GREAT GEAR: LOBSTER TICKLE STICK
Get some butter melting. The regular lobster season in Florida opens Saturday and runs through March 31. To get your fill of Caribbean spiny lobsters found on Florida's coast, you'll need handheld dip nets and handy gadgets sometimes called a tickle stick. It lets you explore hidey holes and its loop let you grab — but not puncture or crush — the exoskeleton of the lobster. It's basically an extension of your arm.
You don't want go poking around ledges and holes with your bare hand — just ask Warren Sapp. The retired Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle was bitten in the left arm by a nurse shark in Marathon recently after he grabbed a lobster in a hole, not seeing the shark that also wanted the lobster. Sapp posted an Instagram picture of a gash in his left arm that needed four stitches.
The ledges and holes lobsters like to hide in can also have nasty neighbors like moray eels and lionfish that will sting intruders. Tickle sticks range from yardlong plastic sticks that cost a few dollars to $50 retractable loop snares. Keep a few basic $2 tickle sticks so you have an extra if needed. Check out the Pro Teaser extended arm with a bright yellow handle that floats if you should drop it and includes a built-in gauge for measuring lobsters. It's $15 for the Pro Teaser basic, $30 for extendable.
If you want to get a little fancier, try the lasso of the Marine Sports Green Lobster Loop Snare. It has a stainless steel loop with a locking pull to secure the catch ($39.97 at Dick's Sporting Goods). Or you can get a complete lobstering kit at diversdirect.com, where $18-$25 gets you a net, tickle stick, a bag for your catch and ribbed lobster gloves to protect your hands. Before you go out on a lobster search, you need a recreational saltwater fishing license and a $5 lobster permit, found at MyFWC.com or any county tax collector office and most marinas and bait shops.
SPOTLIGHT: OCKLAWAHA ODYSSEY
The Ocklawaha River, which flows along the edge of the Ocala National Forest, is one of the rivers popular with paddlers who like to float by one of Florida's most famed first magnitude springs. You can sometimes find monkeys dangling from cypress branches, a fantastic diversity of birds and a scenic Old Florida landscape. Stretching some 110 miles long, the river was once a major thoroughfare for paddle-wheeled steamboats traveling up the nearby St. Johns. The Ocklawaha Canoe Outpost and Resort in Fort McCoy has day trips of four and eight hours long and also overnight trips. The most popular overnight trip takes you and your camping gear 20 miles to the park on the Silver River. From there, you can paddle to Silver Springs, the translucent blue springs that were Florida's first tourist attraction, a trip that takes about three hours. To plan your trip on the Ocklawaha or the nearby Silver and Dead rivers or Cedar Creek, contact the outpost at (866) 236-4606 or go to outpostresort.com. Or check out Paddle Florida, the nonprofit organization that supports canoeing and kayaking in Florida. It is planning a 48-mile Ocklawaha trip Dec. 2-6 that includes camping, meals and shuttle. Register by Nov. 18 at paddleflorida.org.
FEATHERED FRIENDS: Bird Walk
With more than 780 species of birds found in North America, taking up bird-watching can seem daunting to. It mainly takes practice and is surprisingly easy to learn. Like all things these days, there's an app for that. You'll soon be able to tell your coot from your kingfisher with Birdseye, a free app with add-ons you can purchase. It uses real-time citizen science data with maps to find birds that are near you. Birding in North America is a free guide with pictures of every bird in North America. And Merlin Bird ID is a free app that helps you figure out what bird it is you see or hear. It will ask you a few questions and show a list of birds that best match your description. Or you can pick the brain of an experienced birder on a guided Bird Walk at 8 a.m. Saturday, led by a field guide at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve in St. Petersburg. It has a limited number of binoculars available for loan, so bring your own if you have them. Free. 1101 Country Club Way S, St. Petersburg. (727) 893-7326.