CHICKEE MAGNET: WILDERNESS WATERWAY
When the Seminoles wanted a place to hide, they'd head to the Everglades. The Wilderness Waterway, 99 twisted miles of country most Floridians would consider wasteland, runs from Everglades City to Flamingo on the state's southern tip. There are lots of alligators, mosquitoes, no-see-ums and hardly any people. Long before the Seminoles came to Florida, Calusas in dug-out canoes ruled this River of Grass. They thrived on mullet, deer and oysters. Remnants of their feasts can be seen today in shell mounds that now provide most of the high ground for hundreds of square miles. Today, the National Park Service maintains a series of campsites on these isolated patches of high ground. But if you are feeling adventurous, you can head deep into the Everglades and camp on a platform called a "chickee." Winter is the most popular time to go, so start planning now. One or two more cold fronts should knock the bugs down, but just in case, don't forget the repellent.
AROUND THE CAMPFIRE: SOME MORE S'MORES
Whether you're camping in a chickee or a less adventurous way, this classic campfire treat is easy to make. Start with a bag of marshmallows, a box of graham crackers and a package of chocolate bars. There are two ways to prepare this camp delicacy. Method 1: Toast the marshmallow until it is a delicate golden brown. Then gently place the marshmallow on a graham cracker, add chocolate and cover it with another graham cracker. Now squeeze the crackers together, wait until the marshmallow has cooled and then eat carefully. Method 2: Stick the marshmallow in the fire and wait until it's aflame. Now wave it around in the air like a torch, eat the chocolate bar. Forget the crackers.
HOOK THIS: BIG RED
Fish the grass flats this time of year and you can't help but hook a redfish. One of the state's most popular inshore gamefish, red drum are prized for their fighting prowess and value as table fair. Whether caught on artificial lures, live bait or fly rod, these tacklebusters are well worth the effort. One of the easiest ways to find redfish is to spot its tail as it roots in the grass beds and bottom for crustaceans. After identifying prey, a redfish will lower its head and raise its tail as it tries to capture the food on the bottom. Its tail often will break the surface in shallow water. The tails can be spotted from a great distance in still water. Most of the "reds" found inshore are juveniles. A long-lived species, some specimens have been aged at more than 40 years. These fish spend most of their early lives in inland bays and estuaries before moving offshore to spawn, usually in the fall when daylight hours decrease and water temperatures begin to cool. Redfish can reach lengths of 45 inches and weigh up to 80 pounds. Fish caught on the Atlantic Coast are usually larger than those caught on the Gulf Coast. If you are thinking about trying your luck, use a stouter rod than for trout, preferably a 7-foot medium/heavy action rod with a fast taper and a line weight of 8-17 pounds.