Fishing, Sightseeing & Fun Boat Cruise Adventure for a Windy Florida Day

Speckled Trout Fun near Captiva and Sanibel Islands in Lee County, Florida.

  • Big Boat Comfort and Capability Allows for an Unforgettable Cruise Adventure
  • Enjoy Watching Loggerhead Turtles, Dolphins, Pelicans, Eagles, Osprey and Nature at Work
  • Fishing Fun – Sea Trout, Barracuda, Hammerhead Shark and Stingray
Dolphins followed us out and the ladies enjoyed every second of this personal adventure at sea. Forrest Fisher Photo

By Forrest Fisher

Vacation time in Florida can be such fun! My better half discovered that we were not far from Sanibel and Captiva, the shell treasure chest of the world. So Rose started to search out the adventure trail and found there were charter boats for fishing that would conduct shelling and eco-tour trips too. We had a match! Love that woman.

One phone call later, the date was set and the plan was solid with friends from Michigan to join us aboard Southern Instinct Charters with Captain Ryan Kane (http://www.southerninstinct.com/).  The plan, according to my better half, was to compromise fishing and touring, weather permitting, but there is not much weather that can hold back the capability and comfort aboard Captain Kane’s 36-foot long Contender.  With triple engines, getting to wherever you want to go is not an issue and it doesn’t take long to get there at about a mile a minute.

The long boat gave the four of us plenty of room to move around and we enjoyed comfy seating while listening to the stereo tunes of golden oldies and country western music. While the boat doesn’t appear to have a rest room, it does! The ladies were thrilled. I thought to myself, “We can do this again and stay longer!”

Remote islands near Sanibel and Captiva offer secret shelling treasure adventures for those that approach by boat. Forrest Fisher Photo

Bob and Shirley Holzhei, from Michigan, met Rose and I at 7:00 a.m. at Port Sanibel Marina. Captain Kane had the ice chest coolers filled with chilled beverages, snacks and plenty of water.  Live bait was in the rear well and we had an access ladder just in case we needed to search the offshore beaches for pirate treasure. This charter boat was perfect in every way, I knew we were in for the time of our life on this day.

One sad thing was that while the sky was clear of storm clouds, the weather report offered that the invisible wind was sending waves five to seven feet on the outdoor gulf waters. It looked like we might be looking at a rescheduled trip. Not for Captain Kane, he said, “OK, let’s go kids! No planning calendar today! We’ll just go out and have some fun. We’ll see how it really looks and if it’s too rough, we’ll tour North Captiva and Cayo Costa islands to be safe. We’ll fish for speckled trout with popping bobbers and live shrimp. We’ll have a great day! We’ll do the deep sea fishing to waters less travelled on another day. Sound ok?” Who could say no?!

Captain Kane was so reassuring, we were thrilled to be heading out of the marina with a cast of pelicans and dolphins that had found their way in there.  But we were not in Disney, this was real. The ladies loved every second. They never stop talking about it, even months later

The three giant outboard engines hummed up from idle speed to flyaway throttle and we were getting somewhere fast. Yikes! This was fun. About 5 miles out (4 minute drive time, we were airborne), Captain Kane said, “Looks like we made a good call, it’s so rough out there.”

I thought, for sure, there was no better way to spend the day with friends and it turned out to be a trip we will never forget.

We toured deserted outer islands and watched dolphins chase the boat, Rose said they were talking to us, but I thought they were playing. We watched loggerhead sea turtles – some were nesting on the isolated beaches, we saw a mother and father eagle feeding their young with fresh fish, watched ospreys capture fish after a 300 foot nose-dive, and we enjoyed a slow ride along areas protected from heavy surf. This was an adventure like none other.

Bobbers and live bait fishing is productive when the Captain knows where to anchor the boat. Forrest Fisher Photo

Not long later, Captain Kane asked about fishing and we were all in. The fishing license is included with Captain Kane’s charter license, so everyone wanted a rod. We anchored in a protected inshore area near a sandy point and deserted natural island where the tide current was holding shrimp and baitfish not far from the boat. Good captains know these gentle weed lines, clam beds and secret spots from years of trial and error.

Using a slip bobber that created a popping sound when pulled with a circle hook just below, offered a live shrimp to a hungry trout attracted by the sound. It did not take long for Captain Kane to have all of our lines in the right place.

A few minutes later, Shirley hollered, “Hey, I think I have one, it’s pulling so hard. Bob, please come help me.” Bob said, “I can’t, I got one too!” Forrest, “I don’t want to lose the rod, can you come back here please, Bob has a fish on too.” I hollered back, “I do too!” Rose was the only one that had just reeled her line in to check the bait and shared, “I’m coming back there to help you Shirley, hang on.” Captain Kane was helping everyone at the same time. Fun?! Are you kidding?! This was incredible. Unforgettable! Not your ordinary fire drill. Memories are made of this. Shirley landed a small hammerhead shark and was ecstatic, and scared too. “I caught a shark! Can you believe it?” Captain Kane was careful, but sure-handed with the small shark and Shirley had a chance to touch the skin. “It feels like sandpaper!” She screamed a bit. I think they were happy tones.

Shirley Holzhei landed a small hammerhead shark and enjoyed the thrill of touching the sandpaper-like skin for the first time. Forrest Fisher Photo

We landed 25 trout in only an hour or so, a shark, caught some wonderful warm sunshine. We also hooked a giant barracuda and lost it, then hooked and landed a giant stingray that took us 45 minutes to bring in. What a battle that was! Bob and I had to switch places a few times and do the anchor dance, under the line, over the line, under the line…stretch, oooohhhh, aaaahhhhh, ouch, roll, turn, don’t lose the rod. Man, what a time! More than 50 pounds in size, we landed the nearly 4-1/2 foot long winged sea creature that resembled a spaceship shape from a TV space show.

Rose Barus caught trout after trout, I think she might have been the hot fishing line in the boat. Forrest Fisher Photo

Captain Kane removed the stinger to make the large critter safe while aboard while we prepared to release back to nature, then gave me the 5-inch long stinger with directions to placed it in a bottle for safe travel home and soak it for 2 days in bleach to sterilize the poison normally found on the stingray barbs. “The stingray will grow it back,” said Captain Kane, “And the stingray is not harmed in any way.”

Captain Kane uses Dan James Fishing Rods in his boat because they are durable, lifetime guaranteed and made locally in Fort Myers (http://danjamesrodcompany.com/). They are guaranteed for life.

The 7’ lightweight fishing rods we used were so light, so strong and so just right.  I had to ask, what pound test was on that rod? “10 pound braid,” said Captain Kane. “Some of these rods, like the one that you caught that big stingray with, are new fishing rods in the development stage. I use only Dan James Custom Fishing Rods made right here locally in Fort Myers (http://danjamesrodcompany.com/). They cost more, but they are guaranteed for life, and Dan is a disabled military veteran and close friend, we fish often. You would never know he is disabled, he is an example for all of us who might think we have troubles. We share ideas about how to make fishing better for clients, how to make better boat adventure tours, better fishing rods and how to enjoy every single day we live life with our family and friends. We both share that kind of passion for our families and the outdoors.”

The stingray we landed took 45 minutes to bring aboard. Forest Fisher Photo

Captain Kane added, “Dan tests his rods with me and other charter captains, but in the shop too, you wouldn’t believe some of the abuse he wreaks on these blanks while testing them. He puts his rods together to be light and sensitive, yet uses a strong, high modulus blank so folks don’t get tired using the rods and can fish with confidence even when they hook a big fish like you did with that lightweight rod. You can push the limits with his rods.”

We headed back to the marina and all of us were happy to be on the water with such a knowledgeable captain. We explored and enjoyed some of the best that Southwest Florida has to offer. Captain said, “When you come back during summer, the winds are always lower in the warm months and we can run far without much trouble. We have natural and artificial reefs out here that hold giant gamefish like Tuna, Snapper, Grouper, Wahoo, Cobia, and more. We’ll do an offshore trip to have some fun with these, I’ll call you when it gets good! How’s that sound?”

Like music to my ears Captain Ryan. C’mon summer!

About Fort Myers: Our accommodations were nearby, but there are numerous choices. Visit this link for more info on charter fishing, lodging, beaches, hotels and Islandology (https://www.fortmyers-sanibel.com/islandology). 

Islandology, a new word for most of us. Very interesting video. Check it out. Click the picture.

FWC provides important Alligator Safety Advice

Report nuisance alligators by calling 866-FWC-Gator (392-4286).

Alligators can be dangerous.  Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Photo

Alligators become more active during warm weather months, and it’s not uncommon to see them throughout the state. Most interactions consist of seeing alligators at a distance. However, if you have a concern about a specific alligator, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) urges you to call their toll-free Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-FWC-GATOR (392-4286).

“The FWC places the highest priority on public safety,” said Eric Sutton, FWC’s executive director. “When someone calls our Nuisance Alligator Hotline to report an alligator they believe poses a threat, we dispatch one of our contracted nuisance alligator trappers to resolve the situation.”

Although alligator bite incidents resulting in serious injury are rare in Florida, the FWC recommends taking precautions when having fun in and around the water. Alligators inhabit all 67 counties in Florida and can be found anywhere there is standing water. Reduce the chances of conflicts with alligators by swimming only in designated swimming areas during daylight hours. Also keep pets on a leash and away from the water.

Because alligators control their body temperature by basking in the sun, they may be easily observed. However, the FWC urges people to keep their distance if they see one. And never feed alligators because it is dangerous and illegal.

The FWC also works to keep Floridians and visitors informed, including providing advice about Living with Alligators.

Learn more about alligators at MyFWC.com/Alligator.

 

 

Florida “TrophyCatch” celebrates first two Hall of Fame bass caught on Lake Istokpoga

  • There have been 430 Trophy Bass (8 lbs or more) caught in Lake Istokpoga since 2012
  • Only about a 1-hour drive from Orlando or Tampa
  • Many other large fish species live here too
 As an integral part of the Florida TrophyCatch program, all of these bass were released, so these trophies still swim in Lake Istokpoga.

Experienced TrophyCatch anglers Adrian “Lunker Louie” Echols and Syl Sims recently caught the program’s first two Hall of Fame largemouth bass on Lake Istokpoga. Louie’s catch weighed 13 pounds, 14 ounces, and Syl’s catch weighed 13 pounds, 4 ounces and was caught using the Enigma fishing rod that he received for his Season 5 Hall of Fame catch.

“We are thrilled to celebrate Louie’s and Syl’s Hall of Fame club catches on Lake Istokpoga,” said KP Clements, TrophyCatch director. “Both of these gentlemen have numerous catches in the program, which highlights their great skill in catching the bass of a lifetime and their commitment to conservation by submitting their data to TrophyCatch to assist in the management of Florida’s trophy bass fisheries.”

The 27,692-acre Lake Istokpoga boasts quality fishing for panfish, largemouth bass and many other game fish species.

Lake Istokpoga is five miles northeast of Lake Placid in Highlands County and about a one-hour drive from Tampa or Orlando, places that many folks know when they visit Florida. This 27,692-acre lake boasts quality fishing for panfish, largemouth bass and many other game fish species.

Since TrophyCatch was launched in 2012, there have been 430 TrophyCatch-approved largemouth bass weighing 8 pounds or heavier caught on Lake Istokpoga. A total of 347 fish have been entered into the Lunker Club (8-9.99 pounds), 81 into the Trophy Club (10-12.99 pounds), and Syl and Louie’s Hall of Fame catches make the first two Hall of Fame Club bass (13 pounds or more) caught on Lake Istokpoga in the program’s history. As an integral part of the TrophyCatch program, all of these bass were released, so these trophies still swim in Lake Istokpoga.

TrophyCatch Hall of Fame anglers each receive Bass Pro Shops gift cards, Spiderwire merchandise, a custom fiberglass replica mount made by New Wave Taxidermy, an Enigma fishing rod and a plaque from American Registry commemorating their catch.

TrophyCatch is a partnership between Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologists, anglers and fishing industry leaders such as Bass Pro Shops, that rewards the catch, documentation and release of largemouth bass weighing 8 pounds or heavier in Florida. In order to be eligible for prizes, anglers are required to submit photos or videos of their catch to TrophyCatch.com, showing the entire fish and its weight on a scale, before releasing it back into the water. FWC biologists use TrophyCatch data to make informed decisions about the management of Florida bass fisheries and to promote the catch and release of trophy bass.

The FWC encourages anglers to join TrophyCatch as citizen-scientists that assist in fisheries management and the conservation of Florida’s lakes and rivers. A TrophyCatch mobile app is available for download on both Apple and Android devices. For more information about the TrophyCatch program, email Amber Nabors at Amber.Nabors@MyFWC.com.

In Florida? Go HOG WILD this spring and summer!

  • Outta’ the Woods – Monday, April 02, 2018
  • Where to go hunt

By Tony Young

Wild pigs can reach weights of more than 150 pounds and be 5-6 feet long. Florida Fish & Wildlife Photo

Did you know the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) offers late spring and summer hog hunts on several wildlife management areas across the state? And you don’t even need a hunting license to participate in these great opportunities.

Wild hogs, also called wild pigs, wild boars and feral pigs, are not native to Florida but were introduced over 500 years ago by Spanish explorers. They can be found in all of Florida’s 67 counties within a wide variety of habitats, but prefer oak-cabbage palm hammocks, freshwater marshes, sloughs and pine flatwoods.

Wild hogs are not protected by law as a game species but are the second most popular large animal hunted in Florida (second only to the white-tailed deer). Wild hogs can weigh more than 150 pounds and be 5-6 feet long. They eat plants and animals, and feed by rooting with their broad snouts, which can damage native habitats and ground cover vegetation. It’s easy to spot where hogs have been because they often leave areas looking like plowed fields.

Because of their destructive nature and prolific breeding, and because hunters want more hog hunting opportunities, the FWC, along with help from other public land managers, have been establishing more hog hunts over the past few years. This spring and summer, there will be numerous hog hunts (mostly on weekends) on several WMAs – two of which kick off this month, with the majority of these hunts starting in May. Some offer still hunting for hogs during daylight hours, others are nighttime hog-dog hunts – and half of them offer both.

Most of the areas are walk-in and don’t require a quota permit. All that is needed to hunt hogs on the following areas during these listed spring and summer dates is a $26.50 management area permit, which can be purchased in Florida at county tax collectors’ offices and at most retail outlets that sell hunting/fishing supplies, and with a credit card by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA (486-8356) or at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.

But before you go, be sure to go online at MyFWC.com/WMAbrochures and check out the area’s regulations brochure to find out all the specific details on the hunt, including access, allowable methods of take, hunting hours, rules on camping and more.

