BRING IT: A CAST IRON PAN
If you find yourself in the woods this Thanksgiving, hope you brought along a Dutch oven to make my holiday favorite, Son of a Gun stew. My favorite pots and skillets are made by a company called Lodge, which has been in the Appalachian mountain town of South Pittsburg, Tenn., population 3,300, since 1896. If properly cared for, a good cast iron pan or pot can last for generations. When it comes to Dutch ovens, camp versions are usually footed, so they can sit above the coals (though they also can hang from a tripod), and have a flanged lid where coals nestle. This allows heat to cook the food from above and below. The reason so many camp cooks, including this veteran, swear by cast iron is that these pots and pans distribute the heat evenly. You can cook slow and steady, which really brings out the flavor in everything from grouper cheeks to venison loins. Cooking with coal, or charcoal briquettes, is an easy way to get started. Just place one-third of the coals under the pot and two-thirds on the flanged lid. Then walk away, come back an hour or two later and enjoy a tasty one-pot meal....
The next best thing to buying a new boat is shopping for all the gear and gadgets you'll use on the water. I can spend hours in a boating supply super store such as West Marine making lists of things I've just got to have. But I'll save you a little time and trouble and share a few things that caught my eye this Christmas season.
ACR AQUALINK VIEW PLB 2884: A must have for every boater, kayaker, paddleboarder and angler. Capable of transmitting a distress signal for up to 35 hours, this lifesaver will fix a position within 100 meters. The digital display is crisp. List price: $419.99, but if you buy it before the end of the year, you can take advantage of a $100 rebate....
SHIPWRECKED: GO DEEP
Fall may mean football in most of the country, but here on the west coast of Florida, gulf waters are cool and clear, making for ideal scuba diving. The Sheridan, a 180-foot tugboat that rests in 80 feet of water about 20 miles off Indian Rocks Beach, is considered one of Central Florida's best wreck dives. The 383-ton tugboat rises 35 feet off the sea floor and attracts a variety of fish. Nearby rests the Blackthorn, a U.S. Coast Guard cutter that was en route to Galveston, Texas, on Jan. 28, 1980, when it collided with another ship at the mouth of Tampa Bay. Twenty-three men died. The ship was raised and sunk in 80 feet, 20 miles off Clearwater. Another popular spot with divers is the Gunsmoke. The Coast Guard found 11 bales of marijuana aboard the 70-foot trawler as it sank on Jan. 27, 1977. The Gunsmoke later would be linked to four murders and the disappearance of a $1 million yacht, the Pirates Lady....
Scotty Gramling had a good feeling when a reel started screaming before the sun got above the horizon at last week's King of the Beach tournament.
"We had just put the baits out," said Gramling, a 17-year-old from St. Petersburg Catholic High School. "That stretch of water between Egmont Key and the Sunshine Skyway always holds some big fish."
Gramling had fished countless tournaments over the years with his father, Scott. "All he wants to do is fish," the elder Gramling explained. "He is out there every chance he gets."...
Cody Angell took one look at the scars on my knee and knew he had his work cut out for him.
"Wow," Angell said. "Bet you have some stories."
Angell, who operates St. Pete Running Company with his wife, Janna, prides himself on getting battered runners such as myself back on the road.
"Even an old warhorse like me?" I had asked.
He nodded his head and smiled. "With proper technique and the right equipment, you will run again," he said....
Thanksgiving usually kicks off the hiking season in Florida's state parks and forests. The nights are cool. The skies are clear and you don't have to worry about mosquitoes or no-see-ums. You don't need much to get started, just a comfortable pair of walking shoes and a day pack to carry water, snacks and a compass.
Don't know where to go? No worries — here are five favorites that will get you going in the Great Outdoors:...
GO THE DISTANCE: Big Bend Paddling Trail
Located on the Gulf of Mexico between the St. Marks River lighthouse and the Suwannee River, this 105-mile route was the state's first attempt to service long-distance sea kayakers. With well-marked primitive campsites located a day's paddle apart, Big Bend Paddling Trail is the best place to try your first overnight expedition. So named because it is here that the Florida Panhandle takes a hard right and heads south, this stretch of coast has always been a wild and lawless place. In the early 19th century, Seminole Indians and renegade slaves sought refuge along the Aucilla and Econfina rivers. During Prohibition, rum runners brought their wares up the Steinhatchee, located a few miles south. In the 1970s, smugglers hauling bales of marijuana, a.k.a. "square grouper," also found this desolate stretch of coastline useful. There are few roads and even fewer towns. The shoreline is exposed to the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and the shallow, sometimes placid waters can easily churn themselves into a deadly chop without much notice. Kayakers need to be self-sufficient and prepared for anything. And remember: Pack out what you packed in. Leave your campsite cleaner than you found it. As the saying goes, "Take only photographs; leave only footprints."...
Justin Lee loves big-money king mackerel tournaments. The 35-year-old St. Petersburg man travels the kingfish circuit with Team Blacked Out Wells, and like most top-tier anglers, takes his fishing seriously.
