Thursday, December 14, 2017
Outdoors

Take it Outside Planner: Lake Kissimmee, the Great Horned Owl and TreeUmph

Destination: Lake Kissimmee

Not much has changed at this state park located a few miles east of Lake Wales since the days when "cow hunters" ruled the Florida prairie. You'll see white-tailed deer, bald eagles, sandhill cranes and wild turkeys. Anglers can catch bass on lakes Kissimmee, Tiger and Rosalie. There are also 13 miles of hiking trails, six of which are open to equestrians. The full-service campground is one of the best places in Florida for stargazing. And while Florida might be known today for oranges, in the 1800s cattle was, literally, the state's biggest cash cow. The Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon can be credited with kick-starting the industry in 1521 when he introduced seven Andalusian cows to Florida's ample grazing lands. Life was hard for those cowboys who drove the cattle through the wild Florida scrubland. In the 1800s, Florida was an open range with no fences, so the great herds of cattle, some with as many as 50,000 head, roamed freely. Florida's first cowboys had to hunt their cows in the cypress swamps, pine flatlands and hardwoods hammocks. After a while, folks started referring to these hardened men as "cow hunters." The cattle themselves, skinny by today's standards, were survivors. These "scrub cows" could eke out a living almost anywhere. And by the late 1800s, there were cattle operations, or "cow camps," spread out across the state. One of the better-known cow camps was located among the rich grazing lands of the Kissimmee Valley. Locals called it "Cow Town," which was a good fit since most of its residents had hooves. Today, the state park has a little living history to share: an authentic cow camp straight out of 1876. Take the kids on a Saturday. It shouldn't be missed.

High flyin' in Bradenton: TreeUmph

Modern humans seldom get to test themselves, push their limits, venture out of the comfort zone. Luckily, Bradenton's TreeUmph!, with its 76 treetop adventure games (including one called the "Leap of Faith," and the zip line that's longer than two football fields), is just the thing you need to make this holiday season one to remember. The park, open year-round every day except Wednesday, is an ideal place for families looking for fun and fitness. If you go, don't rush your visit. Bring a smartphone or a camera that you can stick into a bag that attaches to your safety harness. TreeUmph! provides gloves, which help protect your hands, but if you have workout or baseball gloves, bring your own. Wear long pants; the harness can chafe. Instructors will show you what you need to know to stay safe. Do as many of the games as possible, and don't miss the zip line at the end. To learn more, go to treeumph.com.

Quench your thirst: Camelbak Hawg

Ditch that old Army surplus aluminum canteen and get yourself a modern hydration system. The Camelbak Hawg holds 3 liters of water and has 1,200 cubic inches of storage space. Prices vary depending on the color and supplier, but count on spending $125 to $150. If you love outdoor adventure, this is an essential piece of gear.

Nesting time: Great Horned Owl

Florida's largest owl is a fierce nocturnal hunter. Sometimes called a "tiger owl," it will take on everything from snakes to rabbits. Nesting season in Florida starts in December. Good places to see these mighty birds of prey include Honeymoon Island State Park and Fort De Soto Park.

   
Comments

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

Captainís Corner: Speckled sea trout can be easily caught on artificial lures

Speckled sea trout are one of the most reliable targets this time of year. Grass flats are usually empty because of extreme low tides. That causes higher concentrations of fish on the edges and in the deeper grass flats. No live bait is needed. A red...
Published: 12/01/17