2018 spring and summer hog hunting is available on these WMAs during the following dates, and no quota permit is needed:

Terry Horton Hog

Andrews
(Levy County) Still hunting only: 25 daily quota permits available each day at check station on first-come basis

May 4-6, 11-13

Apalachicola Bradwell Unit
(Liberty County)

Dog Hunt

May 4-6
June 1-3
July 13-15
Aug. 3-5
Sept. 7-9

Still Hunt

May 18-20
June 15-17
July 20-22
Aug. 17-19
Sept. 21-23

Apalachicola River
(Franklin and Gulf counties)

Dog and Still Hunting

May 18-20
June 15-17
July 20-22
Aug. 17-19
Sept. 21-23

Aucilla
(Jefferson and Taylor counties)

Dog and Still Hunting

May 11-13
June 8-10
July 13-15
Aug. 10-12
Sept. 7-9

Hog Matt ShulerBeaverdam Creek
(Liberty County)

Dog and Still Hunting

May 11-13
June 8-10
July 13-15
Aug. 10-12
Sept. 14-16

Blackwater
(Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties)

Dog and Still Hunting

May 4-6, 18-20
June 1-3, 15-17
July 6-8, 20-22
Aug. 3-5, 17-19
Sept. 7-9, 21-23

Blackwater Hutton Unit
(Santa Rosa County)

Dog and Still Hunting

May 18-20
June 15-17
July 20-22
Aug. 17-19
Sept. 21-23

Chipola River
(Jackson and Calhoun counties)

Still hunting only

May 11-13
June 8-10
July 13-15
Aug. 10-12
Sept. 14-16

Escambia River
(Escambia and Santa Rosa counties)

Still and dog hunting

May 11-13
June 8-10
July 13-15
Aug. 10-12
Sept. 14-16

John G. and Susan H. DuPuis Jr.
(Martin County)

Still hunting only

April 14-22
May 12-20

Kissimmee Chain of Lakes Area
(Osceola and Polk counties)

Still and dog hunting

Open to year-round hog hunting

Management area permit not required

Kissimmee Chain of Lakes Rolling Meadows Unit
(Polk county)

Still and dog hunting

Open to year-round hog hunting

Management area permit not required

Ochlockonee River
(Leon County)

Still hunting only

May 4-6
June 1-3
July 6-8
Aug. 3-5
Sept. 7-9

Richloam
(Sumter and Lake counties)

Dog hunting only

April 27-29

Royce Unit – Lake Wales Ridge
(Highlands County)

Still Hunting Only

May 5-6, 12-13

Yellow River
(Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties)

Still hunting only

July 13-15
Aug. 10-12
Sept. 7-9

 


These hog hunts (below) require a quota permit, and they can be applied for between May 15 – June 15 at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com External Website:

Box-R
(Franklin and Gulf Counties)

Dog Hunting Only

May 11-13 *
June 8-10 *
July 13-15
Aug. 10-12
Sept. 14-16

Jennings Forest
(Clay and Duval counties)

Still hunting only

May 4-6 *, 18-20 *
June 1-3 *

 

Fishing the Gulf of Mexico

  • Fishing Fun, Seashells, Sightseeing and Dolphins near Port Sanibel, in Southwest Florida 
  • Bobbers, Shrimp, Speckled Trout and FEW SUPRISES made for a VERY RELAXING DAY
  • Screeching Drags, Fully-arched Rods, Tight Lines & Good Knots

By Bob Holzhei

Dolphins followed the boat, surfacing numerous times, as three 250 horsepower Yamaha engines powered the 36 foot Contender.  Shirley Holzhei Photo

The 36-foot Contender was impressive as we walked down the dock right after sunrise.  There were three 250 horsepower Yamaha outboards on the stern and we were met with a giant warm greeting from Captain Ryan Kane of Southern Instinct Fishing Charters.  The targeted species for the all-day charter included Kingfish, Mackerel, Barracuda and Cobia, according to Kane.

I had fished the Gulf of Mexico for the first time, years ago, as one of a dozen outdoor writers selected from the United States.  The group was chosen from the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers and included a writer from Outdoor Life Magazine in New York.

The opportunity to fish the ocean out of Port Sanibel, Florida, was exciting.  Fellow outdoor writer Dave Barus, his wife Rose and my wife Shirley, all joined up for the all-day charter fishing trip.  The trip had been cancelled twice due to high seas and on this day, the winds did the same, but we went anyway.  The seas started at two feet, but eventually rose and crested to five-foot levels, which resulted in pulling the lines and fishing the shelter between two islands closer to shore.

Our trip began with a slow troll out of Port Sanibel Marina and then the fun started, as Captain Kane increased our speed to 30 mph.  The three outboards roared, though they were just at half-throttle.  The scent of the ocean salt water, the memory of over-cresting waves and the spray from the wake slapping the boat was frozen in time.  As we arrived at the fishing grounds the lines were let out 90 feet behind the boat.

“I use 15 pound braid and 60 to 80-pound test fluorocarbon leader line spooled on the Shimano reels.  These are mounted on my Dan James Custom Rods that I use because of their ability to hold up under the challenge of big, bad, ocean fish,” stated Kane.

My wife, Shirley, landed a playful Bonnet-head Shark which was carefully released by conservation-minded, Captain Ryan Kane. Bob Holzhei photo

“The Dan James Custom Rods do exactly what they’re intended to do.  Other rods break under the pressure.  The Shimano reels are ergonomically correct and anglers have an easier time with these reels, they’re a step above other reels. The way the reel is made, the size of the handle and the ease of using it, is worth the cost,” added Kane.

Kane field tests several other Dan James Custom Rods that are in the prototype or development stage prior to these going into production.

The wind speed rose yet again to 35 mph and Captain Kane was forced to head for calmer waters.  We boated towards the safety of islands and dolphins surfaced, following us for the fun of jumping in the boat wake.  Time stopped again and I also became air-born, but unlike the dolphins, I would not reenter the ocean.  Rather, I would take flight on the never-ending memory of such an incredible experience. The dolphins were only three to four feet away!  Their eyes and expressions were talking to me.

Eventually, we stopped to fish in a sheltered and secret Captain Kane spot.  We caught speckled ocean trout and these have a slot limit between 15 and 20 inches under Florida fishing regulations.  In addition, Shirley caught a handsome Bonnet Head Shark and we released it unharmed.

“Fish on!” Rose Barus yelped from the front of the boat.

I grabbed the rod that was in a rod holder right next to me.  The drag was screaming!  This was a bigger fish as line screeched and shouted from the Shimano open-face reel.  I tightened the drag on the reel, but the fish was too green yet in its attempt to free itself from the hook.  After 15 minutes or so, my arms and shoulders tired and I asked Dave Barus to take over.  Barus moved from side to side of the boat as the fight continued bow to aft.

Outdoor buddy, Dave Barus, holds up a Stingray after the venomous stinger was removed, as I watch in the background. Shirley Holzhei Photo

Finally we saw the fish, it was not a fish!  It was a Stingray!  The 40-45-pound Stingray stretched over three feet in width.  When it first surfaced, I got my first look at it and it dove down deep again in an attempt to free itself.  It surfaced a number of times, going under the boat in an attempt to get loose.  Barus put his finger on the drag spool in order to add slightly more manual drag and keep the reel from burning up.  The spool holding the line was actually hot.  The battle lasted over 45 minutes before a gaff hook was carefully placed to bring the Stingray aboard where the venomous stinger was cut off by Captain Kane.  The captain provided us with instructions to place the stinger in an empty water bottle for now and then later, add bleach until the stinger turned white.  The venom would be neutralized then and safe to handle.  Another stinger would grow on the ray.

“Get over here Bob, and get in the picture,” stated Rose Barus.

Following some quick photos, the Stingray was released into the ocean and swam back into its natural habitat.

“Southern Instinct Charters offers a world-class fishing adventure off the waters of Fort Myers and Sanibel Island.  Tarpon, Kingfish, Redfish, monster Snook, Wahoo, Tuna, Red Snapper, Cobia and sharks are additional species that Captain Kane will target at your request.  Inshore and offshore fishing adventures are offered, in addition to shelling and sightseeing trips.

The memory of the day-long fishing charter will live on forever in my mind and I will once again experience fishing the Gulf of Mexico in the future to escape the frigid Michigan winter for this warmer climate.

Fishing the Gulf of Mexico was the fishing adventure of a lifetime and I plan now to return again and again to re-live the permanent memory of this experience.  I will fish with Kane another year and it is no surprise to me that his open date list is short.

For anyone from across the country, if you seek the fun of a new big fish adventure, choose Southern Instinct Fishing Charters. It’ll be trip of a lifetime.

For additional information:  www.southerninstinct.com phone 239 896-2341 and Lee County CVB/The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel Island www.fort-myers-sanibel.com 1 800 237-6444  

Early Spring TURKEY SEASON – a Special Florida Resource

  • Florida Turkey Season is OPEN
  • Osceola Turkeys are Common in Florida
  • Wild turkeys are a Conservation Success Story in Florida & Across North America

By Tammy Sapp, Florida FWC

Osceola wild turkeys. FWC photo by Chad Weber.

Florida’s spring turkey season opened on Saturday, March 3, on private lands south of State Road 70, making it one of the first spring turkey hunting opportunities in the country. Florida is also the only place in the world where the Osceola subspecies of wild turkey is found. Also known as the Florida wild turkey, abundant populations of this subspecies live only on the Florida peninsula. It’s similar to the eastern wild turkey subspecies, which is found in north Florida and throughout the eastern United States, but tends to be smaller and darker with less white barring on the wings.

Hunting wild turkeys is popular in Florida and throughout North America. One reason people enjoy it is the range of calls wild turkeys make. The most recognized call is gobbling, which is most often associated with male birds, or gobblers, during spring when they breed. The gobbler will fan out its tail, puff out its feathers, strut and gobble to attract hens. Hunters pursue this wary bird by imitating various turkey calls to bring gobblers in close.

Getting to see a male wild turkey’s courtship ritual is exciting for new hunters as well as those with years of experience.

Another benefit of turkey hunting, for those lucky enough to harvest a gobbler, is that the meat is a good source of healthy, organic protein.

“Spring turkey season gives hunters the chance to share a delicious wild game meal with friends and family. It’s also a great time to share the turkey hunting experience with someone who has never tried it,” said Roger Shields, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Wild Turkey Management Program coordinator. “The weather is mild, the spring woods are beautiful, and the thrill of hearing a gobbler respond to your calls is a wonderful memory you can share with a new hunter.”

Wild turkeys are a conservation success story in Florida and across North America. They had almost disappeared by the turn of the 20th century, with populations remaining only in remote pockets of habitat. However, thanks to science-based wildlife restoration efforts, today Osceola and eastern wild turkeys are flourishing throughout the state.

North of State Road 70, Florida’s spring turkey season on private lands opened on Saturday, March 17. Florida’s wildlife management area system also offers opportunities for turkey hunters, and because dates and regulations can vary, hunters are encouraged to review the regulations brochure for the WMA they plan to hunt.

FWC wildlife professionals use scientific data to conserve wild turkey populations and provide regulated and sustainable hunting opportunities. Hunters also play an important role in wild turkey management by purchasing licenses and permits, and along with other shooting sports enthusiasts, contributing to the successful Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program. External Website

Get a snapshot of Florida’s wild turkey season dates and bag limits by visiting MyFWC.com/Hunting and clicking “Season Dates.” Learn more about wild turkeys by choosing “Species Profiles” at MyFWC.com/WildlifeHabitats.

Help NESTING SEA TURTLES, Keep Beaches Dark and Free of Obstacles at Night

  • Bright Beachfront Lighting Can MISDIRECT Nesting Sea Turtles -Turn it Off
  • Loggerhead, Leatherback and Green SEA TURTLES are Nesting Right Now
  • Report Sick, Injured or Entangled Sea Turtles to FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline, 1-888-404-FWCC (3922)
Nesting loggerhead sea turtle. Photo by Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Keeping beaches dark at night and free of obstacles will help sea turtles during their nesting season, which begins in Florida on March 1 and lasts through the end of October.

Bright artificial lighting can misdirect and disturb nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings, so beachgoers should avoid using flashlights or cellphones at night. Turning out lights or closing curtains and shades in buildings along the beach after dark will ensure nesting turtles are not disturbed as they come ashore and hatchlings will not become disoriented when they emerge from their nests. Clearing away boats and beach furniture at the end of the day and filling in holes in the sand are also important because turtles can become trapped in furniture and get trapped in holes on the beach.

Florida’s beachfront residents and visitors taking these actions will help conserve the loggerhead, leatherback and green sea turtles that nest on the state’s coastlines.

“Keeping Florida’s beaches dark and uncluttered at night can help protect sea turtles that return to nest on our beaches,” said Dr. Robbin Trindell, who heads the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) sea turtle management program. “Many agency partners, such as nature centers, marine turtle permit holders and local governments, contribute greatly to sea turtle conservation. But caring beachgoers can also make a significant difference in helping nesting and hatchling sea turtles survive.”

Exactly when sea turtle nesting season starts depends on where you are in Florida. While it begins in March on the Atlantic coast from Brevard through Broward counties, it starts later in the spring, in late April or May, along the northeast Atlantic, the Keys and Gulf coasts.

Wherever you are, other ways to help sea turtles include properly disposing of fishing line to avoid entanglements, and reporting those that are sick, injured, entangled or dead to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone.

Purchasing a “Helping Sea Turtles Survive”  Florida license plate at Buyaplate.com  contributes to sea turtle research, rescue and conservation efforts. People also can donate $5 and receive an FWC sea turtle decal.

Go to MyFWC.com/SeaTurtle for more information on Florida’s sea turtles, then click on “Research,” then “Nesting” for more data on sea turtle nesting.

Photos are available on the FWC’s Flickr site: http://bit.ly/2bwCAj5.  Sea turtle nesting video B-roll available on FWC’s Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/257783160 

Spring Break on Sanibel and Captiva Island

  • Where Spring Breakers meet Wave Breakers with Sunrise, Sunshine, Sea Shells & a Sunset Cruise 

@pinkhairgreenthumb

A spring break vacation doesn’t have to include spring breakers. If you’re looking for a getaway that’s more laid-back than party-central, there are plenty of beaches to consider – but there aren’t many as memorable as those found on Sanibel and Captiva Islands.

With miles of white sand and inviting lighthouses, there’s no shortage of peaceful beach escapes along these islands’ coastlines. Just because these secluded islands boast uncrowded beaches doesn’t mean they’re shy about events and activities. Read on to discover how to create timeless memories in these coastal communities. 

Make yourself at home

Forget all-night parties and opt in to warm, Gulf of Mexico waters, vivid wildlife and seaside charm. Quaint inns like the Beach Cottages of Sanibel offer cozy places to unwind, while properties like Captiva Island Inn offer stunning views of both Captiva Island beach and the bay, leaving you with plenty of options for beachfront dining, water sports, and more. 

 

@love_adventure_sunshine

Discover a shelling state of mind

Shell collectors travel from all over the world to explore the world-renowned beaches of Sanibel and Captiva Islands. Thanks to their gently sloping shores, the north-flowing Gulf Stream rolls hundreds of species of shells onto their beaches every day. There’s no family scavenger hunt like a shell-hunting contest. One that ends with finding natural keepsakes you’ll treasure for years to come. 

 

@sheshorelikestobeach

Let the water take you away

On Sanibel and Captiva Islands, the local marinas, resorts and outfitters offer a variety of cruises, kayaks, sailboats, paddleboats and more to get you safely on the water. Captiva Cruises shows you a Florida sunset the way it’s meant to be seen: On the water. If you’re looking to explore something more remote, book a day trip to Cabbage Key, Useppa Island, Boca Grande or Cayo Costa State Park.

 

Dive in to sea life

You will be amazed with the variety of wildlife surrounding these laid-back beaches. Cruise to an uninhabited island for a chance to see manatees, dolphins and other wildlife up close. Kayak through mangrove forests and find yourself immersed in the mangrove ecosystem. Let island time sink in as you surround yourself with wading birds, back bay waters, and a natural experience you are sure to remember.

The relaxed, quiet pace of life on Sanibel and Captiva Islands offers a unique charm. For more ways to experience Southwest Florida’s relaxed rhythms and beautiful shorelines, explore all our communities and find the getaway that’s right for your spring break vacation.

Click on picture to order your free guidebook.

 

Red Tide MAROONS Bluebill Ducks

By Robin Jenkins, DVM

As of Dec. 28, 2017, Peace River Wildlife Center has had a tragic influx of patients in the past few weeks.  We have taken in over 40 lesser scaups (locally called bluebills by many people), mostly found in the Port Charlotte Beach and Bayshore Park areas.  Many of them died in transport or shortly after arrival, and more were found dead on site.  It is assumed that red tide is the culprit, and we are treating the surviving patients accordingly—with moderate success if they get into treatment early enough.

Thanks to some alert community members, more birds were brought to us while they still had a chance for recovery.  PRWC’s volunteer rescuers Barb and Tom Taylor were instrumental in getting many birds to us.  They patrolled the areas where most of the debilitated birds were found numerous times daily, at dawn and during tide changes. 

One boater pulled a white pelican out of the water near the mouth of the Myakka River. He then drove his boat to the El Jobean bridge where he met PRWC rescuers Lee and Charlotte Dewitt, who in turn drove the bird to PRWC.  

A lady hopped the sea wall, scratching up her legs in the process, to collect a scaup who was drowning on the shore of Charlotte Harbor.  A man pulled a scaup out of the water and into his kayak, and then paddled for close to two hours to get the distressed bird to us.  Another man jumped the fence at TT’s Tiki Bar to rescue a scaup from the rocks. 

The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Department Marine Unit patrolled the shores and kept us apprised of what they found.  Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) also patrolled the areas and helped us with rescues.  They also transported the birds that did not survive for necropsy. 

