GULF OF MEXICO — Some anglers prize grouper for their delicate flesh. Others praise king mackerel for their long, fast runs. But when it comes to on-the-water entertainment, the great amberjack just can't be beat.
Pound for pound, you won't find a better fighting fish in the gulf. After a two-month closure, the season for these offshore brutes — which can be found from Key West to Pensacola — reopens today....
Forget about getting anything out of Tom Matthews. The lobster biologist is as cagey as the crustaceans he studies.
"The problem is that lobsters are notoriously hard to count," said Matthews, who works in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's field office in Marathon. "If you took all of the lobsters and put them in one room, they would all gather together in one corner."...
ST. PETE BEACH — Keith Overton didn't know what to do about his skinny snook. The avid angler had caught the linesiders in Tampa Bay and transferred them to his new 33,500-gallon fish tank, but now he watched helplessly as the apex predators slowly wasted away.
"There was plenty of food in the tank," said the man behind Guy Harvey's RumFish Grill & Bar on St. Pete Beach. "But for some reason the snook just weren't eating."...
World-renowned shark expert George Burgess, keeper of the International Shark Attack File, is used to getting silly questions about the ocean's most fearsome predator. "Are sharks out to get you?" is among the most common, he said. "The short answer is 'No.' " The 64-year-old University of Florida professor is co-author of a new book, Sharks: The Animal Answer Guide, which contains a trove of great information for sharkophiles. "There are more than 400 species of shark but only a select few have been implicated in attacks," he said. "But another way you can look at it is this: Any shark that can get to be 6 feet or longer can be considered dangerous." Burgess said he receives many inquiries about great white sharks. "They are identified in many shark attacks because they occur in areas where they are the only species," he said. "But if you are looking for the most common 'grabber' in Florida, that would be the blacktip shark.''...
Michael Poole doesn't remember his first epileptic seizure. He was cycling. When he came to, bruised and battered, he thought his triathlon career was over.
"It wasn't pretty," the 22-year-old said. "I went through a hard couple of months and wondered how I could possibly go on."
Poole was one of the best young competitive cyclists in New Zealand, and he was just 18. A gifted runner and swimmer as well, many thought he would be the next great champion from a nation that has produced so many gifted triathletes. Then epilepsy nearly derailed his dreams....
new diver safety rules take effect
Summer is the season for snorkeling and scuba diving so boaters should keep an eye out for "diver-down" flags. But whether you are scalloping on the Nature Coast or "bug" hunting in the Florida Keys, new rules will help keep divers safe.
Effective July 1, divers and snorkelers have the option of displaying a buoy with a series of divers-down symbols (red field with a white, diagonal line) as an alternative to the traditional divers-down flag. The buoy can be three- or four-sided and must have a divers-down symbol of at least 12-by-12 inches displayed on each of the flat sides. Such a buoy should help divers, especially those in open waters, be more visible to passing boats....
HONEYMOON ISLAND — Peter Krulder is no salesman. As the manager of Florida's most visited state park, his product sells itself.
"I guess you could say we have it all," said Krulder, who not only works but also lives on Honeymoon Island, "… great water, beautiful beaches, a fantastic nature trail … what's not to love?"
In the fiscal year 2013-14, which ended June 30, Honeymoon Island had 1,144,285 visitors, making it Florida's most popular state park for the eighth year in a row....
At first, Clark Wright thought they had hooked a giant carp.
"I said, 'That fish has got an orange head,' " recalled the Bradenton charter boat captain.
He was fishing a school of tarpon in the Tampa Bay area June 4 when he hooked the unusual specimen shortly after 7 a.m.
"The first time the tarpon took flight, I noticed the fish had bright orange features around its head and down its back," Wright said. "Each time the fish jumped and rolled and we got better looks, there was no doubt that it was a tarpon unlike I have ever seen or heard of before."...
HOMOSASSA — Scallop season starts Saturday, a three-day head start on the usual July 1 opening. So now's the time to get prepared to grab your share of the tasty shellfish.
Before you hit the water, here are a few tips from local fishing guide Jim Lemke, who spends most of his summer scouring the grass beds of the North Suncoast.
"Make sure all of your dive gear — your mask, fins and snorkel — are in proper working order," Lemke said. "You don't want to get out there and find that you have got a leaky mask."...
Summer's a busy season for the Tampa Bay area's scuba shops as veteran divers and newcomers to the sport get ready for tropical vacations and the upcoming lobster season in the Florida Keys.
"Everybody wants to learn how to dive as soon as lobster season rolls around," said Rocky Welch, an instructor with Bill Jackson's Shop for Adventure in Pinellas Park. "But scuba diving is not a casual sport — you have to take it seriously."...
get ready for gag season
Stock up on hooks, line and sinker — gag grouper season opens Tuesday in most state and all federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. But if you live in Franklin, Wakulla, Jefferson and Taylor counties, hang up your grouper sticks. The gag season closes in state waters off your coast. The gag season will remain open in state waters (except in those previously mentioned areas) through Dec. 3....
after awards, help still needed on tarpon study
Florida's tarpon anglers have helped biologists learn much about the migration and reproduction of tarpon, one of the state's premiere sportfish. The Florida Guides Association and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently announced the winners of the annual Spirit of Tarpon DNA Sampling Challenge....
THONOTOSASSA — Jack Coleman knew that long hair and a beard might be an impediment to promotion. But he didn't care. Out in the swamp they call Seventeen Runs, folks don't give a hoot what you look like.
"Usually, they're crying for help," said the park ranger known as Dead River Jack. "They are just happy to see somebody … anybody … who will show them the way out."
Coleman, 60, doesn't know exactly how many people he has rescued from that stretch of the Hillsborough River in his 30-year career that ended this month but he figures the grateful souls number in the dozens....
As a professional outdoorsman, proper equipment is essential to my survival. Consider them tools of the trade.
So for those last-minute shoppers among you, here's my gift guide to get you started:
1. Chaco Z/2 Yampa Sandal
You might think $100 is too much to pay for shoes that you can't wear to a black-tie event. But Chacos are guaranteed to get you there and back again. The Z/2 features a wrap-around toe loop that keeps your feet secure in the footbed. Adjustable straps create a custom fit and the polyester webbing dries fast. The non-marking Vibram outsole provides good traction and durability on land and water. www.chacos.com...
The 28.5-mile Swim around Manhattan will be hard, but not nearly as tough as covering the length of Tampa Bay one stroke at a time.
Or at least that's what open-water swimming buddies Chris Burke and Dr. Mark Smitherman hope when they hit the water in New York on Saturday morning.
"In the 2012 Tampa Bay Marathon swim, I got stopped at Mile 18 because of lightning," said Burke, a 52-year-old contractor from St. Petersburg. "I went back the next year and finished in 12 hours, 15 minutes, which is a lot longer than what I think the swim around Manhattan will take."...