DESTINATION: CAYO COSTA
If you are looking for a good weekend getaway, Cayo Costa State Park, just across the pass from Boca Grande, has 9 miles of beautiful beach just waiting to be explored. This barrier island hasn't changed much since the Spanish explorers first sailed by its shores nearly 500 years ago. This island is heavily wooded — pine, oak and palm — and accessible only by private boat or ferry. With more than 2,000 acres of wilderness to explore, spend the day or stay in the night in a rustic cabin or your own tent. The sunsets are fabulous. Bring your snorkel gear and fishing rod for the beach and your hiking boots and mountain bike for the trails that crisscross the island. Captiva Cruises offers ferry service to the park from locations in Punta Gorda, Pine Island, Fort Myers, Sanibel Island and Captiva Island. Reservations are recommended. (239) 472-5100. cayocostaferry.com....
DESTINATION: FORT ZACHARY TAYLOR
Looking for the best sunset in Florida? Fort Zachary Taylor, Florida's southernmost state park, is as good as it gets. Built in the mid 1800s to defend the nation's southeastern coastline, Fort Zachary Taylor played important roles in the Civil War and Spanish-American War. You can sign up for one of the daily guided tours or just chill out on Key West's favorite beach, at the southern end of the park. There's good fishing and snorkeling too, a pleasant break from the bars and T-shirt shops of Duval Street. Interesting fact: Fort Taylor was originally built 1,200 feet offshore, but in the mid 1960s a U.S. Navy dredging project landlocked the fortress. floridastateparks.org....
Anglers call it the Wild West for a reason. One hundred miles from shore, out in the deep blue water of the Gulf of Mexico, anything can happen.
It is a dangerous, unforgiving place. If the weather takes a turn for the worse, you are on your own. Only a select few have the fortune or fortitude to venture that far from land.
"You are out there," said Jim Naset, whose Pro Marine Team is known for its long runs and big fish. "It isn't always worth with it, but sometimes it is."...
Bill Fite is no stranger to adventure. But the 73-year-old Tampa man, who just sailed and paddled 1,600 miles around and then across Florida, doesn't like to talk about himself.
"I'm an old guy in good shape for my age who can sail pretty well," said Fite, who goes by the nom de guerre "Jarhead." "I just think you should live your life to the fullest."
When contacted recently about his latest accomplishment, Fite mentioned a dozen other WaterTribe contestants — America's Cup sailors, Olympians, Hall of Famers — more deserving of a story....
ST. PETERSBURG — Dr. Michael Reilly, who works at St. Anthony's Hospital in St. Petersburg, was feeling a little under the weather Sunday, but he still lined up for his 32nd St. Anthony's Triathlon because he knew a record was at stake.
Reilly, a multisport enthusiast since the 1970s, knew his longtime friend Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Jack Helinger had a sore knee....
ST. PETERSBURG — Cameron Dye has no secrets when it comes to strategy.
"Everybody knows how I race," said Dye, who won his second straight St. Anthony's Triathlon on Sunday. "I go out as fast as I can, and if you think you can keep up, come on."
Dye, 32, was second out of the water, but once he got on his bike, he proved impossible to catch.
"The conditions have never been better," said Dye, who covered the Olympic-distance course in 1 hour, 46 minutes and 46 seconds. "You really could not have asked for a better day."...
Mirinda Carfrae and Tim O'Donnell have it figured out.
The married professional triathletes support each other's careers and often ride together, but they stop short of giving each other tips on training and technique.
"We both have our own coaches," said Carfrae, known in triathlon circles as Rinny. "When I am not racing, I am on the sidelines cheering him on. And I am always there to listen. But I leave the hard stuff to his coach."...
TIS THE SEASON: MANATEES ON THE MOVE
You know we have had our last cold spell of the season when manatees leave their winter refuges and head out across Tampa Bay in search of food. Large numbers of these protected marine mammals are now on the move, so boaters need to slow down in posted areas and obey speed limits. State law enforcement officers have increased patrols in these critical feeding areas and are strictly enforcing seasonal regulations, which took effect April 1 and run through Nov. 15 in manatee protection zones. Manatee zones and maps are available at myfwc.com/manatee, where you can select "Protection Zones" for links to county maps. Boaters can help by wearing polarized sunglasses, which make it easier to spot manatees. Another way to spot a feeding manatee is to watch for the circular slicks on the surface of the water. To learn more about Florida's manatees, visit myfwc.com/manatee. To report a dead or distressed manatee, call the FWC's wildlife alert hotline toll-free at 1-888-404-3922....
