lead to productive days

I canít believe we are in the last month of the year. And while this is one of my favorite months to fish, it will be controlled by weather. As cold fronts become more frequent and harsh, planning your trips around them will make the biggest differen...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/09/17

Captainís Corner: Strong results for redfish, speckled trout

This is a great time for variety. Combined trips for speckled trout and redfish are achieving excellent results. With the correct approach, great catches of both species are a reality now. The best anglers use the lightest tackle. Light rods and reel...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Captainís Corner: Take advantage of abundant gag grouper before season ends

Gag grouper fishing and spearing is hot. The season for these grouper in the Gulf of Mexico is winding down, with a slated closure at the end of this month. The cooler water has the gags moving closer, and they are happy when the bottom temperatures ...
Published: 12/05/17

Captainís Corner: Bait schools near shore drawing kings, mackerel, bonito

Nearshore fishing is still going strong in north Pinellas. Bait schools are roaming just a couple of miles offshore, attracting kingfish, Spanish mackerel and bonito. The beaches are still holding sardines for cast netting at sunrise. I like to have ...
Published: 12/03/17
Updated: 12/05/17

Captainís Corner: This is the month to target gag grouper

With our current regulations in the Gulf, this is the best month to target gag grouper. Although the gag grouper season opens in June they are hard to come by for most months unless anglers travel to depths of 240 feet or more. With each passing cold...
Published: 12/03/17
Updated: 12/04/17