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....
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....
When Chris Turner was a boy growing up on the shores of Boca Ciega Bay, his father set strict limits on how far he could go in his boat.
"I was allowed to go to this bridge but not past that channel marker," said Turner, a 52-year-old yacht captain from St. Petersburg. "As time went on and I got more experience, my boundaries expanded. But there was always a discussion on where I could and couldn't go."...
Earn extra lobster
If you are out bug huntin' this lobster mini-season and come across a lionfish, take that too. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has offered a bounty to any diver who spears 10 lionfish during the sport season — an extra lobster and possibly a T-shirt. Lionfish are an invasive species that displaces native species on coral reefs. The only way to stop the spread of these harmful exotics is to physically remove them. The FWC hopes the thousands of divers in the Florida Keys next week will help stop their spread. In addition, people can take a photo of their lionfish and lobster catch during the two-day season and post it on Facebook.com/LionfishReefRangers to get a "Be the Predator" T-shirt. One photo entrant will also win a lifetime saltwater fishing license via a drawing held shortly after the sport season. In addition, for the 2015 spiny lobster sport season only, divers will be allowed a single spiny lobster over the bag limit per day for each day that they also harvest 10 or more lionfish. Lionfish must be kept as proof of harvest while on the water. When off the water, a photo of harvesters with their 10 lionfish must be kept to document eligibility for harvesting an extra lobster. Lionfish must be harvested the same day and before taking the additional lobster. All other rules, including no spearfishing zones, apply....
The antennae sticking out of the hole gave the creature away. So with great caution and care, I placed my tickle stick behind the lobster and tried to gently coax it into my net.
But with one flip of its tail, it shot out between my legs like a cartoon crustacean, leaving nothing but a cloud of crushed shell and sand in its wake. The Caribbean spiny lobster, as it turns out, is no easy prey. Masters of camouflage, these wily crustaceans can be hard to find and quick to disappear....
COOL SPOT TO EXPLORE: SELBY GARDENS IN SARASOTA
Sarasota's beaches get top ratings for their sugar sand and turquoise blue waters, but after you rinse off and head home, swing by Marie Selby Botanical Gardens to cool off. It always feels a little cooler strolling through the tropical plants. Nestled on 15 acres on the city's picturesque waterfront, "The Gardens" has one of the largest epiphyte, or "air plant" collections in the country. But Selby Gardens is perhaps best known for its collection of more than 6,000 orchids. Be sure to check out the Towering Bamboo Garden, Banyan Groves and Mangrove Bay Walk. And the kids will love the Children's Rainforest Garden....
My big sister warned me about the copperhead snake in the garden. "It was a big one, too," she said. Many folks might take this as a cue to stay inside and watch tennis on TV. But me? I waited until she wasn't looking, then I sneaked outside and started scanning the shrubs for the venomous reptile. Most people don't like snakes. Some even hate them. But there are a few of us who look forward to any chance encounter with these secretive creatures. Snakes, and other reptiles, are more active during the warmer months. So your chances of seeing one increase with these dog days of summer. Florida has 46 species of snakes, and four of the venomous ones can be found here in the Tampa Bay area. Of those four, the Eastern diamondback is the largest and most dangerous. Its venom destroys tissue and blood cells, but your chances of being bitten are pretty slim since these creatures tend to shy away from humans....
COOL DAY TRIP: SOAK IT IN AT JUNIPER SPRINGS
With the temperature in the upper 90s and the humidity at 100 percent, the air feels like you can cut it with a butter knife. Some people can't deal with the heat and stay inside. Me? I head north to Ocala National Forest where I swear it always feels 10 degrees cooler beneath the trees. There are several great swimming holes hidden out there among live oak and slash pine, but one of my favorites is Juniper Springs. The water's perfect — 72 degrees, 365 days a year — and some say a good soaking will add years to your life. Old Juan Ponce de Leon never made it this far west, but if he had, he probably would have written the Spanish King Ferdinand to let him know he had found the Fountain of Youth. Juniper Springs, one of the oldest and better-known recreation areas in the forest, is about 25 miles east of Ocala. It takes about two hours to get there from Tampa, but it pays to leave early and beat the crowds. By noon the old spring will be packed with snorkelers and swimmers....
