Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Outdoors

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

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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.

   
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Captainís Corner: Get ready for gag grouper migration

With falling water temperatures and bait fish making their way into the near shore waters off of the coast, we can expect the fall migration of gag grouper to be in full swing with the next two or three cold fronts that make their way into the centra...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Captainís Corner: As visibility improves, so does spearfishing

Spearing in the Gulf of Mexico is improving day by day. First, the underwater visibility is getting much better. For more than a month, after Hurricane Irma, the offshore water clarity was so poor that most divers stayed home. The water is now much c...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/18/17

Captainís Corner: Snook bite remains aggressive

We are in the midst of prefrontal conditions, so there should be good fishing today. Bait seems to have moved on the last full moon and judging by the amount of bait fry that has filtered onto the flats, it spawned also. Load up the wells with the sm...
Published: 11/17/17

Captainís Corner: Calm seas closer to beaches rewards with kingfish

Strong east winds have made it challenging for offshore anglers. The first few miles are quite tolerable since the land buffers the shoreline. After that, sea conditions have been tougher. Anglers searching for kingfish have been rewarded with calm s...
Published: 11/16/17

Captainís Corner: A little wind doesnít stop hot fishing in November

Despite many windy days, November fishing has been amazing. The water is cooling off, and the fish are becoming more aggressive. Itís getting to be the time of year when the cold fronts start to make their way out of the north. When this happens, win...
Published: 11/15/17

Captainís Corner: Fly fishing success possible, even in wind

When your day to fly fish arrives, do you hope for a day without wind? Knowledgeable fly fishers know there are many ways to deal with different wind situations. Avoid open water, and select an area that offers protection. Stay close to shore and use...
Published: 11/12/17
Updated: 11/14/17

Captainís Corner: Low tides and cold fronts make for rewarding fishing

Fall and winter low tides combined with cold fronts passing through can lead to highly rewarding fishing. It takes winds blowing 20-plus miles an hour out of the northeast combined with an astronomical low tide around the new moon and full moon phase...
Published: 11/12/17
Updated: 11/13/17

Captainís Corner: Reef fish abundant offshore; mackerel, kings better near shore

Before this recent cold front, we were able to travel where we wanted, and the calm seas allowed us to make the mistake of running past the best depths for our type of fishing. The 40- to 50-foot depths produced almost nonstop action from reef fish, ...
Published: 11/12/17
Captainís Corner: Mackerel still going strong in bay area

Captainís Corner: Mackerel still going strong in bay area

The fall king mackerel run is still going strong. The fish have seemed to come in waves; one week there are numerous fish more than 30 pounds, and a week or two later no one can find any more than 20. It also seems the fish are not moving south all t...
Published: 11/11/17

Captainís Corner: Cold front should push fish into backcountry waters

The approaching front is forecast to drop temperatures for a couple of days. This should push more fish into the backcountry rivers and creeks that feed the bay. Once the front passes and the weather stabilizes, fishing should return to normal. This ...
Published: 11/10/17