Lesser scaups are a medium-sized duck that nests in the boreal forests of Central Alaska and Manitoba.  They migrate in late fall, among the last to leave as ponds freeze over.  In the winter they can be found in the Gulf region, Mexico, Central America, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean.  Males and non-breeding females head out slightly earlier for southern locales.  Breeding females stay with their broods as long as possible before embarking on the chicks’ first journey. 

Since the lesser scaup is one of the last species to migrate back up north in the spring to begin breeding, their offspring are quite young during their first fall migration.  They are a precocial species, and chicks are hatched with their eyes open, covered in down, and able to move around on their own.  The youngsters leave the nest within hours of hatching and feed themselves immediately.  They can dive the day they are hatched, but are too buoyant to stay down long.  By five to seven weeks, they are capable of diving up to 60 feet and staying down for up to 25 seconds.

A rather distinctive diving duck, the lesser scaup is similar in appearance to the great scaup, which is only slightly larger, but rarely frequents Southwest Florida.  The male has a black domed head, neck, and mantle. His irises are a brilliant yellow and his bill is slate blue (hence the colloquial name).   The female is a greyish-brown, with olive-green irises and a dark bill with white feathers at the base.  Both sexes have white bellies and secondary wing feathers with a dark band at the edge, visible in flight.

The lesser scaup is carnivorous.  Its diet is primarily comprised of crustaceans, insects, and mollusks.  While it is one of the most widespread ducks in North America, it is not well studied, especially in the Southwest Florida region.

The one positive note of losing all these birds, is that FWC will be able to study the ducks that did not survive and learn more about this species, especially as it pertains to those migrating to and through this area.  While routinely a late migrator (September to November), the peak scaup migration usually occurs in mid- to late November.  This rather late migration, combined with a local red tide outbreak, may have been too much for the birds.  If there are any other factors involved, FWC will find out and notify us.  The results of those tests will be invaluable to us in treating the current birds as well as future patients.

PRWC wants to commend the local community members who went out of their way to help us with numerous rescues.  We are also grateful to those who donated toward care of these critically ill birds, which is quite labor-intensive and demands the use of a lot of expensive supplies.  Whether you concur with famed elder statesperson Clinton about the necessity of collaboration for childhood upbringing, it does indeed take a village to conserve wildlife, and we are grateful for the support of our village-community.

 

 

FLW Kicks Off 2018 Pro-Competition on Lake Okeechobee – Clewiston, Florida

  • Fallen Angler, Nik Kayler, to be Honored by FLW Family
  • Competition Launch set for Jan. 23-28, 2018 at the Big-O, in Clewiston, Florida
  • Scott Martin says, “Lake Okechobee is “Fishing Different” in the Past Few Years.”
Scott Martin is among top FLW competitors at Lake Okeechobee.

January 17, 2018; FLW Communications; CLEWISTON, Fla. – When Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) co-angler Nik Kayler lost his life in an unexpected tragedy in an event in early January, it saddened the entire bass-fishing industry.  Now, FLW is tasked with moving forward through the grief and getting back to competition on the water next week in their return to Lake Okeechobee.

“We’ve had thorough and thoughtful internal discussions as a company and the decision was made that we need to get back on the water,” said FLW President of Operations Kathy Fennel. “We are still grieving as an organization, but fishing tournaments are what we do. It is what Nik loved, too. Getting back on the water, at Lake Okeechobee, is a way to help with the grieving process. Nik and his family will be on the minds of every single angler and staff member throughout the tournament.

“We will honor and remember Nik and his family throughout the weekend, as well as encourage our staff, anglers and fans to donate to the GoFundMe campaign that has been organized for Nik’s family. We will honor Nik by continuing to pursue the sport that we all love.”

The FLW Tour, the most competitive Tour in professional bass-fishing, will launch its 23rd season next week, Jan. 25-28, with the FLW Tour at Lake Okeechobee presented by Evinrude. Hosted by Roland & Mary Ann Martin’s Marina and Resort and the Hendry County Tourism Development Council, the tournament will feature 374 of the world’s best bass-fishing professionals and co-anglers casting for top awards of up to $125,000 cash in the pro division and up to $25,000 cash in the co-angler division.

The FLW Tour has visited Lake Okeechobee 20 times previously, with 2018 marking the 21st visit in FLW’s 23-year history. The total purse for the FLW Tour at Lake Okeechobee presented by Evinrude is more than $930,000, including $10,000 through 60th place in the Pro Division.

“Lake Okeechobee is fishing quite a bit differently than the last six or seven times that the FLW Tour has been here,” said local FLW Tour pro Scott Martin of Clewiston, a 17-time Forrest Wood Cup qualifier with more than $2.7 million in career earnings in FLW competition. “The water levels are much higher this year, and we lost a good amount of our vegetation in some of the more traditional places due to the hurricane last fall. The wind and water clarity are going to play a big role in this tournament and a lot of guys that have been coming here for years are going to have to approach this tournament quite a bit different than they normally would.

“The good news is that the fish didn’t leave, and they still have to eat,” Martin continued. “Some of the traditional areas will still be good, but there will definitely be a few new wildcard areas. Somebody is going to figure out a way to catch them in the stained water.”

Martin said that due to stained water and lost vegetation, he expects moving baits to play a larger role than normal this time around.

“I think moving baits like Rat-L-Traps and ChatterBaits will be pretty good,” he said. “Flipping will also play a big factor this year. We’re fishing a little earlier than we normally do, and January is still prime flipping season. With some stable weather being forecast, I could also see another wave of bass moving up to spawn and sight-fishing playing a role as well. It’s going to be an interesting tournament.

“The weights may be down just a little bit, but it’s still Lake Okeechobee and the potential is always there for a mega-bag, especially if you can find a wildcard area to yourself,” Martin went on to say. “I think the winner will likely have a four-day total around 74 to 76 pounds, but if a guy can find the mega-juice flipping or out in open water, the potential is always there to challenge 100 pounds.”

Anglers will take off at 7:30 a.m. EST each day from Roland & Mary Ann Martin’s Marina and Resort, located at 920 E. Del Monte, Ave., in Clewiston. Thursday and Friday’s weigh-ins, Jan. 25-26, will be held at the resort beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday’s weigh-ins, Jan. 27-28, will also be held at the resort, but will begin at 4 p.m.

Television coverage of the FLW Tour at Lake Okeechobee presented by Evinrude will premiere in high-definition (HD) on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) March 28 from Noon-1 p.m. EST. The Emmy-nominated “FLW” television show airs on NBCSN, the Pursuit Channel and the World Fishing Network and is broadcast to more than 564 million households worldwide.

Prior to the weigh-ins Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 27-28, FLW will host a free Family Fishing Expo at Roland & Mary Ann Martin’s Marina and Resort from noon to 4 p.m. each day. The Expo is a chance for fishing fans to meet their favorite anglers, enjoy interactive games, activities and giveaways provided by FLW sponsors, and learn more about the sport of fishing and other outdoor activities.

Also for youth, the FLW Foundation’s Unified Fishing Derby will be held at the marina on Saturday, Jan. 27 from 9-11 a.m. The event is hosted by FLW Foundation pro Cody Kelley along with other FLW Tour anglers, and is free and open to anyone under the age of 18 and Special Olympics athletes. Rods and reels are available for use, but youth are encouraged to bring their own if they own one. The 1st and 2nd place anglers that catch the biggest fish will be recognized Saturday on the FLW Tour stage, just prior to the pros weighing in.

As part of the FLW Tour’s community outreach initiative, FLW Tour anglers will visit patients, guests and staff at the Hendry Regional Medical Center, located at 524 W. Sagamore Ave., in Clewiston on Wednesday, Jan. 24 from 8:30-10 a.m. to interact with guests, snap photos and sign autographs for patients, give away some goodie bags and share fishing stories.

In FLW Tour competition, pros and co-anglers are randomly paired each day, with pros supplying the boat, controlling boat movement and competing against other pros. Co-anglers fish from the back deck against other co-anglers. The full field of 374 anglers competes in the two-day opening round. Co-angler competition concludes following Friday’s weigh-in, while the top 30 pros based on their two-day accumulated weight advance to Saturday. Only the top 10 pros continue competition Sunday, with the winner determined by the heaviest accumulated weight from the four days of competition.

Throughout the season, anglers are also vying for valuable points in hopes of qualifying for the 2018 Forrest Wood Cup, the world championship of professional bass fishing. The 2018 Forrest Wood Cup will be on Lake Ouachita in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Aug. 10-12 and is hosted by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism and Visit Hot Springs.

For complete details and updated information visit FLWFishing.com. For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow the sport’s top anglers on the FLW Tour on FLW’s social media outlets at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat.

About FLW: FLW is the world’s largest tournament-fishing organization, providing anglers of all skill levels the opportunity to compete for millions in prize money in 2018 across five tournament circuits. Headquartered in Benton, Kentucky, with offices in Minneapolis, FLW and their partners conduct 286 bass-fishing tournaments annually around the world, including the United States, Canada, China, Italy, South Korea, Mexico, Portugal, and South Africa. FLW tournament fishing can be seen on the Emmy-nominated “FLW” television show, broadcast to more than 564 million households worldwide, while FLW Bass Fishing magazine delivers cutting-edge tips from top pros. For more information visit FLWFishing.com and follow FLW at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat.

 

Fishing Southwest Florida with “Fishin’ Frank”

  • Common Answers and Fishing Solutions, Eye to Eye
  • Rods, Reels, Lines, Baits, Hooks and Rigs – Learn for Free
  • Where to Fish, Where to Park, What to Use, When to Go – Can it Get Any Better?!
  • Black Bass, Grouper, Snook, Crappie, Redfish, the list is LONG
  • Saltwater and Freshwater Goodness Tales of Help for Every Angler

By Forrest Fisher

Pier fishing in Charlotte Harbor Park is much easier and much more productive with advice from Fishin’ Frank. Forrest Fisher Photo

While visiting a bait shop in Port Charlotte (Florida), I met a young-minded, white bearded, guy that the locals call “Fishin’ Frank.”  He was talking to a gentleman angler and his friend in the store about tackle to use in saltwater.  The guy was a fisherman from Minnesota.  With a half grin, he said, “Frankly, have you ever heard of catching giant gag grouper on plastic-tail black bass baits?  How about goliath grouper on a Carolina rig? Or giant snook on a freshwater Storm Twitch stick bait? Redfish on Zoom plastic worms…with a bobber?” The room went silent. “Nope,” the guy answered.  “Let’s talk simple,” Frank added.

Making common sense of non-sense is something that this witty expert angler guy in southwest Florida does every day to help others understand how to catch fish in saltwater.

Jeff Liebler loves to catch tasty saltwater sheepshead and this is one species anglers can catch from shore and off common fishing piers all along the gulf in January and February.  Forrest Fisher Photo

In a few short seconds, I discovered Fishin’ Frank knew more about catching fish than most people who spend all their recreational time fishing might know.

At his bait shop called “Fishin’ Franks” (http://www.fishinfranks.com/) you’ll encounter the best part of your future fishing day: Frank makes it his mission, for the moments with you, to share his knowledge when he senses what you need to know. You need to ask what it is you want to know first, after that just LISTEN (listen good).

Why does he do this? He’s a common sense guy that understands nature, forage, predator fish, the moon, the tides, his budget, your budget, his time, your time and, after a few minutes, your needs.  Simply said, Frank likes to help people.

Catch fish or not, it’s fun to talk to this guy.  Frank is friendly, accurate, an eternal optimist, and he’s there to come back to…if you catch ‘em or not – to answer more questions from you.

We all like people like this, but beyond that, Fishin’ Frank goes the extra mile to pursue the answers and solutions for you when he asks, “Did I answer your question?  Do you have any more questions? Do you wanna know where to go fish while you’re here? From shore or boat?” Yep, hard to find this anywhere else in the country and world, I have fished those places and can confirm there is no other around exactly like Fishin’ Frank…who shares for free.

If you are a fisherman that loves to fish and catch fish, Fishin’ Frank’s Bait and Tackle Shop on Highway 41 (4425 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte, Fl., 33980; 941-625-3888) is your “one-stop/must-go” place to visit.  After that, if you’re lucky and there is an open slot, sign up for his free fishing seminars held on the second Tuesday and Wednesday of the month.

Giant crappie are among freshwater fish that abound in the freshwater canals of Port Charlotte. Simple jigs, small blade baits and live minnows are top baits.  Forrest Fisher Photo

The seminars run from 7PM – 8PM at Luigi’s Restaurant in Port Charlotte, most folks start getting there around 5:30PM, they want a good seat. While there, you can eat, drink and be merry, while asking questions to quiet your quest for more information and savvy know-how and what-to-do stuff from Frank and the charter captain experts that talk with him.  Best of all, everyone else there is a fisherman too, you’ll meet others that fish and know the area. Very cool if you are a visitor or resident.

In Frank’s little bait shop (not that little), the only thing you’ll find are hundreds of lures, hooks, floats, plastics, rods, reels and lines and fishing stuff that works in this fishing area for freshwater and saltwater fishing.  And, at prices that can match on-line sales. How can Fishin Frank do this?  The simple answer: sheer volume.  He sells everything he carries right off the wall as soon as it gets there. Franks says, “I order lures by the thousands and still can’t keep up with the hot colors. For some lures like the Storm Twitch, I order 1200 at a time and they are gone very quickly.” If you and I visit there, we’ll find answers and solutions to our fish-catching problems at little cost to us. Quite amazing.

This past week at Frank’s seminar, Charter Cayle Wills of Bad Fish Charters (http://www.reelbadfish.com/home.htm), originally from Warren, Pennsylvania, where he cut his teeth on tiny trout streams, was one of two guest speakers.  Captain Karl Butigian, Back Country Charter (https://www.kbbackcountrychartersfishing.com/), local native from Port Charlotte, also joined Fishing Frank to free the confusion about fishing the waters Port Charlotte, Florida. These guys offer charter fishing from their boats, or they will go with you in your boat for half price. Hard to match that offer.

The discussion this week was about using your freshwater lures to catch saltwater fish. Was it interesting? Indeed, it was eye-opening in a world of when it seems common sense is uncommon to find.

This column will begin a multi-part series about using those lures, the how, the where, and the what, from the information shared by this dynamic three-some of fishing experts.  Look for Fishin Frank’s – Part 1 next week.  To jump start you, need to know where to start fishing from shore? Frank has that for you! Look here: http://www.fishinfranks.com/where_to.htm#wade. You’ll find maps and more. Step by step.  Just don’t forget to go back to the store and thank this gentleman giant of the Florida fishing world.

When you’re ready to catch some BIG saltwater fish to satisfy the open space in your freezer, hire a charter captain that knows his business and is not out there to just take your money. Two of these “good guys” are listed in this story. Forrest Fisher Photo

Captain Karl conducts hands-on seminars at many locations when he is not fishing.  Captain Cayle writes for Waterline magazine, a local fishing publication, and is also staff at Fishin’ Frank’s store. Look to meet both of these angler gentlemen at the Charlotte County Boat Show Jan.11 – 14th, March 8 – 11 at the Punta Gorda Boat Show, and at the March 24, 2018, Fishin Franks Tent Sale, where about 3,000 anglers meet with manufacturers at the store and adjacent area to make incredible over-the-counter deals on fishing gear.  It’s free to attend.

Wildlife is everywhere when you fish Florida. Enjoy every moment. Forrest Fisher Photo

Tight lines everyone!

Fort Myers & Sanibel Island Beaches ARE OPEN

  • We HAVE SURVIVED Hurricane Irma VERY WELL
  • Come Enjoy, Explore, Swim, Fish, Cruise
  • It is a Shell Collectors Bonanza Adventure Time

By Forrest Fisher

If you know Lee County, Florida, you know that homeowners and snowbird visitors alike had safety and property concerns after Hurricane Irma sent a measure of fear throughout Florida in September.  It’s over.  The area is back in the swing of Florida fun.

The great warm weather and sunshine is back, though for adventure visitors, it might be good to know that the waves from Irma’s passing along our shell-drenched beaches on the Gulf of Mexico have brought in more shells than ever.

On a recent trip to Sanibel with my family, we met local treasure hunters that explained how post-storm periods are the one great time to bring out your best metal detector to find ancient treasure.  The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel Island in southwest Florida continue to provide new experiences for visitors to Florida’s unspoiled island destination.

If you love wildlife, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge plans to celebrate National Wildlife Refuge Week with “Ding” Darling Days, Oct. 15-22.  The refuge will offer free admission access days on several occasions during that week.  For a full “Ding” Darling Days schedule, call 239-472-1100 or visit www.dingdarlingdays.com.

