Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Outdoors

Take it Outside Planner: Racing at Bradenton Area River Regatta, hiking Big Cypress

River rockets: Bradenton Area River Regatta

The fastest inland boats on water, the Powerboat Superleague racing boats, will light up the Manatee River alongside the quickest personal watercraft in the world, HydroCross, at the Second Annual Bradenton Area River Regatta on Saturday. The action literally runs from dawn to dusk. You'll find the best viewing Bradenton Riverwalk, but this year's event will also feature activities on Palmetto's Riverside Drive, where you will find racing pits and the kids zone. A field of 12 professional "pilots" in the F-2 powerboat race will climb from 0 to 100 mph in less than four seconds and reach four G's or more on the course, negotiating turns at nearly full speed. Race fans can look forward to a series of qualifying runs and time trials before the division and championship racing from 2 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. The stand-up HydroCross racers will also be on the water competing for the Florida Winter Cup/Mayor's Cup title. In between races, the top riders will do stunts along a river course in front of Palmetto Pier.

Destination: Big Cypress

The "Big" in Big Cypress Swamp describes the vastness of this 2,400-acre national preserve, not the size of the dwarf cypress trees that dot the South Florida landscape. The name "swamp" is actually a misnomer since the area has a variety of habitats, including forests of slash pine, hardwood hammocks, cypress domes and wet prairies. Most backpackers who travel this section of the Florida Trail, which runs from the Tamiami Trail to Alligator Alley, do so in the dry, cooler months when most of the surface water has either evaporated or been soaked up by the limestone just beneath the soil. Big Cypress is known as one of the last refuges of the endangered Florida panther. This is also bear country, and backcountry travelers must take care to hang or hide their food so these opportunistic omnivores don't rummage through their camps in the middle of night. Jeep trails snake their way through the preserve, and if you are not careful, it is easy to find yourself wandering around in circles. At times, the Florida Trail follows the old "roads," but hikers must keep a keen eye out for the orange blazes that signal a turn. Winter is the best time to visit, so if you are looking for adventure, park at the Oasis Ranger Station and head north. You can leave your car there overnight, but be sure to check in with the rangers. They'll update you on trail conditions. Let them know when you finish. It is possible to walk all the way to the Alley, but you'll need to arrange transportation back to your car. It's much easier to do the loop trail.

Wildlife spotting: River otter

You will find the river otter throughout most of the state except for the Florida Keys. Hillsborough River State Park is a good place to see these fun-loving animals. Neat water cooler fact: Otters have five toes but sometimes only four show in their tracks. River otters prefer freshwater and will move from rivers to creeks to lakes to ponds to swamps. They live in burrows on the bank sometimes under the roots of a tree.

Essential gear: Life Gear Spotlight

If you are looking for a great light for your boat, kayak or car, check out Life Gear's AR-TECH Spotlight and Lantern, an inexpensive, yet durable, battery-operated lifesaver that will go the distance. $23.99. lifegear.com.

   
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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