SWEET SOLITUDE: THE GREEN SWAMP
They call it a "swamp," but much of the land is high and dry, a mixture of hardwood hammock, pine flatwoods and sandhill scrub. Covering some 870 square miles in Pasco, Hernando, Polk, Lake and Sumter counties, the Green Swamp serves as the headwaters to four major rivers: the Hillsborough, the Withlacoochee, the Ocklawaha and the Peace. With its highest point 130 feet above sea level, this region is a major recharge area for the Floridan Aquifer, the state's water supply.
American Indians lived here long before the Egyptians built their first pyramid. The Swamp's inhospitable terrain set the tone for Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto's ill-fated attempt to conquer the Florida peninsula. Later, during the Seminole Wars, U.S. troops discovered that the Green Swamp provided the ideal backdrop for a protracted guerrilla war. Then, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, homesteaders eked out a living here through the timber and turpentine trades.
But nature has a way of healing all wounds, and the scars of that exploitation are barely visible. True, you can't wander far without seeing some sign of past human activity, but today, the Green Swamp is mostly deserted. You can hike, ride or paddle for hours (perhaps even days) and never encounter another human being. If solitude is what you seek, the Green Swamp is a good place to start looking. With more than 70 miles of the Florida Trail within its boundaries, the Green Swamp is a great place for an overnight backpacking trip.
AMBERJACK: A.K.A. REEF DONKEYS
The season for greater amberjack, the largest member of the jack family, opened Jan. 1. Inshore anglers are familiar with its cousin, the Jack Crevalle, another voracious predator commonly found in Tampa Bay. Pound for pound, you won't find a tougher fighting fish in the Gulf of Mexico, which is why some fishermen call amberjack "reef donkeys." But greater amberjack are also undergoing overfishing, which means anglers are catching too many fish for the species to survive. As a result, the season had to close early last year. So in an effort to help this valuable recreational species, fishery managers have raised the size limit from 30 to 34 inches.
ON THE FLY: FLORIDA FAVORITE
When the world's top anglers talk about the best places in the world to fly fish, Florida always ranks at the top of the list. Saltwater fly fishing, the fastest growing segment of the recreational fishing market, was once considered an elitist sport. Legend has it that the ancient Macedonians caught trout on artificial flies while the apostles were throwing their nets into the Sea of Galilee. Yet despite its rich history, fly rodding, especially in saltwater, was long considered an oddity. But in recent years, everyday anglers looking for a challenge have embraced this fishing technique that can trace its origins back to Biblical times. Today, serious fly fishermen will pay top dollar to catch exotic species such as peacock bass in the Amazon or tiger fish in the Zambezi River. But no self-respecting fly fisherman's life list is complete without a trip to Florida to catch the big three: tarpon, bonefish and permit. You don't necessarily need a guide to catch fish on a fly in Florida. A simple 8-weight rod with a basic saltwater reel and sinking line is all that's required to get started. Fly fishermen who wade along the grass flats stand as good a chance as their boating brethren of catching a fish.
NEED IT: RINSE KIT BY OUTSOL
After a long day on the water, nobody wants to put a paddleboard covered in seaweed and sand back on top of a nice clean SUV. No worries! Now you can rinse your board wherever you go. Rinse Kit is a portable, pressurized shower kit capable of spraying 2 gallons of water without pumping or batteries. Just fill the Rinse Kit with a standard hose spigot and later you will have pressurized spray for 4 minutes. It holds the pressure for up to one month. $89. rinsekit.com.