TIS THE SEASON: MANATEES ON THE MOVE
You know we have had our last cold spell of the season when manatees leave their winter refuges and head out across Tampa Bay in search of food. Large numbers of these protected marine mammals are now on the move, so boaters need to slow down in posted areas and obey speed limits. State law enforcement officers have increased patrols in these critical feeding areas and are strictly enforcing seasonal regulations, which took effect April 1 and run through Nov. 15 in manatee protection zones. Manatee zones and maps are available at myfwc.com/manatee, where you can select "Protection Zones" for links to county maps. Boaters can help by wearing polarized sunglasses, which make it easier to spot manatees. Another way to spot a feeding manatee is to watch for the circular slicks on the surface of the water. To learn more about Florida's manatees, visit myfwc.com/manatee. To report a dead or distressed manatee, call the FWC's wildlife alert hotline toll-free at 1-888-404-3922.
DESTINATION: Ocala ATV
Ocala National Forest is known for its backpacking trails, great campgrounds and world-class freshwater springs, but it is also a haven for off-highway vehicle enthusiasts (dirt bike, ATV and four-wheel drive). With more than 200 miles of off-road motorcycle and ATV trails, as well as another 81 miles for off-road Jeeps and other four-wheel drive vehicles, Ocala is a dirt lover's dream. Many of the trials run through one of the most unique ecosystems on the planet: the Big Scrub. Comprised of the largest contiguous area of sand pine in the world, this trail has a speed limit so riders can check out the wildlife, including white-tailed deer, wild turkey and the occasional black bear. Go to fs.usda.gov/ocala or pick up brochures at the Ocala National Forest visitors center. Learn the do's and don'ts of the area you are going to ride. Rules and regulations may vary from trail to trail. Remember, the trails are two-way and primitive. Be ready for blind turns, downed trees, overhanging branches, mud, sand and loose soil. Some trees bear bark scars from those who went too fast. More tips at atvsafety.org.
CREATURE FEATURE: LARGEMOUTH BASS
Spring is the best time to fish for the legendary "Florida bucketmouth:" the largemouth bass. The live bait of choice for most anglers is the golden shiner, fished under a cork. When it comes to artificial lures, the weedless, or Texas-rigged, plastic worm is the most popular. Jerk worms, spinner baits, crank baits and topwater plugs will also work under a variety of conditions. A simple spinning outfit rigged with 12- to 15-pound test will work in most Florida lakes. Bass typically hang around structures such as grass beds or submerged logs, so you will need a sturdy outfit to keep from losing fish. But keep in mind, bass regulations will change this summer: As of July 1, new rules will eliminate the three zones that currently regulate bass along with 42 site-specific regulations. Anglers have lobbied for years for simplified regulations, and in a nutshell, here they are: You will still be able to keep up to five bass of any size, but only one bass 16 inches or longer per day. For more information, go to myfwc.com.
PACK IT: HYDROFLASK
This HydroFlask container will keep your water ice-cold on a hot day at the beach or your coffee out-of-the-pot hot after it's been sitting in the hull of your kayak all day in the middle of winter. Cool colors, decent price ($33.95 as pictured); it's a good buy for the buck.