Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The outdoors calls to us

In my line of work, you know you've had a good week when you sleep on the ground at least four out of the last seven days.

Some people might consider sleeping in a tent a hardship. Not me. I'm with Steve McQueen, the King of Cool, who in addition to being one of the biggest movie stars of the 1960s and '70s, was also a backcountry camper who once boasted that he "would rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth."

Paris, London, Rome or Madrid … you can keep 'em. I'd rather have a patch of paradise in East Pasco. There's no place I'd rather be than in the Green Swamp, howling with the coyotes on a cool November evening.

You should try it. The weather's perfect. There's no better time to get outside than now. And if you are running short on ideas on what to do, here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Take a hike: The Florida Trail stretches 1,400 miles from Big Cypress National Preserve in South Florida to Gulf Islands National Seashore on the Alabama border.

The path is well-marked with orange blazes and signs. Side trails have blue blazes, and turns are marked with two blazes. Boardwalks guide backpackers through wet portions, and campsites are within easy walking distance of each other. In some areas, the trail is flat, but in others, it can be downright challenging.

Here in Central Florida, the trail segments that run through the Richloam, Croom and Citrus tracts of Withlacoochee State Forest can keep an intrepid trail walker busy for years. With nearly 160,000 acres of wilderness to explore, Withlacoochee has hiking and backpacking trails that will challenge experts as well as beginners.

Pick up a paddle: The upper Hillsborough River may be located just a half-hour drive from one of Florida's largest cities, but it is still one of the most scenic rivers in the state.

The Hillsborough's 34-mile designated canoe trail runs from Crystal Springs to Tampa's Rowlett Park. The upper reaches, though wild, can be difficult to paddle. But in general, the river is kid-friendly, especially the section serviced by a local outfitter, Canoe Escape.

The section below Hillsborough River State Park, called Seventeen Runs, should only be attempted by the most experienced paddlers. The last time I paddled that 6-mile stretch between Hillsborough County's Dead River and John B. Sargeant parks, it took more than five hours. Numerous deadfalls make for slow going, and if you do try to conquer this stretch of river, you will get wet and muddy.

Wet a line: Fort De Soto's twin fishing piers at the south end of Pinellas County have shallow artificial reefs within casting reach. These man-made structures support diverse communities of marine organisms, so it is not unusual for anglers to land even tarpon, cobia and king mackerel.

From time to time, these shore-bound anglers even hook fish far too big to land, including sharks. Like most piers, Fort De Soto's has a cast of regulars, most of whom are willing to share their secrets. If a fellow angler hooks a big one, don't be shy about asking what they used for bait. Follow the leader and cast away.

Another good local choice is the Skyway Fishing Pier State Park. Located at the mouth of Tampa Bay on a structure that was once a bridge, the twin Skyway Fishing Piers are probably the most productive land-based fishing spots in the state. If it is a species that swims in the Gulf of Mexico, sooner or later it will pass beneath you if you dangle a line there.

Ride a bike: The Withlacoochee State Trail, 46 miles of fun for cyclists of all skill levels, is just an hour drive from downtown Tampa. The trail is ideal for triathletes and competitive cyclists looking for a long training ride. But for families, especially those looking for a "nature" ride, the Withlacoochee State Trail is must-see as well.

Safe and well-maintained, yet wild and unpredictable, you will get the best of both worlds. You can thank railroad magnate Henry Plant for clearing the land that eventually became the trail.

This trail is generally flat, but a handful of hills keep it interesting. The 12-foot-wide paved path runs from the Owensboro Junction Trailhead, 6 miles north of Dade City, through Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties, to the Withlacoochee River, just south of Dunnellon.

Captainís Corner: Warming weather brings permit to wrecks, ledges

Captainís Corner: Warming weather brings permit to wrecks, ledges

As water temperatures continue to climb, more and more permit are showing up on wrecks and ledges off the Suncoast area. These highly prized members of the jack family appear every spring and gather into large aggregations for spawning. Most of this ...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18

Captainís Corner: Time nears for snook, tarpon out at the beaches

With summerlike air temperatures coming in the next couple of weeks, snook will be moving out to the beaches and tarpon will start cruising there. Itís my favorite time of year to fish. With snook on the beaches and passes, you would think their biol...
Published: 04/21/18
Updated: 04/22/18

Captainís Corner: Variables are all that is constant when it comes to art of fishing

The unique variables and ever-changing conditions of fishing are what set it apart from most other sports. Basketball goals donít move, baseball diamonds are basically the same and tennis courts never change. Fishing, on the other hand, is constantly...
Published: 04/21/18

Captainís Corner: King mackerel the hot topic as gulf waters warm

King mackerel is always the hot topic this time of year, with tournaments every weekend for two months. Some believe that massive schools in the gulf migrate from their fall haunts in south Florida and the Keys to the north, with the larger females (...
Published: 04/18/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Captainís Corner: Trout moving toward the beaches

Captainís Corner: Trout moving toward the beaches

After significant winds from a front last week, things are calming down and fish are turning on again. Bait has gotten predictable and easier to chum on the flats after moving to deeper water during the front. Iíve been targeting trout at first light...
Published: 04/18/18
Updated: 04/19/18

Captainís Corner: Rush of warmer water in gulf heats up fishing on offshore reefs, wrecks

The rush of warmer water on our offshore reefs and wrecks in the Gulf of Mexico has brought with it a cadre of pelagic fish. Divers and anglers have enjoyed the influx of cobia, kingfish and more. The benthic (bottom) fish are splurging on the balls ...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18

Captainís Corner: Spring bite is solid despite wacky weather

Bipolar weather continues to confuse both fish and anglers. Fortunately the water temperature has gotten high enough that the effects donít last long and the spring bite continues to be solid. Snook are still the hot bite in many areas around the bay...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18

Captainís Corner: Kingfish, sharks provide aerial displays

Fishing was good this past Saturday, ahead of the cold front. We fished close to shore about 2 miles. Our approach was simple. We anchored the boat, fished with live baits and chummed heavily. Kingfish action was nonstop for the entire morning. We ca...
Published: 04/16/18

Captainís Corner: Trolling or anchoring up, kingfish bite is hot

Are you looking for line-screaming action? Head offshore. The kingfish bite has been good, though high winds may require a wait for the water to clear. The best numbers have been about 5 miles out on the hard bottom. Trolling for kingfish works well;...
Published: 04/13/18
Updated: 04/15/18

Captainís Corner: Spring run is the most wonderful time of the year

The full spring run of all species in our area is in full swing. Whatever species you would like to target, inshore or offshore, is as good as it gets this time of year. Redfish schools have shown up in the flats around Pinellas Point, but they are i...
Published: 04/11/18
Updated: 04/13/18