For more information with the latest vacation information, please visit www.FortMyersSanibel.com.

The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel in Southwest Florida includes: Sanibel Island, Captiva Island, Fort Myers Beach, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Estero, Cape Coral, Pine Island, Boca Grande & Outer Islands, North Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres.

4 Days to IRMA: How Much Time Boaters Have to Prepare

  • Essential info for boaters, clubs, marinas at BoatUS.com/hurricanes
Recreational boat owners need to prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Irma (credit: NOAA)

ALEXANDRIA, Va., September 5, 2017 – According to the National Hurricane Center, Florida may have up to four days to prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Irma, a “potentially catastrophic Category 5” storm now approaching the Leeward Islands.

While it’s difficult to determine landfall, Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) urges boaters, marinas and boat clubs to use the valuable time to prepare, and offers free help online at BoatUS.com/hurricanes.

The boating group says that it doesn’t take a direct hit to damage or sink recreational vessels, or cause havoc at boat storage facilities.
The storm-planning available from BoatUS help includes:
1. “BoatUS Tips for Protecting Boats in Hurricanes,” a basic two-page primer that contains advice on hurricane preparation for all recreational boaters.
2. “Boater’s Guide to Preparing Boats and Marinas for Hurricanes” has more details on how to protect your boat as well as marinas.
3. “What Works: A Guide to Preparing Marinas, Yacht Clubs and Boats for Hurricanes,” a helpful resource for marina and boat-club staff, community resiliency managers and local government organizations that focuses on protecting boating facilities.
When a storm approaches, BoatUS.com/hurricanes also has up-to-the-minute storm-tracking tools with live satellite images and checklists for what to do before and after a hurricane strikes.
Much of the hurricane guide information comes from BoatUS and its Marine Insurance Catastrophe (CAT) Team, a recognized leader in hurricane preparedness with more than 30 years of post-storm boat salvage experience. Go to BoatUS.com/hurricanes for more.

About Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS): Celebrating more than 50 years, BoatUS is the nation’s largest organization of recreational boaters with more than a half-million members. We are the boat owners’ voice on Capitol Hill and fight for their rights. We are The Boat Owners Auto Club and help ensure a roadside trailer breakdown doesn’t end a boating or fishing trip before it begins. When boats break down on the water, TowBoatUS brings them safely back to the launch ramp or dock, 24/7. The BoatUS Marine Insurance Program gives boat owners affordable, specialized coverage and superior service they need. We help keep boaters safe and our waters clean with assistance from the nonprofit BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water. Visit BoatUS.com.

Fishing Boom in the Drought-Stricken Everglades

By Forrest Fisher

Mayan chiclid are honest fighters on light gear and they can get quite large, this is 2-1/2 pound fish!  This species and others are feared to be competing with native species in some areas, allowing FWC to issue a no-limit daily bag rule for anglers that enjoy consumption of the fish they catch. Conservation and protection can be delivered in many forms.  Forrest Fisher Photo

While visitors are not normally familiar with catching fish that look like they might be from an aquarium, there are locals and visitors reporting many fantastic panfish catches.  

Exotic panfish, such as oscar and Mayan cichlid, are biting almost as fast as you can cast or bait your hook. Low water levels in the marsh are concentrating fish in the L-67A and other canals of the Everglades Wildlife Management Area, and anglers are frequently reporting catches of multiple fish per hour.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) promotes the consumptive use of exotic fish as a management tool, and anglers are encouraged to take as many oscars and Mayan cichlids as they would like.  There are no size or bag limits on these species.

“As is frequently the case, low water conditions near the end of a dry season have fish stacked up in the canals along the vegetated edges. Anglers are enjoying exceptional catch rates,” said Barron Moody, FWC regional freshwater fisheries administrator.

Concentrate your fishing effort close to shoreline vegetation or along the drop-offs near the banks.  Good fishing can be had from shore or by boat.  Live baits and artificial lures produce good catches in the WCAs.  The preferred live baits are shiners, crickets, and worms.  The top producing artificials are soft plastics rigged weedless, Beetle spins, crankbaits, and topwater poppers or chuggers. 

Even if portions of EWMA are closed due to environmental conditions, the boat ramps and canals remain open for fishing.

So grab your fishing license and get out there while the fishing is hot.

For more information, view the FWC’s Everglades fishing brochure and recent site forecast at MyFWC.com/Fishing. Current fishing forecasts, regulations and directions to boat ramps can also be obtained from FWC at (561) 625-512.

There are consumption advisories for some species. Visit FloridaHealth.gov and search “Seafood Consumption” in the search bar for more information.

The Eagle Has Landed

By Robin Jenkins, DVM

Peace River Wildlife Center received a frantic call from a landscaper recently.  A baby eagle had walked into his open equipment trailer and was just hanging around.  He had tried to shoo it away, but it wouldn’t leave.  I asked him to take a picture with his cell phone and send it to me. 

To his credit, the gentleman was no less concerned about the bird’s health when I explained that it was actually a fancy racing pigeon, not an eagle.  We sent a rescuer to pick up the uninjured bird—it was probably just exhausted after being buffeted by strong winds.  Luckily, we were able to locate the bird’s owner and return it to him.

So, when we got another call about two male eagles fighting in midair at the other end of the county, we took the call with a grain of salt.  But multiple calls from the same area confirmed that there may actually be something to the story.  Then another caller claimed that an eagle was walking around their lawn and seemed injured.

Our favorite snow bird husband-and-wife rescue team, Barb and Tom Taylor, were dispatched to check out the situation.  Quite often in these cases, as soon as the bird is approached, it takes flight.  End of story.  This time, the bird ran into some heavy scrub, evidently not willing or able to fly away.  So Tom, in his infinite wisdom (and short pants), dove into the jagged palmettos after the bird, and a wacky race ensued.  Tom’s shins were shredded, but he caught the bird.

It turns out it was an adult female eagle.  Since this is the end of breeding season for these large raptors, she may have been defending her territory or nest from an invading neighbor.  She had suffered deep puncture wounds on her legs and a crack on her beak.  X-rays (with our beautiful new digital x-ray machine; hooray!  Thank you, donors!)  showed the crack at the caudal edge of her beak was superficial.  After a course of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs for her leg lesions, she was healing quite well.

The eagle was taken to our 100-foot flight cage to make sure she was capable of flight.  She was flying fine, although she walked around the cage like a little old lady—actually, like me after a recent reminder that the law of gravity applies to everyone.  She minced and limped with every step.  Obviously, her legs were still sore, but the wounds were healing and there was no evidence of infection.  After a few days of strength training in the flight cage, she was given thumbs-up for release.

Bald eagle beak fracture after territorial dispute.

Although her wounds were not completely healed, we wanted to get her back out to her home as soon as possible.  Like most wild animals, she will complete the healing process much faster at home than under the additional stress of being in captivity.  She may have had a family waiting for her there, although any offspring should have been old enough by this time of year to be okay without her for a few days.  And presumably, Dad would have been there to babysit in her absence.  And we all know how much Dads appreciate being left alone with the kiddos while Mom goes to the spa for a few days of rest and relaxation. 

There are many ways for you to help us at Peace River Wildlife Center, please review this link and add your name to our webpage newsletter. http://peaceriverwildlifecenter.org/donate/.

 

Apply for Florida Alligator & Fall Hunt Permits in May

  • Phase 1 Drawing May 12 – 20, 2017
  • 6,000 Permits Issued by Random Drawing

By Tony Young

May is here, and so is the start of the Phase I application period for applying for alligator and fall quota, special opportunity and national wildlife refuge hunt permits. Mark your calendar, set yourself an alarm, whatever you have to do to remind yourself – just don’t forget to get in all of your fall hunting permit applications in time for Phase I.

Alligator hunt permits

Since 1988, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has offered hunters the opportunity to take part in its annual statewide recreational alligator harvest that runs Aug. 15–Nov. 1. These special night hunts provide a hunting adventure unlike any other. Alligators are a conservation success story in Florida. The state’s alligator population is estimated at 1.3 million and has been stable for many years.

Phase I application period

The application period for the Phase I random drawing begins May 12 at 10 a.m. and runs through May 22. More than 6,000 alligator harvest permits will be available.

Hunters can submit their application for a permit that allows the harvest of two alligators on a designated harvest unit or county. Applicants must be at least 18 years of age by Aug. 15 and have a valid credit or debit card to apply.

Applications may be submitted at any county tax collector’s office, license agent (most retail outlets that sell hunting and fishing supplies) and at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com. External Website Applicants must provide their credit card information when they apply. If you change your mind on where you’d like to hunt, you are able to make updates to your hunt choices all the way up until the application period closes.

License/permit costs

The alligator trapping license/harvest permit and two hide validation CITES tags cost $272 for Florida residents, $22 for those with a Florida Resident Persons with Disabilities Hunting and Fishing License, and $1,022 for nonresidents. The cost for applicants who already have an alligator trapping license is $62.

Phase II and III application periods

Any permits remaining after the first phase will be offered during the Phase II random drawing May 26–June 5. Those who were awarded a permit in Phase I may not apply during Phase II. Remaining permits will be available in Phase III to anyone who did not draw a permit in either of the first two phases, and they may be applied for June 9-19.

Leftover application phase

If any permits remain after Phase III, there will be a fourth-phase issuance period beginning at 10 a.m. on June 22 until all permits are sold. Anyone may apply during Phase IV, even if they were awarded a permit in one of the earlier phases. Customers who are able to purchase additional permits will be charged $62, regardless of residency or disability.

What to expect if you get drawn

Within three days of an application period closing, applicants can expect to see an authorization hold on their credit card, verifying there is a sufficient balance to cover the cost of the permit. However, this does not mean they were awarded a permit. Once the credit card authorization process is complete, the lottery drawing will be held. All successful applicants will be charged, while those who were unsuccessful will have the authorization hold lifted from their credit cards.

Successful applicants should expect to receive their alligator trapping license/harvest permit and two CITES alligator tags in the mail within six weeks of payment. Alligator trapping licenses are nontransferable. All sales are final, and no refunds will be made.

For more information on alligator hunting or the application process, see the “2017 Guide to Alligator Hunting in Florida” by going to “MyFWC.com/Hunting” and then click on “Alligator” under “By Species.”

Fall quota hunt permits

The FWC offers thousands of quota hunt opportunities each year. Hunters can choose to apply for fall quota hunts for deer and wild hogs. There also are special hunts for families, youth, people with disabilities, bowhunters and those hunting with muzzleloaders.  

A quota is the maximum number of hunters allowed on a particular wildlife management area. The FWC’s Quota Hunt Program prevents overcrowding on such areas and provides quality hunts. Quotas also help control game harvests. The FWC sets quotas based on an area’s size, habitat, game populations and regulations.

There are several types of quota permits, most of which are issued by random drawing, and the Phase I application period for these fall quota hunts is May 15–June 15. I’m talking about archery, muzzleloading gun, general gun, wild hog, youth, family, track vehicle, airboat and mobility-impaired quota hunt permits.

You may apply for each of the hunt types, and there is no fee to do so. But unless exempt, you must have an up-to-date $26 management area permit (or a license that includes one) when applying for a quota permit. If you do not have this, the system won’t accept your application.

The FWC offers youth deer hunts on Camp Blanding WMA in Clay County and on Andrews WMA in Levy County. If you have children between the ages of 8 and 15, and you want them to have a chance to experience one of these great hunts, apply for a youth quota hunt permit – 160 kids will get this opportunity. During these hunts only the youngsters may hunt, and they, along with their adult supervisors, are the only people allowed on the area.

There will be family quota hunts on 28 WMAs, and if drawn, the permit requires one adult take one or two youths hunting. The adult may not hunt without taking along a youngster.

Hunters certified by the FWC as mobility-impaired may apply for Mobility-impaired Quota Permits that allow exclusive access to general gun hunts on nine of the state’s public hunting areas.

If you want to get the jump on one of these hunts, apply May 15–June 15 at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com, External Website or have a license agent or tax collector’s office apply for you. To find out if you’ve been selected, log onto your customer account at that same web address after 10 a.m. on June 19.       

If you don’t get drawn for a particular quota hunt, you’ll get a preference point for next year’s drawing, which will improve your chances of being selected. If you’re unable to use your quota permit and you return it at least 10 days prior to your hunt, you’ll get your preference point restored.

Special-opportunity fall hunts

If you haven’t been seeing the quantity or quality of game you’d like, I suggest applying for a Special-Opportunity Fall Hunt Permit. For the past 20 years, the FWC has offered these unique fall-season hunts for deer, wild hog and released quail on arguably the state’s best public hunting lands. Maybe it’s time you looked into getting in on the action and experiencing the hunt of a lifetime.

These extraordinary hunts offer large tracts of land with an abundance of game and low hunting pressure. All deer hunts allow you to take only mature bucks with at least one antler having four or more points, 1 inch or longer. Wild hogs also are legal to take during the deer hunts, and there is no size or bag limit on hogs.

These special-opportunity deer and wild hog hunts take place in central Florida on Fort Drum, Lake Panasoffkee, Triple N Ranch and Green Swamp West Unit WMAs. Camping is legal on all areas.

There is one seven-day general gun deer and hog hunt on the 20,858-acre Fort Drum WMA in Indian River County. The hunt costs $50, if you get drawn. 

Lake Panasoffkee, in Sumter County, has eight four-day archery hunts for deer and hog on 8,676 acres. The permits are $100 for each hunt.

There are two seven-day general gun deer and hog hunts at Triple N Ranch in Osceola County. The permit costs $175 for each of the two hunt dates.

Pasco County’s Green Swamp West Unit, where the state’s highest-scoring deer on record was taken, has two archery hunts for deer and hogs on its 34,335 acres. There are also three general gun hunts for deer and hogs. All are four-day hunts costing $100.

All special-opportunity permit holders can bring one non-hunting guest if they wish during the deer and hog hunts.

The FWC also has released-quail hunts on the Carr Unit of Blackwater WMA in Santa Rosa County. With these hunts, you must bring and release your own pen-raised quail. These are seven-day (Saturday through Friday) hunts that run 16 consecutive weeks. 

There’s just one permit available for each week, and if you’re lucky enough to draw one, you and up to three of your friends will have the entire 250 acres to yourselves. The permit costs $100 for each week.

Special-opportunity hunt permits are transferable by simply giving the permit to another person. Permit holders under age 16 or those who are certified mobility-impaired, may have a non-hunting assistant accompany them during all special-opportunity hunts.

If you’d like to take part in one or more of these hunts, you may apply at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com, External Website county tax collectors’ offices or most retail outlets that sell hunting and fishing supplies beginning 10 a.m. on May 15. The application period runs through midnight of June 15.

You may apply for as many special-opportunity hunts and dates as you like to increase your chances of being selected, but you must include the $5 nonrefundable application fee for each one. Hunters are limited to drawing only one permit per hunt area, though.

Special-opportunity results are available in rounds, and you may pay the cost of the selected hunt at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com External Website or at any license agent or tax collector’s office. If you don’t claim your permit by paying for it in full by the claim deadline for each round, you forfeit it, and it’ll be available to the next customer waiting in line in the next round.

National Wildlife Refuge hunts

There are also several fall hunts on five national wildlife refuges that you may apply for during the same Phase I application period of May 15–June 15. These National Wildlife Refuge hunts offer yet another unique and limited opportunity to hunt on well-managed habitat with healthy game populations and low hunting pressure. However, no guest permits are available for any of these hunts. And if you get drawn, you must pay for your permit by the claim deadline, or you forfeit it, and it’ll be available during the next application period which is first-come, first-served.

On the 21,574-acre Lake Woodruff External Website in Volusia and Lake counties, you can apply for archery and muzzleloading gun hunts for deer and hog. There is no fee to apply, but if you get drawn, the permit costs $27.50.

You can apply for archery hunts on Brevard County’s 140,000-acre Merritt Island. External Website External Website There is no cost to apply, but if you get drawn, the permit is $27.50.

Just south of Tallahassee, you may apply for archery, general gun and mobility-impaired hunts on the 32,000-acre St. Marks. External Website Each of these hunts cost $5 to apply for and if you get drawn, the permits are $27.50.