But twice a year, this father of two looks forward to the Old Salt King of the Beach Tournament at Madeira Beach so he can fish with his kids and still take home a record payout.
"We never miss them," said Lee, who grew up fishing local beaches. "We love the KOB."...
If you want to stay in shape and don't have a smartphone, buy one. An iPhone, Galaxy, Nexus ... fill in the blank ... is less expensive and almost as good as any personal trainer.
Ask any fitness professional and they will tell you that the key to a successful workout program is consistency. Results come with time. You won't lose a spare tire that took decades to acquire after a few sessions in the gym....
TAKE A HIKE: GREAT TRAILS
Hillsborough River State Park, one of nine original Florida state parks, lies about a half-hour north of downtown Tampa. The park is so close and convenient, you can pack a pair of comfortable shoes in your trunk and head out for a quick hike after work. The park has four trails ranging in length from 1.1 miles to 3.4 miles that can easily be linked together for an all-day adventure. The River Rapids Nature Trail leads an intrepid hiker down to the Hillsborough's Class II rapids, a rare sight in Florida. Get there early in the morning and you stand a good chance of seeing a pair of river otters among the rocks. To start your hike, park in lot No. 2. Before you head into the forest, take a moment to read the "Prayer of the Woods" sign posted at the trailhead. It will put you in the right frame of mind. Follow the trail to the water, then along the river. Keep an eye on the trees overhead for everything from pileated woodpeckers to red-shouldered hawks. Deep under the canopy, you may spot barred owls and wild turkey, as well. Halfway through the Baynard Trail, you'll see the blue blazes of a link trail, which will lead you to a 3.4-mile segment of the orange-blazed Florida Trail. About a mile into this segment, you will find a primitive campsite, perfect for beginning backpackers. The remaining 2 miles of trail meanders about 20 feet above the river, providing a perfect opportunity for gator spotting....
MYAKKA RIVER STATE PARK
Deep in these woods on a moonlit night, it is easy to imagine you are not alone. The 37,000-acre wilderness, one of Florida's oldest state parks, has 39 miles of trails that snake through every type of habitat — cypress swamp, pine flatwoods and hardwood hammocks.
It is the perfect place to get lost, or not be found. The word Myakka is Seminole in origin. Some say the exact meaning has been lost to history, but I've heard it mean "hairy man," or at least that is what I tell the youngsters that I am camping with....
CHICKEE MAGNET: WILDERNESS WATERWAY
When the Seminoles wanted a place to hide, they'd head to the Everglades. The Wilderness Waterway, 99 twisted miles of country most Floridians would consider wasteland, runs from Everglades City to Flamingo on the state's southern tip. There are lots of alligators, mosquitoes, no-see-ums and hardly any people. Long before the Seminoles came to Florida, Calusas in dug-out canoes ruled this River of Grass. They thrived on mullet, deer and oysters. Remnants of their feasts can be seen today in shell mounds that now provide most of the high ground for hundreds of square miles. Today, the National Park Service maintains a series of campsites on these isolated patches of high ground. But if you are feeling adventurous, you can head deep into the Everglades and camp on a platform called a "chickee." Winter is the most popular time to go, so start planning now. One or two more cold fronts should knock the bugs down, but just in case, don't forget the repellent....
Hunting season opens up in much of the state next month, but before you hit the woods, head to the range. Unless you enjoy a regular shooting regimen, your trigger finger can get a little rusty. One way to keep your reflexes sharp is to test your skill with one of the shooting sports featured in the Olympic Games.
Most hunters have shot trap, the granddaddy of all shotgun sports. The name comes from the device, commonly called a "trap," that throws the familiar clay targets up into the air. To excel at trap, you need good hand-eye coordination....
UP ON HIGH: TREETOP ADVENTURE
Cool mornings make for good hikes. But why not leave the traditional trail behind and head to the treetops? Bird watchers, backpackers and day hikers come to Myakka River State Park for the 39 miles of nature trails that wind through the pine forests and prairies. But while most hikes keep you on terra firma, this wilderness playground in Sarasota has one that will take you through the treetops. The Myakka Canopy Walkway, an 85-foot-long boardwalk suspended 25 feet above the ground, is the highlight of any trip to this state park. Make sure you climb the tower at the end of the suspension bridge. It takes about 10 minutes to get to the top, but it is well worth the effort. Standing 80 feet above the forest floor, you will see everything from red-shouldered hawks to wild hogs rooting through the swamplands. floridastateparks.org/park/Myakka-River....
It is said that fall arrived last month, but if you live and love the water, the season doesn't officially start until you've eaten your first stone crab.
Technically speaking, these crustaceans can be found from North Carolina to Mexico, but Florida should claim the title of stone crab capital of the world.
It is our No. 1 commercial seafood, worth $25 million a year. In case you are wondering, Caribbean spiny lobster ranks a close second at $24 million followed by white shrimp at $17.2 million and the local favorite, red grouper, at $16.8 million....