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Testing the waters

I would not call myself an outdoorswoman unless poolside lounging counts as an activity. That's why I enlisted the help of Capt.Dudley Lamy and his wife, Judy, when I decided to go boating on the Withlacoochee River.

Capt. Lamy has more than 30 years of boating and fishing experience on local waters, and is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed operator and guide. Who better to show me the river's riches than the Lamys? They recently published a book of Withlacoochee maps covering 60 miles of the river.

"Citrus County doesn't realize what an asset it has in this river," Judy Lamy said. "There's canoeing, kayaking, fishing for small fish and big fish, diving, snorkeling _ although the river does have some big alligators and some snakes."

That last bit gave me the willies as we made our first attempt at boating Saturday evening.

We took off from Grey Eagle ramp in a 14-foot aluminum lowe jon boat. But the rain came soon after we left, and Mother Nature spared me for a couple of days. On Tuesday morning, we launched again. It was the perfect temperature for my first Florida ride. The morning air was slightly cool.

"You can't get this kind of quiet and solitude at home," Capt. Lamy said. "A little further up, you totally lose the traffic noise."

Pay attention

We made our way southeast, gliding under the Highway 200 bridge. (Times photographer Steve Coddington would be nearly flattened by a beer truck while attempting to take a picture from the bridge on our way back.)

Luckily, (or unluckily, depending how you look at it) the only wildlife we saw were cows in the river as we went by the Drake Ranch.

But I was assured that there's plenty of reptilian life on the water and shore. In fact, the Lamys spotted a 12-foot alligator near Nobleton in October, and they even brought a picture. They were in only a 14-foot boat at the time, the same size as the one in which we rode.

My eyes were inspecting every splash or stick in the water. Capt. Lamy said boaters should pay attention to their surroundings when leaving a vessel. Rattlesnakes, water snakes and wild boars that inhabit the area sometimes are inhospitable.

"It's not a theme park. It's as nice as one, but " Capt. Lamy said.

"If you tick one of these off, they'll slash your legs off," he said of the boars. "They get to be 300-400 pounds and can put a hurtin' on you pretty bad."

We did see a deer, and that was perfectly fine by me.

At a bend in the river, we decided to turn around. In the middle of the bend were two big rocks. Lamy said that if the water was any lower, they would crush the motor.

A remarkable river

On our return, as the motor made foam balls in the water, I realized how beautiful the river is. In the Seminole language, Withlacoochee means "little great river,' which isn't far from the truth.

"A lot of people don't realize this is one of the few rivers that flow north. Then, up by Dunnellon, it turns west and dumps into the Gulf," Lamy said.

Since I've done a little fishing in my time, I was interested in the river's different species. Luckily, there are pictures of each type in the Lamys' book, so a novice like me could identify what's dangling from the end of the pole.

We passed a blue heron eating minnows _ an indication of a good fishing spot, Capt. Lamy said. According to the Lamys, there are many birds to be found, including owls and wild turkey.

The Lamys hit the river every weekend, never tiring of the experience. "Nothing like the smell of outboard fumes in the morning," Capt. Lamy said.

They've been enjoying the Withlacoochee since 1971, moving to the area from St. Petersburg in 1982. During our time together, the Lamys recounted the history of the river with reverence.

The making of the mapbook was a labor of love. The Lamys spent two years marking the river's every nook and cranny so experienced or inexperienced anglers, boaters, canoeists and kayakers could enjoy it. The experience made me glad I was able to see the Withlacoochee through their eyes.

BOATING BASICS

What To Bring

A life jacket for every person on board.

A rope or anchor.

A cell phone or two-way radio.

A distress signal such as a flare or a pocket mirror to reflect the sun.

Sunscreen and bugspray.

A cooler filled with goodies of your choice.

A gallon of bottled water for every person on board.

Rain gear.

What You'll See

BIRDS: Pleated woodpeckers, red hawks, owls, kingfishers, coot, marsh hens, egrets, ibis, blue herons and turkeys.

FISH: Bowfin, golden shiners, largemouth bass, longnose gar, warmouths, bluegill, longear sunfish and red breast sunfish.

OTHER WILDLIFE: Deer, raccoons, alligators, wild boar and snakes.

Quick Bytes

Check out these Web sites:

www.boat-ed.com/fl/ floridaconservation.org/law /boatsafe/bedfaq.htm

www.hometown.aol.com /captaindudleyj/myhome page/index.html

_ Complied by Kristen Leigh Porter.

Capt. Dudley Lamy cruises past the rocky shoreline of the Withlacoochee River near Stokes Ferry on Thursday morning. "Nothing like the smell of outboard fumes in the morning," Lamy says.

Cooler weather brings out biting fish and hopeful anglers. There are pictures of the Withlacoochee River's myriad fish in Lamy's recently published book, which provides detailed maps of the river for anglers, boaters and canoe and kayak enthusiasts. Lamy, a U.S. Coast Guard licensed operator and guide, has 30 years of experience on local waters.

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