On Franklin County’s 11,400-acre St. Vincent Island, External Website you can apply for primitive weapons hunts for the exotic and enormous sambar deer. It’s $5 to apply, and $37.50 to buy the permit should you get drawn. 

Lower Suwannee, External Website in Dixie and Levy counties, has a $15 permit you can purchase that allows you to hunt the entire fall and spring season on the 53,000-acre refuge. You may purchase this permit anytime between May 15 and up to the last day of spring turkey season.

So whether it’s a gator permit you want, or a fall quota, special-opportunity or refuge hunt that you’re after – or all of the above– here’s wishing you success getting one of these great permits.

Help Keep Nesting Waterbirds Safe: Give Them Space

A Black Skimmer enjoys the Florida shoreline. “Florida is renowned for its diverse and spectacular bird life,” said FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski. “We want to ensure these birds are here for future generations to enjoy.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Audubon Florida are reminding beachgoers and boaters to give nesting waterbirds and their young space to help keep them safe this nesting season.    

Shorebirds build shallow nests out of sand and shells on beaches in spring and summer, and eggs and hatching chicks are difficult to see. Wading birds, such as herons and egrets, as well as pelicans are also nesting now on islands around the state. Both types of birds can be easily disturbed if people approach too closely. Such disturbance can cause birds to abandon their nesting sites, exposing eggs and chicks to predators, sun exposure and other harm.

Shorebird nests, eggs and chicks are well-camouflaged and can easily be missed and even stepped on unless people know to look out for them. The snowy plover, least tern, black skimmer, American oystercatcher and Wilson’s plover are several of Florida’s beach-nesting shorebird species facing conservation challenges. Vulnerable tree-nesting waterbirds, such as brown pelicans, reddish egrets, tricolored herons and roseate spoonbills, have also experienced declines. These coastal waterbirds can benefit from increased awareness by the public.

People can help keep nesting waterbirds safe by keeping their distance from them and Critical Wildlife Areas.

CWAs are established by the FWC to protect congregations of one or more species of wildlife from human disturbance during critical life stages such as breeding, feeding or migration. Last November, FWC commissioners approved an unprecedented effort to create 13 new CWAs and improve five existing CWAs.

A Snowy Plover on her nest in guard of predators along the Florida seashore.

“Some of the CWAs are so new that they have not yet been marked-off as CWAs. In these areas, we are asking people to be extra vigilant in their efforts to avoid disturbing the birds,” said FWC CWA coordinator Michelle van Deventer.

In northwest Florida, there are three CWAs posted for nesting birds: Alligator Point and St. George Causeway in Franklin County, and Tyndall in Bay County. The FWC is working to create two new CWAs in Franklin County: Flagg Island and Lanark Reef.

In northeast Florida, there are four CWAs posted for waterbird nesting: Fort George in Duval County, Matanzas Inlet in St. Johns County, Nassau Sound Islands in Nassau and Duval counties, and Amelia Island in Nassau County.

The central east coast of Florida area has one CWA posted for waterbird nesting: Stick Marsh in Brevard County. The FWC is working to create a new CWA in this area: BC49 in Brevard County. This CWA has not yet been posted.

In the Tampa Bay area, there are two sites currently posted with CWA signs: Myakka River in Sarasota County and Alafia Banks in Hillsborough County. The FWC is working to create two new CWAs in this area: Dot-Dash-Dit Islands in Manatee County and Roberts Bay Islands in Sarasota County. These CWAs have not yet been posted.

There are several CWAs posted for waterbird nesting in Lee and Collier counties. These include ABC Islands, Big Marco Pass, Little Estero Island and Second Chance. Also in Lee and Collier counties, the FWC is working to create or update several new CWAs, including Rookery Island, Matanzas Pass Island, Big Carlos Pass-M52, Coconut Point East, Broken Islands, Useppa Oyster Bar and Hemp Key. These CWAs have not yet been posted.

In southeast Florida, there are two CWAs marked off for waterbird nesting or foraging: Bill Sadowski in Miami-Dade County and Bird Island in Martin County,  In addition to observing the marked-off areas around CWAs, people can also help by following a few simple steps while enjoying the beach this season:

  • Keep your distance from birds, on the beach or on the water. If birds become agitated or leave their nests, you are too close. A general rule is to stay at least 300 feet from a nest. Birds calling out loudly and dive-bombing are signals for you to back off.
  • Respect posted areas. Avoid posted nesting sites and use designated walkways when possible.
  • Never intentionally force birds to fly or run. This causes them to use energy needed for nesting, and eggs and chicks may be left vulnerable to the sun’s heat or predators. Teach children not to chase shorebirds and kindly ask fellow beachgoers to do the same. Shorebirds outside of posted areas may be feeding or resting and need to do so without disturbance.
  • It is best to not take pets to the beach, but if you do, keep them leashed and avoid shorebird nesting areas. (State parks, national parks and CWAs do not allow pets.)
  • Keep the beach clean and do not feed wildlife. Food scraps attract predators, such as raccoons and crows, which can prey on shorebird eggs and chicks. Litter on beaches can entangle birds and other wildlife.
  • Spread the word. If you see people disturbing nesting birds, gently let them know how their actions may hurt the birds’ survival. If they continue to disturb nesting birds, report it to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922), #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone or by texting Tip@MyFWC.com. You may also report nests that are not posted to our Wildlife Alert Program.

“These charismatic birds make Florida the special place that it is,” said Julie Wraithmell, Deputy Executive Director for Audubon Florida. “Giving these parents and their babies a little space will ensure they’re here for generations to come.”

For more information, go to MyFWC.com/Shorebirds and download the “Share the Beach with Beach-Nesting Birds” brochure. Or go to the Florida Shorebird Alliance website at FLShorebirdAlliance.org to learn more about how to participate in shorebird conservation efforts.

For more information about Florida’s CWAs, visit MyFWC.com/CWA.

To learn how you can volunteer your time to protect nesting coastal birds, visit FL.Audubon.org and scroll over the “Conservation” tab at the top, then click on “Coastal Conservation” and “Coastal Bird Stewardship,” or you can email FLConservation@Audubon.orgExternal Website

Inshore Canals & Flats for Saltwater Fishing Fun

  • Snook, Redfish & Tarpon Highlight Spring Action
  • New LiveTarget Swimbait Lures are Killer Baits
  • Use Light Line, Strong Leader
  • Incoming Tide = Angler Advantage
The new Swim Bait that has caught fire with guides and everyday anglers that fish saltwater for snook, redfish and other species, is the LiveTarget Scaled Sardine, shown here. Just throw it in and reel it back, it sinks about one foot per second until you start the retrieve.

By Forrest Fisher

Winter has not been the same this year anywhere in the country.  Minnesota lost much of their ice by early March, Tennessee and Kentucky bass and crappie fishing turned on early, and in Florida, the steady rise in water temperatures on both the Gulf and the Ocean has led to non-stop action for many anglers.  Fun fishing!

Fishing with a fishing mentor and local veteran of the Florida saltwater fishing, Jim Hudson, I have learned so much about the nature of fish habits, baitfish preferences, lures that feeding fish prefer, line color, lure color, hook size and little things that make the difference between fish on the line or no fish at all.

The short spring snook season started on March 1 and runs through April, with the size limit in Florida waters regulated by location.  In southwest Florida, the slot limits for snook is not less than 28 inches and not more than 33 inches, with a one-fish daily bag. 

Jim Hudson says, “Slot limits for speckled trout have allowed a resurgence in Florida trout numbers and even the smaller fish will slam a swim bait, making for fast and fun fishing action.”

Hudson took the time to teach me about lines, leaders and lures, using little, lightweight jigs for speckled trout, surface baits for redfish and swim-tail lures for snook.   On my first mid-morning cast toward a dock on the canal system near Ponce de Leon State Park, my LiveTarget lure hit the water and I didn’t even move the lure one-inch when a gutsy snook slammed the bait.  He thrashed all around the dock and I had trouble keeping him out of the pilings there, but the 7-foot St. Croix rod and Daiwa reel held up their end and I was able to bring the fish to the boat where Jim carefully slipped his rubber-coated (no harm) under the spirited fish.  We released the slick fighter to grow a bit bigger for next year.

The hot lure was a LiveTarget scaled-sardine swimbait, new last year, it swims just like a real live fish bait.  It’s soft and lively, is the right color, and offers a snag-free design with an above-body hook point location.  The heavy, strong, Gamakatsu EWG (Extra-Wide Gap) hook makes it perfect for big saltwater fish, but as most saltwater flat anglers know, even smaller saltwater fish will slam a big bait.  I use this rule though, big fish like big baits – they hate to waste energy.   See this video on how a bass fishing pro describes the many features of this exciting new lure:  https://youtu.be/gaNEmPQUF3c.

I picked up the two sizes that come in this color pattern, a 3-1/2 inch model (½ ounce) and the bigger 4-1/2 inch model (1-ounce) that casts into the wind with no problem.  With a unique “oscillator-design” tail, they both swim like the real thing.  I tie the lure direct with a Uni-Knot from a 4-5 foot long length of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader that is fastened to very thin 10-pound test braid with a Double Uni-Knot.

For more about this hot bait, there are two videos and more technical info about product description from our friends at Tackle Warehouse: http://www.tacklewarehouse.com/.  My basic descriptions end with, “They work.”

For more about how to tie the Uni-Knot, visit our knowledgeable fishing friends at Salt Strong in this well-done video: https://youtu.be/MtCKGnZwOb0.  Salt Strong offers many excellent fishing tip videos and a “How-To-Fish” training course that is among the best I have ever viewed.

Some of the “smart-angler” folks use the FG-Knot to tie their braid to the fluorocarbon leader, but I have always used the Uni-Knot because it is easier to tie, though the FG Knot is smaller in physical size.  This might be important if you fish with a Reaper fishing rod, which offers a high-performance rod guide that enables truly long casts and you want to keep the knot friction to an absolute minimum.

Jim Hudson has used the same LiveTarget swimbait lure for fast action along the saltwater front and hooked into other species.   Hudson adds, “Don’t be afraid to add a little red color from a magic marker near the throat section of any lure when action is slow and the water is super-clear, this can make a difference.  Then just rub a little fish-scent over it to hide any offensive odor.”

Local anglers and many guides use a cast net to capture live pilchards and pinfish, then tail-hook the live bait with a circle hook and toss into the incoming tide current with the same line-rod-reel rig.  This set-up will usually fool even the most finicky fish and the circle hook prevents gut hooking so the fish can be released unharmed.

Using the LiveTarget swimbait lures also allows the fish to be released unharmed, since the EWG hook is set around the jawbone of the fish.  Kayak anglers, boat anglers or wading anglers can effectively and successfully throw this bait.  In the salt, you could get a new arm-stretch and rod-bend very soon.

The mullet color in the LiveTarget swimbait lure is especially made as an easy-to-catch forage species for several larger predator species such as Redfish, Snook and Tarpon.

Right now, the redfish are schooling, the snook are moving into shore-fishing canal zones and under the piers at night, and the sheepshead have been schooled and active for about 6-7 weeks now.

Releasing the little ones….fishery conservation measures have allowed the Snook fishery across Florida saltwater zones to regain their predator prominence with slot limit and bag limit regulations. Jim Hudson Photo

The sheepshead prefer live bait shrimp pieces fished off a 2-hook chicken rig or a simple red-head jig hook.

For redfish, switch your swimbait to the new LiveTarget mullet color and hang on.  This is a species-focused bait color that can tear up a tight fish school.  Fish on the feed will race to get the bait first.  On the right day, action like that is in the memory book for all time.

Local tackle shops carry the bait if you need it right now, but sometimes they might not have the favorite colors you want.  When fishing the Gulf of Mexico southwest Florida, I always stop in to Fishing Frank’s Bait & Tackle on Tamiami Trail in Port Charlotte, Florida.  The staff submits copy to four different periodicals each week! They also sponsor a radio show and are in the swing on where to go and what to fish each day. 

If you can’t find your “right color”, then hop on-line and head for our friends at Tackle Warehouse: http://www.tacklewarehouse.com/. 

“Big swim baits catch big fish, big fish will not waste energy feeding 20 times when they can feed once and be done,“ says Jim Hudson.  He ought to know, this Georgia native, now Florida resident, catches more fish from the salt than anyone I know.  Anglers in the know, share with others that want to learn.  Hats off to Hudson, since I always want to learn.

Tight lines.  

 

 

IFA Redfish Tour – $30,000 Top Prize, in Charlotte County, Florida

The Inshore Fishing Association (IFA) opened the 2017 Redfish powerboat competition year in Punta Gorda, Charlotte County, Florida, with 89 angler teams looking for the top prize. Steven Phillips cashes in on the $500 big fish prize with his 7.78 pound Redfish. Forrest Fisher Photo

• Brandon Buckner & Mark Sepe Win $30,000 Top Prize
• Micro-Power Pole was Key for Heavy Wind
• Schooled Fish: In Sandbar/Grassbed Potholes
• Scented Soft-Plastics and Topwater Baits Most Effective

By Forrest Fisher
The weather provided an extra challenge for competitive Redfish anglers as the 2017 Inshore Fish Association kicked off the Redfish powerboat tournament season on Saturday, March 4, 2017, in the surprisingly clear Gulf of Mexico waters near Punta Gorda, Florida.

The surprise factor for the day was the screaming northeast wind at 25 to 40 mph, unusual for this part of Florida, as it caused thunderous waves to crash the famed “West Wall” of Charlotte Harbor and farther south to Pine Island Sound. The breezy airstream forced the hardy redfish anglers to head for shelter and cover, but they had to run the surf to get there. Many took the time to battle the wave crests and power their rigs from Laishley Park in Punta Gorda to quieter Charlotte County waters near the small island paradise and discreet shoreline structure of Turtle Bay and Gasparilla Sound, near Placida.

Brandon Buckner and Mark Sepe took home the big prize with their two top fish tipping the scales at a whopping 14.57 pounds on the troublesome weather day when, unlike practice day, many anglers had trouble finding fish.

The top prize for the winners was impressive, cashing in their fish bag for a brand new RB190 Ranger boat, Mercury 4-Stroke motor, Minn Kota Trolling motor, Hummingbird Helix Sonar, cash and more, for a total purse of $29,530. The top five places also took home a $50 gift certificate from Boca Bearing. Because Buckner and Sepe had a boat equipped with a Power Pole and they won the tournament, they also won an additional $400 check from Power Pole. Both said they would not have been able to catch a fish on this day without it.

Brandon Buckner and Mark Sepe with their two top fish tipping the scales at a whopping 14.57 pounds, took home the top prize that included a brand new Ranger boat package and cash worth nearly $30,000. Forrest Fisher Photo

Buckner and Sepe methodically fished potholes they found on sandy bars and grass flats, using a Micro Power Pole to assure their boat-holding position, attributing a large part of their win to the efficiency of their Power Pole. Buckner said, “My partner was definitely the vacuum cleaner on the front of the boat, I was just the key net man. We used soft plastics and jig heads, casting and retrieving through the potholes and wind.” Mark Sepe added, “We especially want to thank Power Pole, Yamaha, Costa Del Mar and Bossman Boats.”

The Budweiser team of Chris Slattery and Dave Hutchinson took home 2nd Place with 14.23 pounds for a $4755 cash prize, catching nine Redfish through the day on gold color lures. They explained that several boats fished near them through the day, but that they had dry shore on one side and were able to control their fish zone very well that way.

The competitive field was comprised of 89 power boat teams vying for top honors. The weigh-in was exciting with a well-supported local crowd cheering on the hearty anglers, some with sore backs, as they came to the scales. Some fishermen travelled to compete from as far away as Houston, Texas.

Third place went to Matt Tramontana and T.R. Finney with 14.17 pounds good for $2141 cash prize, fourth place to Karl Butigan and Steven Phillips with 13.99 pounds, good for $2141 – and Phillips landed an extra $500 for the biggest redfish of the day; fifth place went to Ryan Rickard and Dustin Tillet with 13.66 pounds good for $2188 that included a payout from the Angler Advantage prize pool.

In all, some $49,134.24 was paid out to the top 17 teams in merchandise and prizes for this Punta Gorda event.