A string of shark attacks in North Carolina made for a good preamble for the Discovery Channel's Shark Week. As a surfer and former ocean lifeguard, I have great respect for the King of the Sea. But every time I hear the word "shark attack" I stop and wonder what really happened. Most of what I know about sharks has been learned on the job. Years ago, surfing at Ponce Inlet on Florida's east coast, I noticed that the locals knew when to pull their hands and feet out of the water. A hurricane, spinning more than 250 miles out in the Atlantic, had kicked up a swell that pushed big schools of bait up close to the beach. The fish, caught between two sandbars, had nowhere to go. So the sharks, mostly blacktips and spinners, swam through the swash channel eating at will. The surfers, well aware of the feeding habits of the resident apex predator, kept one eye on the waves and the other on the bait. When fish start jumping out of the water, it's time to bring in your appendages, and we hope, watch a shark swim harmlessly beneath your board....
WEST COAST CRAZE: PRIME SCALLOP GROUNDS
It's scallop season north of the Anclote River. You'll find Argopecten irradians scattered throughout the Gulf of Mexico, but the best places to find scallops are where freshwater rivers flow into the ocean. The state's prime scallop grounds — Steinhatchee, Homosassa and Crystal River — have the perfect combination of both fresh and saltwater....
Head up to Florida's prime scalloping grounds and try your hand at harvesting fresh Florida bay scallops. Scroll down for our how-to infographic.
HOMOSASSA - Standing on the dock at MacRae's, the quintessential Florida fish camp, the old-timers who gathered at the picnic tables were happy that the scallops were in.
The season had been open for a few days, and the best way to sample the state's sweetest, most succulent seafood is to go out and catch it yourself....
Top snook fishermen will tell you the key to success is timing. While tide and temperature are key, a knack for predicting the weather will serve an angler well this time of year. A successful angler must be smart, skillful and patient. Sometimes that means waiting till after the evening thunderstorm rolls through to go fishing. • Big snook, above and beyond the 34-inch slot limit, are females. They gather in coastal passes during the summer to spawn. The common snook, largest of the four species found in Florida waters (the other three are the sword-spined snook, fat snook and tarpon snook), is a finely tuned eating machine that will shut down when the barometric pressure drops. • A smart snook fisherman understands the factors that influence any species, including moon phase and tide, but the impact of weather, even a small localized thunderstorm, is often overlooked. That's why you should keep your snook outfit handy, right next to your umbrella and rain jacket. • Find a good weather site on your computer so you can watch the storm and wait until it is safe to hit the water. When there is no longer a threat of lightning, head out to your favorite snook spot and start casting. You will be glad you did....
07/02/15 Human Interest
ICHETUCKNEE SPRINGS STATE PARK — In the summer of 1539, the conquistador Hernando de Soto and several hundred men lumbered up the Florida peninsula and stopped by this spring-fed river to rest.
They had to be hot and tired after months on the trail and probably welcomed a respite in the cool, clear water. Given the choice of continuing into the unknown wilderness, or staying put and chilling out by the creek, more than one Spaniard probably chose the latter....
A HISTORY LESSON: DISCOVER THE FORT AT DE SOTO
Fort De Soto Park, once called America's best beach, has a lot going for it: an 800-foot boat ramp with 11 floating docks; a 238-site campground; two great swimming beaches; two fishing piers; 14 group picnic shelters; a 7-mile-long, 12-foot-wide paved recreation trail; a 2-mile canoe trail; and a 1-mile nature trail. There also are places to run, surf, kite surf, windsurf, skim board, mountain bike, skate, bird-watch, surf cast, even fish for tarpon. But this 900-acre natural wonderland, located at the southern tip of Pinellas County on Mullet Key, also has a rich history many visitors never see. In 1849, the island was surveyed by Robert E. Lee, who recommended the government build a fort. The Army got to work during the Spanish American War, but the battery never fired a shot. The park offers regular guided tours (check at the ranger station) or you can explore on your own. You also can catch a ferry and head to Egmont Key, which has its own set of battlements....
new size limit for amberjack is approved
Offshore anglers will have a new size limit for amberjack when the season reopens Aug. 1. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved new rules this week. Amberjack, known for their belly-bruising fighting ability, must now measure 34 inches fork length. State-water regulations in the Gulf will now be consistent with pending federal regulations. Stock assessments show greater amberjack in the Gulf of Mexico are overfished. Officials hope that the minimum size limit will mean more amberjack will reproduce before being harvested....