ON HIGH: ZIP THE CANYONS
Florida flatlanders don't get many opportunities to enjoy a little elevation. Living at sea level, even driving over a little hill can give you a thrill. But head two hours north to "The Canyons" in Ocala, and you'll get all the height you can stand and more. The zip line complex, built atop a 94-acre limestone quarry, has the highest and longest wires in the state. It takes about 2 ½ to three hours to get through all nine zips, and unlike many complexes where you have to climb towers, most of the runs are cliff to cliff. The longest zip is "Speed Trap." It's 1,100 feet long, and at the peak, you are 135 feet off the ground. Canyons also has a special "Super Zip," where the rider lays prone, that measures 1,600 feet long and carries you 165 feet in the air. Be prepared for a workout. The entire course is about a mile long. There's a special, surprise rappel at the end that will test your nerves. As expected, with the longest, highest and fastest zips in the state, demand is high, so reservations are recommended. Cost is $96 per person. zipthecanyons.com. ...
Snook are an easy sell to tourists and locals alike, according to Tampa-based charter boat captain Mike Gore. "They'll bust a bait like a large-mouth bass and fight like a tarpon," he said. "There's really nothing like them."
Snook season reopens today after a long summer closure, and Gore, along with thousands of anglers like him, will hit the water from Crystal River to Everglades National Park hoping to land the fabled Florida linesider....
There seems to be no debate among Florida lobster aficionados concerning how to cook this delicacy of the sea.
"You have got to grill them," said restaurateur Frank Chivas. "There is no other way."
But Chivas and his longtime friend Tom Pritchard, the creative force behind many of his restaurants, disagreed on the next step.
"I like to start them out shell down," said Pritchard, one of America's top chefs. "You want to protect the meat."...
Danny has disappeared. But Tropical Storm Erika is gaining strength. Maybe it is time to make sure your boat is prepared to weather a storm.
If you are like me, you probably don't start thinking about hurricane season until the end of August. That's when low pressure systems seem to line up like freight trains and start barreling across the Atlantic. Over the years, several have made landfall on or near the Labor Day weekend, including an epic Category 5 storm 80 years ago....
Take It Outside Planner: Courtney Campbell trail (w/video), how to catch tarpon and how to beat a gator08/26/15Outdoors
SUNSHINE DAY: CAUSEWAY TRAIL
Looking for a great sunrise? Take a hike on the new Courtney Campbell Causeway Trail. The 9.5-mile paved pathway that connects Clearwater and Tampa is an urban hiker's dream.
You will find parking on both sides of the bridge. It's a little easier on the eyes if you start in Tampa (Ben T. Davis Beach) and walk west. You'll share the road with other walkers, joggers and bikers, so there's plenty of company. The 5.5-mile portion in Hillsborough County opened in 2013. The 4-mile extension, opened this summer, offers easy access to the Pinellas Trail and the Duke Energy Trail via Clearwater's Ream Wilson East-West Trail....
The last week of August always seems like the hottest time of the year. I don't know if there is any empirical evidence to support this assertion, but I can tell you that when I hit this point of the summer, I'm tempted to trade the outdoors beat for something cooler, such as air-conditioned city hall.
But if you are a dedicated, boater, angler or paddler, somebody who pursues your passion 24/7, 365 days a year, you've got to carry on in spite of the elements. Fortunately, gear technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years. Today's outdoor clothing and accessories make fishing the flats a little easier, even if it is, as author Thomas McGuane would say, Ninety-two in the Shade....
YOU CANOE IT: JUNIPER RUN
Ocala National Forest's Juniper Run has been named one of the top 25 canoe runs in America. The 7-mile paddle through riverine swamp, hardwood forests and Florida scrub takes about three hours to complete, and when you are done, you will wish it were longer. The paddle starts at Juniper Springs, one of the oldest and better-known recreation areas in the forest, about 25 miles east of Ocala. During the Great Depression, men from the Civilian Conservation Corps built the surrounding roads, campgrounds, picnic areas and a water-powered millhouse that still stands today....
Weeks of torrential rains have taken their toll on nesting sea turtles. Beachgoers should keep their eyes open for nests and eggs that may be washed out by flood waters. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has received numerous reports of stranded hatchlings. Some were washed out of their nests; others swept back to the beach after sea weed blocked their swim offshore. If you come across live hatchlings on the beach, call the FWC's Wildlife Alert at 1-888-404-3922 (FWCC). An operator will tell you where to take the baby turtles, which should be placed in a damp towel and kept in the dark in a bucket or other container....
Summer's almost over. School's about to start. But there's still time for one last hurrah.
You could pack the kids into the minivan and head to the water park like you've done a dozen times before. Or you could do something completely different. Hint — it involves the word "party."
