Twenty-five years ago Sunday, I left my job in the News Department and moved to Sports to cover the great outdoors. One week, I was falling asleep in a county commission meeting, the next I was at Weedon Island catching snook. • I've gained knowledge and wisdom in the past quarter-century, and there have been times when the subtle difference between the two have helped me walk the fine line that often separates success and failure. • Many of these life lessons have been learned the hard way — through personal experience. But you can save yourself some time and suffering. Here are 25 observations from 25 years on the outdoors beat:• Stand on the beach for a moment and watch how the surf breaks before you jump right in. You'll catch more waves and suffer fewer wipeouts.• Never turn your back on the ocean or a fishing buddy who doesn't know how to cast.• Carry a compass. It will tell you what direction you are going and, sometimes more importantly, where you have been.• Sharpen your hooks. Any tool, be it a pencil, saw blade or mind, dulls with time. Routine maintenance will assure that you are ready for anything.• The Antarctic explorer Roald Amundsen said that adventure is just bad planning. Every hour spent in preparation will save you 10 hours in the field.• My father once told me that you can never have too many pocket knives or flashlights. I stash them everywhere, which can be embarrassing at airport checkpoints.• I know how to generate flames with flint and steel, but I'm no caveman. That's why I carry a tube of fire starter and waterproof matches.• If a bull shark wants your stringer, let it go. There are more fish in the sea.• And when it comes to sharks, think about karma. I don't eat sharks, and sharks don't eat me.• Plan your dive and dive your plan. You might think differently when you are carried by the current in 80 feet of water. But never forget why you came and who is waiting at home.• File a float plan. Sure, maybe you are just going tarpon fishing beneath the Skyway. But when the engine doesn't start and the anchor fails, you'll sure be glad your wife has called the Coast Guard.• When in doubt, sit it out. If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.• Plan for the worst and hope for the best. I always carry a survival kit, even on day hikes. Be the person that saves the day.• When the going gets tough — smile. When it is cold, rainy and the boat is about to sink, nobody needs a sourpuss.• In Florida, you need to shuffle your feet for stingrays but also step high when hiking down a muddy trail.• Guns and alcohol don't mix.• Raccoons are smarter than dogs or dolphins and many campers.• I've swam across Tampa Bay in the middle of winter, yet I still put on a personal flotation device, or life jacket, every time I get in a canoe or kayak.• Florida is like no place else in the world. You are lucky to live here. Take care of it.• Hug a tree, or specifically, a mangrove. When it comes to the future of our fisheries, it's about habitat, stupid.• When you are shivering on a sandbar at midnight, a cup of coffee will make everything all right. Pack a camp stove.• Carry more water than you think you will need. You can always use it to brush your teeth.• To paraphrase Steve McQueen, the King of Cool, it is better to wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth.• Your mom was right. Turn off the TV, computer, iPad, smartphone and take it outside. You will be glad you did.• I used to say that attitude is everything. But now I know that attitude is the only thing.