Thursday, February 22, 2018
Outdoors

Take It Outside Planner: Look out for manatees, hit Ocala National Forest, catch bass

 

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.

   
Comments

Captainís Corner: Warming waters, better visibility are good signs

Scuba and freediving spearfishermen and women have enjoyed great underwater visibility over the past week. Some boaters going offshore can make out the bottom structure from the gunnel of the boat. Best depths for visibility have been in 30 to 40 fee...
Published: 02/18/18
Updated: 02/19/18

Captainís Corner: Flats coming to life in north Pinellas County

The flats are really coming to life in north Pinellas County. Our main focus this time of year is spotted sea trout, though redfish are cooperating and schooling a bit. Snook are also responding to the warm weather, occasionally eating on the falling...
Published: 02/18/18

Captainís Corner: Bait a challenge, but effort will pay off

Bait has made its way into the bay and is on nearly every marker. The problem: Bait is moving and showing up at different times daily. The time spent to get bait will pay off. Fish have been blasting pilchards. Snook and large trout have been communi...
Published: 02/16/18
Updated: 02/17/18

Captainís Corner: Springtime fishing patterns moving in

The first half of February has been hit or miss for inshore fishing. The consistent cold fronts and warmups seem to have the fish confused. The week ahead should be pretty good. The best bite has been midmorning into the afternoon. With temperatures ...
Published: 02/14/18
Updated: 02/15/18

Captainís Corner: Get an early start when chasing redfish

Redfish schools have started to invade the flats around Pinellas Point. On low tide in the morning, I look for a school on an outer sandbar. These fish are staged on the edge waiting for the tide to come in. Once the water level rises, the fish will ...
Published: 02/13/18

Captainís Corner: Baitfish in the shallows improves fly fishing

Seeing large groups of pelicans diving and catching baitfish in warmer, shallow water is a sure sign spring conditions are approaching. The appearance of quality baitfish will spark a feeding frenzy that should steadily improve flats fishing for fly ...
Published: 02/14/18
Updated: 02/16/18

Captainís Corner: Action picking up as temperature rises

The wind finally stopped blowing so hard that we couldnít go offshore. Water temperatures were still in the low 50s offshore at the beginning of the week, and this affected fish behavior. Because the water was calm, we ventured out to the 80- to 90-f...
Published: 02/11/18
Updated: 02/12/18

Captainís Corner: Topwater plugs a great option as warming trend continues

Warm weather for the past week has led to an increase in feeding activity for inshore fish species. Speckled trout have been venturing out of deep holes and channels and back into shallow water to feed. This has presented a great opportunity to fish ...
Published: 02/10/18
Updated: 02/11/18

Captainís Corner: Sardines make a great bait

Bait has made its way into the bay and the fish have been eating sardines with violent strikes. Look deep for bait, most of it has been in 20-plus feet of water. A little knowledge of how to read a bottom machine will help you secure the prized sardi...
Published: 02/08/18
Updated: 02/10/18

Captainís Corner: Fishing conditions have started to improve

The waters are still a bit cooler than the kind a bunch of fish like to aggressively chew in. Fishing conditions, however, have slowly but surely begun to improve. On a recon mission Tuesday, I visited both Sunshine Skyway bridge fishing piers and th...
Published: 02/08/18