Redfish Tournament Weigh-in
All the redfish entered were checked for legal size prior to weigh-in, with all of the fish maintained alive and returned to the harbor waters to fight another day. Forrest Fisher Photo

Colorful tournament director, Eric Shelby, had the crowd ooh-ing, ah-ing and cheering, holding their attention with details as he introduced each angler team that entered the weigh station. Anglers placed their fish in a special live-fish bag, then into a life-sustaining aerator tank before they went to the length verification station and the official on-stage weighmaster scale. Many of the anglers shared an occasional humble fishing secret with local fishermen and onlookers.

All the fish entered were released back to the Peace River waters of Charlotte Harbor above the Route 41 bridges to live another day. Conservation is alive and well with IFA competitors and it is only proper in this case here, as Punta Gorda leads the state in developing juvenile fisheries habitat with their highly successful Reef Ball Project for public piers, private docks and open water. Proof that the county, the state and the fishermen are conservation-minded and work together to accomplish their goals in Punta Gorda and it’s working.
Fishing techniques and tactics were simple for many of the anglers. Gear was simple too, but the gear was top of the line that typically included 7-foot long fast-tip rods, open-face ball-bearing spinning reels, 12-20 pound test braided main line, fluorocarbon leaders of 10-20 pound test and strong knots.

Kyle Potts and Shane Erhardt Team Tito's
Team Tito powered by expert anglers, Kyle Potts and Shane Erhardt, who received family weigh-in support here, made a 20-mile one-way run to catch 12.90 pounds in waters protected from the nasty wind for a 9th place finish.. Forrest Fisher Photo

Kyle Potts and Shane Earhart, among top fish-catchers for the day, shared fishing day details that were common for many other anglers, as well. Potts says, “We made about a 20-mile run from port in the morning, first fishing the East Wall side before crossing the harbor, the harbor was pretty rough. We fished sandy and grass-bottom potholes in one to three feet of water.” When asked about their fishing gear, Potts added, “We like our Dan James custom rods with Shimano Stradic CI-4/4000FA reels and 10-pound test braid to throw Berkley Gulp 6-inch jerk baits.”

Brandon Spears Eddie Parrot
Brandon Spears and Eddie Parrot caught a large mixed bag of fish that included redfish, speckled trout and snook using Berkley Gulp jerkbaits with lightweight jigheads. Forrest Fisher Photo.

Eddie Parrot and Brandon Spears fished about 20 miles to the north and west, near Placida, weighing in 12.14 pounds for 13th place.  Parrot shared, “We used our Ranger 16-foot Phantom, Berkley Gulp plastics and top-water lures, 12-pound braided line with short one-foot fluorocarbon leaders of 20-pound test to catch fish.  We use a Bimini Twist for attaching the braid to the fluorocarbon, then a Palomar knot to attach the lure.  We caught a nice mixed bag of 6 redfish, 8 speckled trout and a nice snook.  One really important thing here, without our Power Pole, the day would have been lost in this wind.”  Spears added, “The 3-4 inch Berkley soft plastics with 1/8 ounce jig heads were effective, though we also used weighted hooks for some of the soft baits and had a nice day out there.”
Eric Shelby said, “The winning teams did well to score like they did.  This was a tough day for fishing.  During practice day, these guys caught hundreds and hundreds of fish, today the strong northeast winds have moved the water far offshore and has made getting into the backwaters a lot tougher.  Most of the guys ran north toward Gasparilla with the wind.  The boats are launched sequentially in the morning to avoid accidents and the anglers have a 15 minute grace period when they return before penalties are incurred.  It was nice to see the local crowd here to support the event.”

For more in the Inshore Fishing Association (IFA), visit: http://www.ifatours.com/.

IFA Redfish Tours Open Season at Punta Gorda, Florida

The clear and warmer than usual waters off the southwest Florida coast at Laishley Park in Punta Gorda, will be the site this weekend where Redfish Anglers will gather to compete on March 3 (boats) and 4 (kayaks). Photo Credit: Hobie Fishing

•  IFA 2017 Florida West Division events set for March 4-5
•  Fastest-Growing Inshore Fishing Tournament Series
•  Powerboats March 4, Kayaks March 5

By STOadmin

The Inshore Fishing Association (IFA) and inshore anglers from across Florida and surrounding regions will converge at Punta Gorda, Florida, March 4-5, for the season-opening events for the 2017 IFA Redfish Tour Presented by Cabela’s and IFA Kayak Fishing Tour Presented by Hobie Fishing.

The IFA Redfish Tour Presented by Cabela’s will begin its activities on Friday, March 3, with tournament registration from 5-7 p.m. at Laishley Park (120 Laishley Ct., Punta Gorda, FL 33950), followed by the captain’s meeting.  Anglers will launch from the marina at safe light on Saturday, March 4.  Check-in times will be assigned at Friday’s captain’s meeting with anglers returning to the marina for the weigh-in, which is set to begin at 3 p.m.

Competitors in the IFA Kayak Fishing Tour Presented by Hobie Fishing will have registration from 6-7 p.m. with captains meeting to follow on Saturday, March 4, at Laishley Park. Anglers will launch Sunday, March 5, from the location of their choice and return to the marina for the weigh-in. Check in times will be announced at Saturday’s captain’s meeting.

Florida Scrub-Jays in Festival Spotlight

The Florida Scrub-Jay is a beautiful coastal bird that lives nowhere else except in Florida, it is a light gray-brown bird with a bright blue head, blue wings and tail. FWC Photo

  • Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Stuart, FL
  • Feb. 18, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • Guided Walks, Exhibits, Swamp Band Hay Rides, Kids Activities, Entertainment and Food
The Florida Scrub-Jay is a beautiful coastal bird that lives nowhere else except in Florida, it is a light gray-brown bird with a bright blue head, blue wings and tail.  FWC Photo
The Florida Scrub-Jay is a beautiful coastal bird that lives nowhere else except in Florida, it is a light gray-brown bird with a bright blue head, blue wings and tail. FWC Photo

Posted by Forrest Fisher

Come celebrate this songbird at the 8th annual Florida Scrub-Jay Festival on Saturday, Feb. 18, at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, about 12 miles south of Stuart on U.S. Highway 1.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the festival will offer guided walks, exhibits, swamp buggy and hay rides, kids’ activities, entertainment and food.  There will be an opportunity to meet Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) staff and partners that are helping conserve this threatened species.  The FWC is one of the festival’s organizers.

The Florida scrub-jay is distinctive because of its unusually cooperative family lifestyle.

Craig Faulhaber, the FWC’s avian conservation coordinator said, “The Florida Scrub-Jay lives in family groups composed of a breeding pair that mates for life and its offspring. Young Scrub-Jays often stay with their parents for one or more years and act as helpers to defend the family’s territory and raise young.  Breeding pairs with helpers successfully raise more young than lone pairs.”

“Because Florida Scrub-Jays are very territorial and don’t migrate, people may get the chance to watch events in the life of a Scrub-Jay family throughout the year.  Family members work together to defend territories averaging 25 acres from other Scrub-Jay families, with at least one member always on the lookout for predators,” said Faulhaber.

The Florida Scrub-Jay is one of the many wildlife species you may spot at Jonathan Dickinson State Park.  It needs sandy scrub habitat to survive, but its populations have been impacted by habitat loss, agriculture and the lack of natural or prescribed fire to maintain vegetation height and sandy openings on scrub lands.  Scrub-Jay populations are thought to have declined by as much as 90 percent since the late 1800s.

What does the call of this bird sound like? More like a screech than a song, since it is related to species like the crow.  Hear the sound of a Florida scrub-jay by going to AllAboutBirds.org and searching for Florida Scrub-Jay.

People can help Florida Scrub-Jays by:

Find out more about Florida scrub-jays by going to MyFWC.com/Imperiled, clicking on “Listed Species,” “Birds” and then “Florida Scrub-Jay.”

Trophy Catch Florida – Pays Cash

  • Catch, Measure, Release Alive Contest
  • Photo Required, Simple Rules 
  • Bass Pro Card to Each Monthly Winner 

For STO 02022017, Picture 1of1Posted by Forrest Fisher

“TrophyCatch” is introducing BONUS monthly prizes!

The rules and prizes will vary each month and will be announced here on Facebook and on Instagram (@FishReelFlorida).

February’s prize is $50 in Bass Pro Shops gift cards for the participant with the MOST approved LUNKER CLUB catches between February 1 – 28, 2017.

So, get out there and send us those great Lunker Club brag shots!

By participating in any Facebook promotions, the participant agrees that their participation constitutes a complete release of Facebook and that this promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook.

For complete rules, see: (https://www.trophycatchflorida.com/rules.aspx).
#TrophyCatch #FishingCapitalOfTheWorld

Finding a Florida Fishing Charter

  • You Have 4 hours, You Want to Fish
  • New “Find a Fishing Charter Service”
  • What to Do, Where to Search, I Discovered www.Itrekkers.com
Small boats, big boats and even kayaks, complete with tackle, are a part of the fishing fleet and staff that is available to you with one call to this new service (1-844-GOT-TREK). Forrest Fisher Photo
Small boats, big boats and even kayaks, complete with tackle, are a part of the fishing fleet and staff that is available to you with one call to this new service (1-844-GOT-TREK).  Forrest Fisher Photo

By Forrest Fisher

When you travel to Florida for vacation or business, you realize at some point – especially if you are a fisherman, that the deep blue sea is calling and that there may be some time for you to enjoy a charter fishing trip.  Your eternal obligations for responsibility melt away and the thought of a short fishing trip melts away all of your burdens.  Fishing…..Yes!

Even if you unprepared, the nice thing about Florida charter fishing is that the fishing license is considered part of the charter cost and this policy helps to promote the economic impact for the local economy, guides and visitors.  It makes it easy for you and I to take a fishing trip too.

You open the phone book or click on google for the city you’re in and there you are, yep, somewhat confused.  You find so many charter listings and no time to sort through them to find out about reviews and cost and time of arrival and location.  All those things and even more.

While on a Florida fishing charter, you will always find that nature is all around you wherever you fish. Forrest Fisher Photo
While on a Florida fishing charter, you will always find that nature is all around you wherever you fish.  Forrest Fisher Photo

If you are fishing in Florida, especially if you are within an hour or two of Tampa, you won’t need to worry about all those details.  There is a new fishing charter company that has already vetted the available charters and made a list of the good guys (and gals) who are honest charter fishermen willing to give you their time and best effort to catch fish in short order.  That new company is called “itrekkers” and you can quickly find them at www.itrekkers.com.  Think of them as sort of the Uber Taxi Service of the fishing world in Florida.

Itrekkers allows you to make a simple search for the convenience of booking a fishing charter with nearly no prep time.  You’re decision-making is reduced to deciding upon the length of your trip.  End of story, you can let the fun begin.

Itrekkers offers several types of trips depending on how much time you have, these include 4-Hour Inshore, 6-Hour Nearshore and 8-Hour Offshore trips.  These types of trips are designed for you and your family or small group of 4-6 people.  If you’re fishing alone, they also offer Share-A-Treks that are designed for 1-2 people who are looking for all the benefits of a charter, but not the full cost.  You can book a single seat and share with friends or let others join you for a fun adventure on the water.

The Share-A-Trek fishing trips permit you to enjoy the charter without being responsible for the full charter cost.  I like this option, especially for business travelers, since the cost can be as little as $150 per person to get out on a boat for half a day with all gas, bait, equipment, licenses, and more, included.

Depending on the trip selected, you’ll fish in different types of water from protected bays and inlets to deep sea offshore waters.  The 8-Hour Offshore deep-sea trips will take the angler 20 to 60 miles offshore to catch the fish you’re after.

This service has long been overdue and if you have ever rented a charter and have come back disappointed, this business takes care of that problem. Your trip is money-back guaranteed.  Not sure any adventure trip can ever be more assured before you leave.  Check these guys out, they’re worth a call if you happen to be in need of fishing fun and services and you’re in Florida.  I found them by accident.

Call 1-844-GOT-TREK or link to www.itrekkers.com.  Tight lines everyone!

Florida Identifies Imperiled Species

Pine Barrens Tree Frog

  • Management Plan Rule Changes Are In Effect
  • Florida Wildlife Conservation Charting Essential Course
  •   57 Species Identified with New Status
Pine Barrens Tree Frog
Pine Barrens Tree Frog

Posted by Forrest Fisher, Managing Editor

The Imperiled Species Management Plan rule changes are now in effect, including changes in listing status for many species. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved the groundbreaking plan in an effort to achieve conservation success with dozens of imperiled species throughout the state. The plan outlines the steps to conserve 57 species along with the broader vision of restoring habitats essential to the long-term survival of multiple fish and wildlife species.

“Florida is charting an ambitious new path for wildlife conservation success on a statewide scale,” said FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski. “Seeing a roseate spoonbill wading in shallow waters, a black skimmer resting on the beach or a Big Cypress fox squirrel sitting in a pine tree is an essential part of the Florida experience. This innovative plan is designed to keep imperiled species like these around for many generations to come.”

White Ibis in the Florida Ocean Surf
White Ibis in the Florida Ocean Surf

Nine rules were revised in support of the ISMP, focusing on changes to listing status, adding authorizations in a management plan or Commission-approved guidelines, preventing possession of species coming off the list, and accomplishing overall rule cleanup and clarification. Among the nine rules, one rule affecting inactive nests of non-listed birds is still pending.

Under the rule change that updates species’ listing status:

  • Fifteen species will no longer be listed as imperiled species because conservation successes improved their status: eastern chipmunk, Florida mouse, brown pelican, limpkin, snowy egret, white ibis, peninsula ribbon snake (lower Keys population), red rat snake (lower Keys population), striped mud turtle (lower Keys population), Suwannee cooter, gopher frog, Pine Barrens tree frog, Lake Eustis pupfish, mangrove rivulus and Florida tree snail. These species still are included in the plan for guidance in monitoring and conserving them.
  • Twenty-three species are newly listed as state Threatened species, a change from their former status as Species of Special Concern: Sherman’s short-tailed shrew, Sanibel rice rat, little blue heron, tricolored heron, reddish egret, roseate spoonbill, American oystercatcher, black skimmer, Florida burrowing owl, Marian’s marsh wren, Worthington’s marsh wren, For STO 01202017, CONSERVATION, picture 3of3, Florida Pine SnakeScott’s seaside sparrow, Wakulla seaside sparrow, Barbour’s map turtle, Florida Keys mole skink, Florida pine snake, Georgia blind salamander, Florida bog frog, bluenose shiner, saltmarsh top minnow, southern tessellated darter, Santa Fe crayfish and Black Creek crayfish. Threatened species have populations that are declining, have a very limited range or are very small.
  • Fourteen species keep their state Threatened status: Everglades mink, Big Cypress fox squirrel, Florida sandhill crane, snowy plover, least tern, white-crowned pigeon, southeastern American kestrel, Florida brown snake (lower Keys population), Key ringneck snake, short-tailed snake, rim rock crowned snake, Key silverside, blackmouth shiner and crystal darter.
  • Five species remain Species of Special Concern: Homosassa shrew, Sherman’s fox squirrel, osprey (Monroe County population), alligator snapping turtle and harlequin darter.  These species have significant data gaps, and the FWC plans to make a determination on their appropriate listing status in the near future.

Important things to know about the Imperiled Species Management Plan:

  • It includes one-page summaries for each species, including a map of its range in Florida and online links to Species Action Plans. The 49 Species Action Plans contain specific conservation goals, objectives and actions for all 57 species.
  • It also has Integrated Conservation Strategies that benefit multiple species and their habitats, and focus implementation of the plan on areas and issues that yield the greatest conservation benefit for the greatest number of species.

Learn more about the plan at MyFWC.com/Imperiled.

Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission – 75 Years of Success

Butler Island camping, fishing and kayaking fun. Photo courtesy of Florida Fish & Wildlife (FWC)

  • Wildlife Conservation Areas Established 
  • Fish, Wildlife and Public Access Expanded and Managed
  •   Recreational Opportunities for All, Hunters and Anglers too
Butler Island camping, fishing and kayaking fun.  Photo courtesy of Florida Fish & Wildlife (FWC)
Butler Island camping, fishing and kayaking fun. Photo courtesy of Florida Fish & Wildlife (FWC)

By Forrest Fisher

If you have ever travelled to Florida, it seems everywhere you go there are birds, fish, flowers and wildlife of all sorts.  It’s no accident.  In 2017, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is commemorating the 75th anniversary of the wildlife management area system, one of the state’s greatest natural treasures.