Even on an afternoon in the middle of the week, the boats were lined up along the mangroves like cars at a drive-in. But that didn't bother Wes Burns.
"They should get started any time now," he said like a movie patron sitting through the previews. "We won't have to wait long."
The red drum had been as predictable as a theater schedule. As soon as the tide turned the fish started feeding....
Brittany Pierce knows what it takes to be a world-class triathlete. "Work . . . a lot of work," she said. "If you don't love training, don't think about it."
The 31-year-old St. Petersburg native joined the professional ranks three years ago but still finds it hard to make ends meet on prize money and sponsorships alone.
"I had to get a job," she said. "But fortunately, I have the best one in the world."...
RIDIN' DIRTY: DIRT BIKE TRAILS
If you have an off-highway or all-terrain vehicle, you probably already know about the Croom Motorcycle Area in Withlacoochee State Forest. With more than 2,600 acres of trails, this a true playground for motorsport enthusiasts. Open seven days a week, the Croom Motorcycle Area has something for riders of all levels, including a training area for those new to the sport and another section for younger riders. The state forest acquired two bulldozers in 2012 so some of the trails are now groomed and graded, but there are still miles of natural rough throughout the park for those who like a challenge. While you are there, keep an eye out for Croom's population of white piebald deer (sometimes called the ghost deer). Call (352) 797-5759 for information. Helmets are required for all riders....
Eric Sidor can't decide what he likes most about the Wild West Kingfish Tournament Series.
"First there's the shotgun start," the 37-year-old captain of team En-Vi-Us said. "You have 50 boats all lined up outside of John's Pass, and when they say 'Go Fish,' everybody just takes off going 50 mph. It really gets your adrenaline pumping … what a way to start the day."
After an hour or two, Sidor and his teammates usually find themselves 80 or 90 miles from port, out in the deep blue where the sea monsters roam. If you want to catch big kings, the smokers of legend, fish so feisty they'll melt the drag on a fishing reel, you have to be willing to roam....
Paddle Up: Shark Bite Challenge
If you paddle anything that floats, head to Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin for the Shark Bite Challenge & Paddlefest from Friday to Sunday. Canoes, kayaks, surf skis and paddleboards will compete on courses that range from 4 to 8 miles.
A crowd favorite are the Hawaiian outrigger canoes — 50 feet long and weighing 400 pounds — which race Sunday. New additions to this year's challenge are Friday's performance paddling clinics featuring world-renowned coaches and paddlers. Legendary elite South African paddler Jasper Mocke will host a surf ski (performance kayak) talk, and outrigger canoe coach Johnny Puakea will share his secret to success in a "Train Smarter, Not Harder Clinic." Paddlers can participate in a 1-, 4- or 8-mile distance race in their single crafts, including one or two-man outriggers and surf skis. ...
Snook and largemouth bass have a lot in common. Both are ambush predators that use shadows and structure to attack prey. With water temperatures on the rise, the snook are moving from their shelter of the backcountry creeks and canals to the beaches and open-water passes to prepare for the summer spawn. These fish are hungry and it doesn't take much to trigger a strike. Nothing beats a handful of scaled sardines but if you are an artificial enthusiast looking for a challenge, here are five spring lures guaranteed to get a bite....
'Bug hunters': learn to SCUBA dive
Are you planning a Caribbean vacation? Is diving for lobster in the Florida Keys on your bucket list? Then you should learn how to scuba dive — now, this spring. While you can get certified in less than a month, don't settle for the least expensive or shortest course. Shop around and talk with friends who dive. Think of it this way: If you were learning how to skydive, would you sign on with a school that advertises the cheapest parachutes? And remember, learning to scuba dive is sort of like getting a driver's license. Sure, you can get behind the wheel of a car, but that doesn't mean you're ready to race in the Grand Prix. One advantage to getting your training out of the way now is you will be ready for the two-day "mini" season for lobster, scheduled for the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July. Then you can tell your friends that you are one of the "bug hunters." That's because the Caribbean spiny lobster, or Panulirus argus, like all crustaceans, comes from the same phylum as insects, Arthropoda....