Thursday, December 14, 2017
Outdoors

Take It Outside Planner: Learn to dive, visit Corkscrew Swamp and catch a lionfish

'Bug hunters': learn to SCUBA dive

Are you planning a Caribbean vacation? Is diving for lobster in the Florida Keys on your bucket list? Then you should learn how to scuba dive — now, this spring. While you can get certified in less than a month, don't settle for the least expensive or shortest course. Shop around and talk with friends who dive. Think of it this way: If you were learning how to skydive, would you sign on with a school that advertises the cheapest parachutes? And remember, learning to scuba dive is sort of like getting a driver's license. Sure, you can get behind the wheel of a car, but that doesn't mean you're ready to race in the Grand Prix. One advantage to getting your training out of the way now is you will be ready for the two-day "mini" season for lobster, scheduled for the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July. Then you can tell your friends that you are one of the "bug hunters." That's because the Caribbean spiny lobster, or Panulirus argus, like all crustaceans, comes from the same phylum as insects, Arthropoda.

Day trip: CORKSCREW SWAMP SANCTUARY

If you're looking for a good day trip, check out this sanctuary established to protect one of the largest remaining stands of bald cypress and pond cypress in North America. No need to bring your waders — a 2.25-mile boardwalk winds through pine flatwoods, a wet prairie and the old-growth forest that contains trees 500 years old. These bald cypress trees, relatives of the redwood, stand 130 feet high and can have girths up to 25 feet around. Bring your binoculars, because Corkscrew Swamp is also a great place to see wading birds, songbirds, raptors and the sanctuary's legendary Painted Bunting. And bring the kids, as Corkscrew is an ideal outdoor classroom.

INVASIVE PREDATORS: CATCH A RECORD LIONFISH

Lionfish, an exotic species native to the Pacific, was introduced into the Atlantic Ocean in the late 1980s. It's a mystery how or exactly when the first lionfish found its way into the wild, but many scientists suspect the invasive species probably got a foothold somewhere in South Florida and worked its way into the Gulf of Mexico. In less than 30 years, lionfish have spread all the way up the East Coast to the Carolinas and as far south as Brazil. The lionfish has no natural predators in this part of the world, so the venomous species has spread virtually unchecked. There is really no way to get rid of them except to strap on a scuba tank, drop down and take them out. Lionfish may look nice in an aquarium, but on a natural reef, these creatures upset the natural balance and compete for food with local species such as grouper and snapper. Lionfish can eat more than 20 small snapper, sea bass or other reef fish in a single day. Divers do not have to kill every lionfish on a reef or wreck to make a difference. Removing just 25 percent of these invasive predators from an area can make a difference. That's why the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission is encouraging divers to not only spear these invasive creatures, but target the big ones, record fish. Shoot one larger than 18.78 inches and you might just set a state record. Divers can qualify for prizes by length (must be in millimeters) and weight (grams) for largest and smallest lionfish. The state also has divisions for junior and hook and line anglers. For more information, go to MyFWC.com/Lionfish and click on "State Records Program."

FLORIDA HIKING BOOTS: Light and cool

Many hikers and backpackers in the Sunshine State don't like high-top boots because they tend to be hot and heavy. Vasque's new Inhaler II may change all that. These high-tops are light, cool and ideal for Florida's hot, wet and sometimes, muddy trails. Price: $159.

   
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...
Updated: 10 hours ago

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