The FWC oversees the statewide network of remote and scenic lands, managing them for conservation and recreation.  To celebrate the milestone and help people discover the opportunities these public lands offer, the FWC is hosting free events throughout the year.

FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski said, “Florida has one of the largest systems of public lands in the country at nearly 6 million acres, and these lands are the best of the best of what wild Florida has to offer.  These natural communities span a variety of habitats from longleaf pine uplands and pine flatwoods, to the hardwood hammocks and sawgrass savannas of the Everglades.  Not only are these areas beautiful, they are managed to provide habitat for many species of wildlife and access for people to enjoy hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing and more.”

Florida’s first WMA, Fred C. Babcock/Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area, was established in late 1941 in Charlotte and Lee counties.  By the 1960s, there were 28 WMAs.  Today, the FWC is the lead manager or landowner of over 1.4 million acres and works in partnership with other governmental or private landowners on another 4.5 million acres.  These healthy habitats are essential to Florida wildlife – both common and imperiled species.  The FWC uses its scientific expertise and a comprehensive ecological approach to manage a variety of wildlife while balancing public access to these wild lands.

Whitetail Deer abound in several areas of Florida with managed hunting seasons established for WMA areas.  Photo Courtesy of Florida Fish & Wildlife (FWC)
Whitetail Deer abound in several areas of Florida with managed hunting seasons established for WMA areas. Photo Courtesy of Florida Fish & Wildlife (FWC)

WMAs provide many recreational opportunities including paddling, fishing, hiking, biking, horseback riding, photography, wildlife viewing, and target shooting at areas with a public shooting range.  They also offer a wide range of hunting opportunities including special hunts for families and people with disabilities.

Throughout 2017, the FWC will host a variety of events to celebrate Florida’s WMAs.  Events include a statewide geocaching challenge, volunteer work days, a photo contest, guided hikes, fun opportunities to explore WMAs, and citizen science bio-blitzes, where members of the public help document wildlife species at WMAs.

If you are heading to Florida at any time this year, learn more about upcoming events (or to find a WMA near your destination), visit MyFWC.com/WMA75.  You’ll find access link to parks, beaches, fishing hotspots, advice for safety, fun and places to visit.

FWC says you can help them share the fun of what’s in Florida by sharing your visits to Florida WMAs on social media (#WMAzing).

Fishing from shore at Escribano Point WMA can offer fun and a palatable dinner feast for anglers.  Photo courtesy of Florida Fish & Wildlife (FWC)
Fishing from shore at Escribano Point WMA can offer fun and a palatable dinner feast for anglers. Photo courtesy of Florida Fish & Wildlife (FWC)

Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission – 75 Years of Success

Butler Island camping, fishing and kayaking fun. Photo courtesy of Florida Fish & Wildlife (FWC)

  • Wildlife Conservation Areas Established 
  • Fish, Wildlife and Public Access Expanded and Managed
  •   Recreational Opportunities for All, Hunters and Anglers too
Butler Island camping, fishing and kayaking fun.  Photo courtesy of Florida Fish & Wildlife (FWC)
Butler Island camping, fishing and kayaking fun. Photo courtesy of Florida Fish & Wildlife (FWC)

By Forrest Fisher

If you have ever travelled to Florida, it seems everywhere you go there are birds, fish, flowers and wildlife of all sorts.  It’s no accident.  In 2017, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is commemorating the 75th anniversary of the wildlife management area system, one of the state’s greatest natural treasures.

The FWC oversees the statewide network of remote and scenic lands, managing them for conservation and recreation.  To celebrate the milestone and help people discover the opportunities these public lands offer, the FWC is hosting free events throughout the year.

FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski said, “Florida has one of the largest systems of public lands in the country at nearly 6 million acres, and these lands are the best of the best of what wild Florida has to offer.  These natural communities span a variety of habitats from longleaf pine uplands and pine flatwoods, to the hardwood hammocks and sawgrass savannas of the Everglades.  Not only are these areas beautiful, they are managed to provide habitat for many species of wildlife and access for people to enjoy hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing and more.”

Florida’s first WMA, Fred C. Babcock/Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area, was established in late 1941 in Charlotte and Lee counties.  By the 1960s, there were 28 WMAs.  Today, the FWC is the lead manager or landowner of over 1.4 million acres and works in partnership with other governmental or private landowners on another 4.5 million acres.  These healthy habitats are essential to Florida wildlife – both common and imperiled species.  The FWC uses its scientific expertise and a comprehensive ecological approach to manage a variety of wildlife while balancing public access to these wild lands.

Whitetail Deer abound in several areas of Florida with managed hunting seasons established for WMA areas.  Photo Courtesy of Florida Fish & Wildlife (FWC)
Whitetail Deer abound in several areas of Florida with managed hunting seasons established for WMA areas. Photo Courtesy of Florida Fish & Wildlife (FWC)

WMAs provide many recreational opportunities including paddling, fishing, hiking, biking, horseback riding, photography, wildlife viewing, and target shooting at areas with a public shooting range.  They also offer a wide range of hunting opportunities including special hunts for families and people with disabilities.

Throughout 2017, the FWC will host a variety of events to celebrate Florida’s WMAs.  Events include a statewide geocaching challenge, volunteer work days, a photo contest, guided hikes, fun opportunities to explore WMAs, and citizen science bio-blitzes, where members of the public help document wildlife species at WMAs.

If you are heading to Florida at any time this year, learn more about upcoming events (or to find a WMA near your destination), visit MyFWC.com/WMA75.  You’ll find access link to parks, beaches, fishing hotspots, advice for safety, fun and places to visit.

FWC says you can help them share the fun of what’s in Florida by sharing your visits to Florida WMAs on social media (#WMAzing).

Fishing from shore at Escribano Point WMA can offer fun and a palatable dinner feast for anglers.  Photo courtesy of Florida Fish & Wildlife (FWC)
Fishing from shore at Escribano Point WMA can offer fun and a palatable dinner feast for anglers. Photo courtesy of Florida Fish & Wildlife (FWC)

Florida Fishing – New Fishbrain App

This is a Mayan chiclid, an invasive species that is caught by anglers in many south Florida waters. FWC Photo

  • Anglers Can Help Monitor Fish Species Health
  • 250,000 Anglers are Invited
  • 15 Different Non-Native Fish To Be Logged
This is a Mayan chiclid, an invasive species that is caught by anglers in many south Florida waters.  FWC Photo
This is a Mayan chiclid, an invasive species that is caught by anglers in many south Florida waters. FWC Photo

By STOadmin

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) plans to crowdsource data on nonnative freshwater fish species in Florida by partnering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and Fishbrain – the world’s largest app and social network for anglers.

The FWC has provided a list of nonnative species of interest in the Sunshine State, which will equip Fishbrain’s users with the necessary information to log sightings of these species when they come across them.

Florida is the pilot state to use Fishbrain technology in order to help managers better understand the extent and impact of nonnative aquatic species.  Following the Florida campaign, Fishbrain and the Service hope to build on the pilot project in other areas of the country through partnerships with state conservation organizations. With a better understanding of the extent of these species in the environment, resource managers will be able to develop effective tools designed to monitor nonnative species and prevent them from further damaging the biodiversity of ecosystems across the nation.

The Fishbrain app allows users to log catches by recording the location, time, species and a picture of their catch. Starting Dec. 20, the FWC will invite the 250,000 Florida-based users of the Fishbrain app to log catches of 15 different types of nonnative fish in the Florida ecosystem. The FWC promotes the consumptive use of these exotic fish instead of releasing them back into the wild.

This is a bullseye snakehead, is another of many invasive species that Florida Fish and Wildlife are asking for angler help to track.  FWC Photo
This is a bullseye snakehead, is another of many invasive species that Florida Fish and Wildlife are asking for angler help to track. FWC Photo

The list consists of Rio Grande cichlid, Jack Dempsey, blackchin tilapia, bullseye snakehead, clown knifefish, jaguar guapote, Mayan cichlid, spotted tilapia, Nile tilapia, banded cichlid, common carp, pacu, flathead catfish, blue catfish and green sunfish. This list was compiled by FWC biologists. More information on each species can be found at Fishbrain.com and MyFWC.com/nonnatives.

“Anglers come face-to-face with the natural world on a daily basis, and so their hobby relies on maintaining a respectful, sustainable balance with nature. Many of our users are highly aware of the threat to biodiversity posed by invasive species, and so are eager to involve themselves in projects such as this,” said Johan Attby, CEO of Fishbrain. “As the success of our previous conservation initiatives has shown, our users are vigilant, industrious and passionate when it comes to helping protect the ecological balance. We look forward to the success of the project in Florida, before hopefully rolling it out in other states across the country.”

Florida, often dubbed “Fishing Capital of the World,’ is Fishbrain’s biggest market with over 250,000 users. Fishbrain has nearly 3 million users worldwide, with over half of them from the United States.

“We are excited to be working with Fishbrain to provide information to anglers about Florida’s nonnative fish species,” said Sarah Funck, FWC’s nonnative fish and wildlife program coordinator. “Information we receive from this large user group will help our efforts to document and manage these species throughout the state.”

The Fishbrain app is available for download at the Apple Store or Google Play.

For more information about nonnative fish and other nonnative species in Florida, visit MyFWC.com/Nonnative.

Barracuda Fishery-New Size Limits in South Florida

A slot limit will contribute to barracuda conservation by eliminating harvest pressure on the youngest, most vulnerable fish while also conserving larger fish, which are responsible for the vast majority of reproduction. Jim Tunney Photo

  • Effective January 1, 2017
  • Slot Limit of 15 to 36 inches Fork Length
  • Allows One Fish Harvest over 36 inches per Boat
  •   No Closed Season
A slot limit will contribute to barracuda conservation by eliminating harvest pressure on the youngest, most vulnerable fish while also conserving larger fish, which are responsible for the vast majority of reproduction.  Jim Tunney Photo
A slot limit will contribute to barracuda conservation by eliminating harvest pressure on the youngest, most vulnerable fish while also conserving larger fish, which are responsible for the vast majority of reproduction. Jim Tunney Photo

By STOadmin

Starting Jan. 1, new recreational and commercial size limits for barracuda will be effective in Florida State waters and federal waters off Collier, Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Martin counties only.

These changes were adopted at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) November meeting in St. Petersburg and include:

  • A recreational and commercial slot limit of 15 to 36 inches fork length.
  • Allowing the harvest of one fish larger than 36 inches per person or vessel per day, whichever is less.

“Change starts with the people that care about the resource.  South Florida stakeholders saw an issue in their area, and it is through their actions and conservation ethics that these reasonable management changes were brought about.  For that, I am thankful,” said FWC Commissioner Robert Spottswood.

In recent years, stakeholders in southeast Florida and the Florida Keys who fish and dive have voiced concerns about seeing declines in barracuda numbers.

Barracuda data is limited due to their complex life history and behaviors; however, there has been a declining trend in the number of barracuda observed during underwater surveys conducted in the Keys in recent years, as well as a declining trend in the average size of those barracuda.

A slot limit will contribute to barracuda conservation by eliminating harvest pressure on the youngest, most vulnerable fish while also conserving larger fish, which are responsible for the vast majority of reproduction.

The FWC also addressed concerns for this species in 2015 when they set recreational and commercial bag limits for barracuda in south Florida of two fish per person and six fish per vessel.

Staff will continue to monitor barracuda through data collected during FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute underwater surveys and ongoing recreational and commercial catch data collection.  Recreational anglers can report their catches using data-reporting programs like the Snook and Gamefish Foundation’s iAngler app and Angler Action website.

For information on barracuda, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater Fishing” “Recreational Regulations” and “Barracuda.”

Florida Duck & Dove Hunting

It’s waterfowl season in Florida and there are plenty of birds, know the rules for licenses, permits and daily limits. Joe Forma Photo

  • Things to Know – Florida FWC Rules
  • Licenses, Seasons, Bag Limits
  • What You Can and Cannot Do
It’s waterfowl season in Florida and there are plenty of birds, know the rules for licenses, permits and daily limits. Joe Forma Photo
It’s waterfowl season in Florida and there are plenty of birds, know the rules for licenses, permits and daily limits. Joe Forma Photo

By Tony Young

There’s a chill in the Florida air, and soon children will be out of school on winter break. During the holidays, I encourage you to take time off from work and spend some quality time with family and friends in the great outdoors. This much-needed vacation allows us to unplug from our usual daily grind and join millions of Americans in our connection with nature and pursuit of our favorite game animals. Hunting during the holidays is such a longstanding tradition in our country, which allows hunters to participate in the management and conservation of wildlife while putting healthy, free-range protein on our family’s dinner table.

In this column, I go over a couple of hunting seasons that begin in December – the second phase of waterfowl and coot; and the third phase of mourning and white-winged dove.

License and permit requirements

The first thing you’ll need to participate in these hunting opportunities is a Florida hunting license.  Residents pay just $17 for the year.  Nonresidents have the choice of paying $46.50 for a 10-day license or $151.50 for 12 months.  You also need a no-cost migratory bird permit and if you plan to hunt one of Florida’s many wildlife management areas, you also must purchase a management area permit for $26.50.

Or, you may opt to get a Lifetime Sportsman’s License. That license allows you to hunt and fish in Florida for the rest of your life, even if you move away and aren’t a resident any more. Think about that as a possible holiday gift for your outdoors family member!

All licenses and permits are available at County Tax Collector Offices, at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com or by calling 1-888-HUNT-FLORIDA.

Waterfowl and Coot Season

The second phase of the waterfowl and coot season comes in statewide on Dec. 10 and runs through Jan. 29.  In addition to previously mentioned license and permit requirements, duck hunters also must get a Florida waterfowl permit ($5) and a federal duck stamp.

The daily bag limit on ducks is six, but you need to know your ducks before you pull the trigger because there are different daily limits for each species.  For instance, within the six-bird limit there can be only one black duck, one mottled duck and one fulvous whistling-duck.

Only two of your six-bird limit can be canvasbacks, pintails, scaup or redheads; and three may be wood ducks.  And you may have no more than four scoters, four eiders, four long-tailed ducks and four mallards (of which only two can be female) in your bag.  All other species of ducks can be taken up to the six-bird limit, except harlequin ducks.

The daily limit on coots is 15 and there’s a five-bird limit on mergansers, only two of which may be hooded.

You also may take light geese statewide during the waterfowl and coot season (Dec. 10 – Jan. 29), which includes the taking of Snow, Blue and Ross’s geese. There’s a 15-bird daily bag limit on any combination of these geese.

When hunting ducks, geese or coots, hunters may use only nontoxic shotgun shells.  No lead shot can be used or even be in your possession – only iron (steel), bismuth-tin and various tungsten alloys are permissible.

And in the Tallahassee area, I need to point out some outboard motor restrictions and a prohibition against hunting in permanent duck blinds:

  • On Lake Iamonia and Carr Lake (both in Leon County), the use of airboats and gasoline-run outboard motors is prohibited during the regular waterfowl and coot seasons.
  • The maximum allowed horsepower rating on outboard motors during the regular waterfowl and coot seasons on Lake Miccosukee in Leon and Jefferson counties is 10 hp.
  • You may not hunt from or within 30 yards of a permanent duck blind structure on the four Tallahassee-area lakes of Jackson, Iamonia, Miccosukee and Carr.  You’re allowed to pack in a portable blind and hunt from it, but make sure to break it down and take it with you when you’re done.  However, there’s no problem hunting within the concealment of any natural, rooted vegetation.

Dove Season

The third phase of the mourning and white-winged dove season always runs Dec. 12 through Jan. 15.  The daily bag limit is 15.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) even provides an online “Dove Hunters’ Hotline” that gives up-to-date information on Florida’s public dove fields.  The web address is MyFWC.com/Dove, and it’s updated every Thursday throughout the dove season.  Information includes dove densities, previous weeks’ harvests and field conditions.

Migratory Bird Hunting Regulations

Shooting hours for all migratory birds, including ducks, coots, geese, woodcock and doves, are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset.

The only firearm you are allowed to hunt migratory game birds with is a shotgun, although you’re not permitted to use one larger than 10-gauge.  Shotguns also must be plugged to a three-shell capacity (magazine and chamber combined).

Retrievers and bird dogs can be used to take migratory game birds and, if you’re up for the challenge, you may even use a bow or crossbow.  Artificial decoys, as well as manual or mouth-operated bird calls, are legal and essential gear for duck hunters. Birds of prey can even be used to take migratory birds by properly-permitted falconers.

