Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Outdoors

Take it Outside Planner: Solitude in the Green Swamp, plus amberjack and saltwater fly fishing

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.

   
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