But to be clear, the word is not used as a verb, but an adjective, as in "party" boat.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the vernacular of the docks, a party boat is not a booze cruise. On the contrary — it is good, clean fun....
CORKSCREW SWAMP HIKE: BALD CYPRESS, GATORS, RAPTORS
The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, just about three hours south of Tampa Bay, is a watery wilderness that is fun to saunter through and explore any time of year. A 2.25-mile boardwalk will take you through pine flatwoods, a wet prairie and the largest old growth Bald Cypress forest in North America. Some of these trees stand nearly 130 feet tall and are every bit as impressive as their cousins, the California redwood. While their girth might take your breath away (some measure 25 feet around), the real show is up above: Moss, lichens, bromeliads and ferns cover huge branches. Be ready to see some big gators, otters and, of course, white-tailed deer. A birders paradise, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is home to water birds and raptors. After the turn of the 20th century, when much of southwest Florida was being logged, the National Audubon Society made sure that this patch of paradise would be protected for generations to come. Today, the 14,000 acres at Corkscrew are maintained to sustain the native plants and animals no differently than they have been for thousands of years. The only difference is you get to be there, too....
Jim Hartnett has never been the kind of guy to shy away from a challenge. After college he joined the Marine Corps just to see if he could handle it.
Years later, he and some friends cycled from Tampa to Everglades City to raise money for cancer research and, when they got to Florida Bay, threw their bikes in canoes, paddled across, then got out and rode to Key West.
"I am no stranger to logistical and physical endeavors," said the 51-year-old Tampa real estate manager and adventure race promoter. "But 2,700 miles of off-road biking is another thing altogether."...
Take It Outside Planner: Tubing on the Ichetucknee (w/video), camping and snorkeling in the state parks08/05/15Outdoors
COOL OFF: TUBING THE ICHETUCKNEE
When the temperature is heading for triple digits and the humidity is on the rise, there's no better way to cool off than going north to the chilly waters of the Ichetucknee River and springs in north-central Florida. Just walk down the path to this waterway and the air suddenly feels 10 degrees cooler. Nine springs pump 233-million gallons of crystal clear water into the Ichetucknee River, which then flows south into the Sante Fe and Suwannee rivers. Right off the main parking lot at the north entrance to the state park, you'll find Ichetucknee Spring, also called the Head Spring. The spring has a bluish hue that makes it particularly appealing, especially on a warm summer day. During peak season (Memorial Day through Labor Day), tubers who want to complete the entire trip of three-and-a-half hours must arrive early. Rangers limit the number of people on the river. A tram is available at the south end to bring you back to your car. After Labor Day, things quiet down a bit. To keep the Ichetucknee wild and clean, tubers may not bring food, drink, tobacco or any other disposable items on the river....
TARPON SPRINGS — Many hook and liners think spearfishing is like shooting fish in a barrel. But that's because they never had to hold their breath for three minutes and pick off a grouper hiding on a rock ledge in 60 feet of water.
But that is just what you might have to do if you want to win next week's U.S. National Freediving Championship in Tarpon Springs. The five-day event, hosted by the Florida Skin Divers Association, will feature the top teams in the nation from five regional qualifying divisions. The winning team will move on to the World Spearfishing Championships in Greece....
August is special. The water is warm. The fish are slow. Sometimes it feels like you need a magic touch to get them to bite. So I called my friends at Dogfish Tackle and asked the folks behind the counter what they do during these Dog Days to get some action. Here are our favorite five artificial lures of summer.
Heddon One Knocker Spook, 4½-inch, ¾-ounce, $9.49
This is my all-time favorite year-round lure, although it proves particularly effective this time of year when thrown at first light or just before sunset. This is a good artificial bait to toss when you are looking for fish because you can cover a lot of ground. The action is simple — classic "walk the dog." Use it around schools of mullet, mangrove islands and oyster bards. A common beginners mistake is stopping the action after the lure gets hit. Keep moving the lure until you feel some resistance. Setting the hook too early will cost you fish....
Take It Outside Planner: Paddle through magical mangroves (w/video), pier fishing and lobster season07/29/15Outdoors
PADDLE BY: MANGROVE TUNNELS
Looking for a great half-day trip? Check out the Lido Key Canoe/Kayak Trail in Sarasota. This well-marked waterway can be as short or as long as you like. Paddling through these tree-covered corridors, it is easy to imagine yourself in another time and place.
Five minutes from the boat ramp, you turn and follow the signs into what looks like an enchanted mangrove forest. The trees have grown over the water and formed a canopy just large enough for a canoe or kayak to navigate. Inside the darkened tunnels, you will see raccoons hunting among the "walking trees" as mangrove crabs scurry for cover. Wading birds prowl the dimly lit corridor, feeding on fingerlings illuminated by the shafts of sunlight filtering through the treetops....