SHIPWRECKED: GO DEEP
Fall may mean football in most of the country, but here on the west coast of Florida, gulf waters are cool and clear, making for ideal scuba diving. The Sheridan, a 180-foot tugboat that rests in 80 feet of water about 20 miles off Indian Rocks Beach, is considered one of Central Florida's best wreck dives. The 383-ton tugboat rises 35 feet off the sea floor and attracts a variety of fish. Nearby rests the Blackthorn, a U.S. Coast Guard cutter that was en route to Galveston, Texas, on Jan. 28, 1980, when it collided with another ship at the mouth of Tampa Bay. Twenty-three men died. The ship was raised and sunk in 80 feet, 20 miles off Clearwater. Another popular spot with divers is the Gunsmoke. The Coast Guard found 11 bales of marijuana aboard the 70-foot trawler as it sank on Jan. 27, 1977. The Gunsmoke later would be linked to four murders and the disappearance of a $1 million yacht, the Pirates Lady.
KNIFE CUTS: THE CLASSIC GIFT
It is never too early to start thinking about Christmas. Every outdoors enthusiast needs a Swiss Army knife, but don't be fooled by cheap imitations. Look for a name on the largest blade. If it says Victorinox or Wenger, you've found the real McCoy. The original was manufactured in Switzerland in 1891 for use by the army. The soldier's knife was heavy and came equipped with a blade, punch, can opener and screwdriver. But officers wanted a more elegant knife, so they made a lighter version, adding a small second blade and corkscrew, and called it the "officer's knife." My knife, given to me as a graduation present more than 30 years ago, has repaired broken backpacks in Switzerland, cleaned brook trout in the Catskills, opened wine in Italy, peeled apples in New Zealand and picked bits of wild boar out of my teeth in the Amazon. Prices start at around $15.
FIREWOOD: BUY IT CUT
No camping trip is complete without a fire. But conservation-minded campers don't scrounge for fallen branches that provide a home for many forest dwellers. Burn firewood that is already cut. Most supermarkets and hardware stores sell firewood, dried and aged, for about $5 per 10-piece bundle. If you don't want to buy your wood, pick through your local brush dump. Look for hardwood, but chances are you will still have to split what you find. If you have a place to store it, stock up. You might just camp more often. But remember, the secret to a fantastic fire is not fuel, but oxygen. Sometimes all it takes to get a fire going is a few strokes of a wide-brimmed hat. Every Boy Scout learns that one should never leave a fire unattended. Be watchful of your sparks. Keep a bucket of water handy to put out the fire when you are done. Dirt works even better.
FALL'S FAVORITE FISH: GAG GROUPER
Most anglers, this writer included, think of grouper as a deepwater species. You usually find them lurking around wrecks, artificial reefs and rock ledges, but when water temperatures drop, these fish can be caught within sight of land. One particular species of grouper, Mycteroperca microlepis, can even be caught in the bay. Gag grouper, common to 25 pounds and a favorite of anglers and spearfishermen, is often confused with a true denizen of the deep, the black grouper, common to 40 pounds but sometimes exceeding 100. Grouper, like many of the state's commercial and recreational saltwater species, spend at least some portion of their lives in near-shore waters. Undeveloped coastal areas, such as those found on the North Suncoast, are important to the future of the state's fisheries.