Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Outdoors

Take it Outside Planner: Visit Big Talbot Island, look for cranes and fish for sheepshead

MAKE THE TRIP: BIG TALBOT ISLAND

If you have never been to a maritime forest, northeast Florida's Big Talbot Island is well worth it. This state park near Jacksonville is one of the last undeveloped "sea islands" in that area of the state. Bring your camera and binoculars and you'll get great photos and memories. Also bring your lightweight hikers. Take your pick of the Blackrock Trail, Big Pine Trail or Old Kings Highway, each one traversing a different habitat. You can put your boat in at the north end of the island to fish the edge of the salt marsh. Or rent a kayak and take a guided paddle tour. Afterward, visit the Bluffs for a picnic lunch, then head down to Boneyard Beach, famous for the salt-washed skeletons of live oak and cedar trees. For a more civilized adventure, bring your bike or baby stroller and cruise the paved, multi-use Timucuan Trail that runs parallel to A1A. Big Talbot Island State Park is on State Road A1A N, Jacksonville.

GUILTY AS CHARGED: SHEEPSHEAD

The water may be cold but that doesn't mean the fish have stopped biting. Winter is a great time to fish for sheepshead. You will find the finicky eaters in residential canals, along rocky channel edges and, of course, under docks. These unappreciated sport fish feed on everything from barnacles to shrimp. Old-timers sometimes call this lowly bottom dweller the "convict fish." Some say it's because the pattern of black stripes on their bodies resembles prison uniforms. Others argue the name came from this species' uncanny ability to strip a piece of bait clean off the hook before it hits the bottom. This fish looks a lot like a juvenile black drum except with a full set of very human-looking choppers, complete with molars, incisors and rounded grinders well suited for crushing a variety of crustaceans. Sheepshead are members of the porgy family, a close relative and constant companion of a well-known species anglers often use for bait: pinfish. The two are often found together, and the first task of any sheepshead angler is learning to differentiate between the pinner's nibble and sheepshead's chomp. Most sheepshead found in local waters weigh 1 to 2 pounds, but fish caught in deep water can weigh five times that much.

SKYWARD: CRANES ARE HERE

Cranes are the largest birds in North America. Florida has two species — one a year-round resident, the other a winter visitor. Sandhill cranes love Florida pastureland and can often be found milling about in the morning fog. Whooping cranes, the tallest of the nation's native birds, have migrated from Wisconsin to Florida every winter since 2001, led across the countryside by an ultra-light aircraft. Officials announced last week that this season's guided flights will be the last.

KEEP IT COOL: YETI HOPPER

The Yeti Hopper is an ideal cooler for those situations in which a big box just won't do. Flexible and lightweight, this high-tech bag will fit just about anywhere — behind the seat of a pickup truck, beneath your console or on the deck of your paddleboard. It will hold 24 cans and 26 pounds of ice plus a couple of Cuban sandwiches. It is pricey at $349 but will last forever. Keep this in mind for Valentine's Day. yeticoolers.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