You may hunt doves over an agricultural field, as long as the crop has been planted by regular agricultural methods, however, you’re not allowed to scatter agricultural products over an area for the purpose of baiting.

This also holds true when you’re hunting waterfowl and woodcock. Feed, such as corn, wheat or salt, cannot be present where you’re hunting, nor can such baiting be used to attract birds, even if the bait is quite a distance from where you’re hunting.  And it doesn’t matter if you aren’t the one who scattered the bait – if you knew or should have known bait was present, you’re breaking the law.

Some other things you can’t do while hunting migratory game birds include using rifles, pistols, traps, snares, nets, sink boxes, swivel guns, punt guns, battery guns, machine guns, fish hooks, poisons, drugs, explosive substances, live decoys, recorded bird calls or sounds, and electrically amplified bird-call imitations.  Shooting from a moving automobile or boat, and herding or driving birds with vehicles or vessels also is against the law.

Happy Holidays!

Whether dove hunting with friends and family or shooting ducks on the pond with your favorite lab – December has you covered.

Here’s wishing you happy holidays and a successful hunting season. If you can, remember to introduce someone new to our great sport. As always, have fun, hunt safely and ethically, and we’ll talk at you next year.

Living with Black Bears in Florida

Black Bears are the only bear species that live in Florida, but their numbers are increasing and avoiding conflicts is a process being shared with all Floridians. FWC Photo

  • New Videos Help Folks Understand Bears
  • Black Bear Management
Black Bears are the only bear species that live in Florida, but their numbers are increasing and avoiding conflicts is a process being shared with all Floridians.  FWC Photo
Black Bears are the only bear species that live in Florida, but their numbers are increasing and avoiding conflicts is a process being shared with all Floridians. FWC Photo

By STOadmin

As part of a continuing effort to reduce conflicts with bears, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is releasing two new videos in the “Living with Florida Black Bears” series, designed to educate the public about how to safely coexist with bears in Florida.

The “Cause for a Call” video outlines when and how people can reduce conflicts with bears by taking simple steps such as securing trash and other attractants.

The “BearWise Communities” video describes how to make a neighborhood “BearWise.” BearWise communities work to coexist with bears. This video educates residents on when and how to report bear conflicts or sightings, and how to secure food items that attract bears to a neighborhood.

Unsecured trash and attractants, such as bird feeders, are the number one cause for bears coming into contact with people. This summer FWC researchers, in partnership with Dr. Joseph Clark, a leading black bear scientist, employed cutting-edge modeling to confirm that Florida’s robust black bear population is estimated to be over 4,000 bears. More bears in Florida means more chances for human-bear interaction, which can be dangerous.

The new videos are being added to the existing “Living with Florida Black Bears” series, which already includes the following videos:

  • How to Make Your Wildlife Feeders Bear-Resistant
  • How FWC Conducts Bear Population Estimates
  • A Day in the Life of a Florida Black Bear
  • How to Protect Pets and Livestock from Bears

for-sto-12062016-trending-now-fl-picture-2of2The FWC plans to release more bear-related videos in the coming months. The short videos help meet the information needs of a busy public.

To view the “Living with Florida Black Bears” video series, visit MyFWC.com/Bear and click on “Brochures & Other Materials.”

In addition to educational efforts, the FWC is providing financial assistance to local communities so residents and businesses can take actions to reduce human-bear conflicts. To ensure Floridians have the resources necessary to properly secure their garbage, the FWC is currently working to distribute $825,000 to communities to become more BearWise by funding bear-resistant equipment and other methods to reduce conflicts. These efforts are in addition to our already robust Bear Management Program, which includes over 100 staff working year-round to educate people about bears and respond to human-bear conflicts. Read more at MyFWC.com/news and click on “News Releases,” “Oct. 2016” and scroll to “FWC receives 19 proposals…”

To learn how to become BearWise, visit MyFWC.com/Bear and click on “BearWise Communities” on the left side of the page.

Free Florida Fishing Clinic for Women Anglers

Ladies will learn knot tying, net casting, rod and reel rigging, responsible marine resource stewardship, marine fish and habitat identification, catch-and-release techniques, and more. Photo courtesy of www.myfwc.com

  • Anastasia State Park, St. Augustine, Florida
  • Bring a License
  • December 3, 2016
Ladies will learn knot tying, net casting, rod and reel rigging, responsible marine resource stewardship, marine fish and habitat identification, catch-and-release techniques, and more.  Photo courtesy of www.myfwc.com
Ladies will learn knot tying, net casting, rod and reel rigging, responsible marine resource stewardship, marine fish and habitat identification, catch-and-release techniques, and more. Photo courtesy of www.myfwc.com

By STOadmin

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is hosting a Women’s Saltwater Fishing Clinic in St. Augustine on Dec. 3.  The free, day-long clinic will run from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. at the Anastasia State Park, 1340-A A1A South, St. Augustine, Florida.  Advance registration is required.  To register or get more information, email Heather Sneed at Heather.Sneed@MyFWC.com, or call 850-487-0554.

Participants will take home a lifelong hobby and leave with a new appreciation for the marine environment.  They will learn the basics of conservation stewardship, fishing ethics, angling skills, safety and the vulnerability of Florida’s marine ecosystems in a fun, laid-back atmosphere.

Lessons include knot tying, net casting, rod and reel rigging, how to be a responsible marine resource steward, marine fish and habitat identification, catch-and-release techniques and more.

If conditions allow, women will have the opportunity to practice their newly learned skills by fishing from shore.  This event is a catch-and-release activity.  All participants must have a valid recreational saltwater fishing license unless exempt.  Saltwater fishing licenses can be purchased at your local tackle shop or online.  Learn more by visiting MyFWC.com/License (Annual recreational fishing licenses and permits are valid for 12 months from the date of purchase or the alternate starting date if selected at the time of purchase, unless otherwise specified on the face of the license)

Fishing equipment and bait are provided during the clinic, but participants are encouraged to bring their own gear.

For more, visit: http://www.myfwc.com/education/outdoor-skills/women-fishing/.

Female Panther-North of Caloosahatchee River

Female Panther sighting recorded on trail cam located north of the Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida. Photo Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation

-Panther Conservation Program 

-Southwest Florida Sightings

-Species Recovery Enhanced Now

Female Panther sighting recorded on trail cam located north of the Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida.  Photo Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Female Panther sighting recorded on trail cam located north of the Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida. Photo Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation

By STOadmin/Florida FWC

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Panther Team has collected strong evidence a female Florida panther has finally crossed the Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida.

Currently, the only known breeding population of panthers is south of the Caloosahatchee River. This is the first evidence of a wild female panther north of the river since 1973.

“We have had regular documentation of males north of the Caloosahatchee, but this is the first time we have solid evidence of a female being this far north in more than 40 years,” said Kipp Frohlich, deputy division director for Habitat and Species Conservation.  “This is a big deal for panther conservation. An expansion of the panther’s breeding range should improve the prospects for recovery.”

Using trail cameras, biologists have monitored male panthers on various public and private lands north of the Caloosahatchee River for several years. In 2015, biologists collected a photo of what appeared to be a female panther in Charlotte County. They deployed additional cameras in the summer of 2016 and captured more images of what they believe is a female panther. However, the photographs did not positively confirm the gender.

Cast of Panther tracks was made. Photo Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Cast of Panther tracks was made. Photo Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation

In early November, a biologist discovered female panther tracks near a camera that had captured some of the photos in question. Because male panther tracks are larger than female tracks, the track provided strong evidence of a female at this location. Staff made a plaster cast of this track to preserve it.

“When we saw the tracks, we felt confident they were made by a female panther,” said Darrell Land, FWC panther team leader. “We could rule out a male panther because by the time males are old enough to leave their mother, their paws are already bigger than females’ paws.”

Biologists immediately ruled out bobcats as their tracks are much smaller. No other large felines are native to Florida.

“This appears to be the milestone we’ve hoped for. We have been working with landowners to secure wildlife corridors to help panthers travel from south Florida, cross the river and reach this important panther habitat,” said Larry Williams, state ecological services supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  “While we do not know if this female used these tracts of land, we do know that securing lands that facilitate the natural expansion of the panther population are critical to achieving full recovery.”

With documentation of male panthers in the same area, biologists are hopeful the panther breeding population will begin to expand here.

“Florida panthers are part of our state heritage. They’re our state animal,” said Frohlich. “We want to ensure these majestic animals are here for future generations of Floridians. Female panthers moving north of the river on their own is a big step toward this goal.”

Florida residents can support panther conservation efforts by purchasing a “Protect the Panther” license plate pastedGraphic.png at BuyaPlate.com. Fees from license plate sales are the primary funding source for the FWC’s research and management of Florida panthers.

For information about Florida pantherspastedGraphic.png including tips on how to safely coexist with them, visit FloridaPantherNet.org. Click on “E-Z Guide to Identify Panther Tracks” to learn more about panther tracks.

To sign up for panther mortality and depredation email updates, visit MyFWC.com and click on “Sign up for FWC news updates.”

Hunting in Florida

-License is Required

-Small Game, Wild Turkey, Boars, Bears, Deer and more

-November is Key Month

By Forrest Fisher

for-sto-11152016-picture-1of1If you’re packing your snowbird bags already and are planning ahead to hunt in Florida this year, November in Florida is an awesome month to head for the woods.  You have the option to hunt small game, wild turkey, boars, bears, deer and more.  Regulations are not complicated, but it’s a good idea to download the syllabus for the sector area you plan to visit.

Hunting opportunities require a hunting license to participate in Florida.  The Florida resident license fee is $17, nonresidents have a choice based on length of term with the 10-day license cost of $46.50 or the year-long license for $151.50.

If you want to hunt on a WMA, you also must purchase a management area permit for $26.50. And don’t forget to obtain the brochure on

To hunt on wildlife management areas (WMAs), you must possess a management area permit ($26.50) and a hunting license, (and often other permits depending on species and season), unless exempt.  Limited entry/quota permits are required on WMAs during certain time periods. They can only be applied for during the scheduled application periods. The worksheets with the hunt choices and hunt dates are usually posted about two weeks before the permit application period opens.  For each WMA, the dates, bag limits and rules differ greatly for each area.

I noticed that there’s an alligator season too, for those looking for a bit more excitement that the quiet woods.

All necessary licenses and permits are available at any tax collector’s office, retail outlets that sell hunting and fishing gear, by calling toll-free 888-HUNT-FLORIDA or by going online at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.

Catch a Florida Memory!

Spotted Sea Trout (Speckled Trout) are among favorite fish to catch off the Florida Coast. FWC Photo

-For Saltwater Anglers

-New Fun Awards/Recognition Program

-From Florida Fish & Wildlife

Spotted Sea Trout (Speckled Trout) are among favorite fish to catch off the Florida Coast. FWC Photo
Spotted Sea Trout (Speckled Trout) are among favorite fish to catch off the Florida Coast. FWC Photo

By STOadmin

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) challenges you to “Catch a Florida Memory” and participate in any of three fun and exciting Saltwater Angler Recognition programs.

“Any angler knows saltwater fishing is a fun, challenging and rewarding sport, but these programs, which include the Saltwater Grand Slams program and two new Saltwater Angler Recognition programs—the Saltwater Fish Life List and the Saltwater Reel Big Fish—are a great way to increase the challenge and get rewarded for your efforts,” said Jessica McCawley, director of the Division of Marine Fisheries Management. “Participants not only get the chance to win some amazing prizes, they also earn some serious bragging rights.”

for-sto-10282016-trending-now-fl-picture-2of3

Saltwater Angler Recognition programs encourage anglers to target a diversity of species, thereby decreasing fishing pressure on any given species as well as expanding fishing experiences for seasoned anglers.  This cultivates an interest in saltwater fishing and strengthening marine fisheries conservation ethics.

Prizes vary by program, but may include T-shirts, fishing gear, recognition in FWC publications and website, kayaks, and more.

Saltwater Fish Life List

Can you catch them all? “Pokémon Go” has nothing on the Saltwater Fish Life List. Similar to a birding life list, this program allows anglers to track their progress at catching 71 different species of saltwater fish.  Anglers who catch at least 10 different Life List species can join the Saltwater Fish Life List Club and receive a certificate of accomplishment, a colorful shirt and be eligible for additional prizes.  There are four prize tiers total (10, 30, 50 and 71 fish clubs).  Print your Saltwater Fish Life List or request to receive one by mail today at CatchaFloridaMemory.com.  See the video in simple explanation on this new video: https://youtu.be/d5J_tTHNar4.

Saltwater Reel Big Fish

Be safe and protected at all times when fishing offshore, wear a personal floatation device (PFD) while fishing.  FWC Photo
Be safe and protected at all times when fishing offshore, wear a personal floatation device (PFD) while fishing. FWC Photo

Don’t let that whopper of a fish turn into just a whopper of a story.  Celebrate your memorable-sized catches by participating in the Saltwater Reel Big Fish program.  This program includes 30 different species in both adult and youth (under 16 years old) categories.  Successful participants will receive a certificate of accomplishment and a colorful shirt in recognition of their achievement.  Anglers who catch five, 10, 15 or all 30 Saltwater Reel Big Fish species can also gain recognition and the chance to win prizes by joining the Saltwater Reel Big Fish Club.

Saltwater Grand Slams

While many consider themselves experts at this fishing challenge, this definitely isn’t your mom’s grand slam program.  The FWC has nine different Saltwater Grand Slams that award anglers for catching three different specified fish species within a 24-hour period, and the categories may surprise and challenge you.  From the Inshore Grand Slam consisting of red drum, spotted seatrout and flounder, to the Florida Grand Slam of permit, tarpon and bonefish, these challenges will make you work to increase your fishing skills.  The program even includes a Small Fry Grand Slam for anglers 15-and-under who catch a pinfish, catfish and grunt.  Successful anglers will receive a certificate of accomplishment and a colorful shirt showing the fish from their Grand Slam.  There are also three prize tiers that award anglers who catch three, six or all eligible Grand Slams.

For More Information

Participate today by visiting CatchaFloridaMemory.com.  Anglers do not have to harvest their fish to be eligible for prizes and are encouraged to use proper fish handling techniques when practicing catch-and-release.

Have questions? Are you a business who would like to partner with the FWC’s Saltwater Angler Recognition Programs? Email AnglerRecognition@MyFWC.com.

New Charlotte Harbor Oyster Reef is Flourishing

-Nature Conservancy of Florida

-Conservation Restoration Efforts Working

Oyster Reefs provide critical, life-sustaining habitat that allows water quality to improve, fishes, birds and underwater life to grow and survive and procreate.  Thanks to the Nature Conservancy of Florida, efforts are working in Charlotte Harbor near Punta Gorda. NCF Photo
Oyster Reefs provide critical, life-sustaining habitat that allows water quality to improve, fishes, birds and underwater life to grow and survive and procreate. Thanks to the Nature Conservancy of Florida, efforts are working in Charlotte Harbor near Punta Gorda. NCF Photo

By Forrest Fisher / Nature Conservancy of Florida

Oyster Reefs provide life-sustaining habitat for fish and wildlife, and improve water quality.  The Nature Conservancy in Florida is committed to restoring oyster reef habitat in coastal areas throughout the Gulf of Mexico, the Charlotte Harbor Estuary located in Punta Gorda was a priority location.

The Trabue Harborwalk project is a first step in reestablishing the oyster populations that previously flourished throughout this estuary, but have declined to just a fraction of their historical extent.  Oysters, birds, and other wildlife signal successful habitat restoration along Trabue Harborwalk, near Punta Gorda, Florida.

This pilot project, the first in the northern portion of the Charlotte Harbor estuary, includes the creation of 9 oyster reefs using 3 different restoration methods – oyster mats, oyster bags, and loose shell. These methods are being tested to better understand which method works the best in building new reefs. The results of this science-based experiment will inform future planned restoration of oyster habitat in the estuary.  NCF Photo
This pilot project, the first in the northern portion of the Charlotte Harbor estuary, includes the creation of 9 oyster reefs using 3 different restoration methods – oyster mats, oyster bags, and loose shell. These methods are being tested to better understand which method works the best in building new reefs. The results of this science-based experiment will inform future planned restoration of oyster habitat in the estuary. NCF Photo

Nature itself is one of the largest pieces of the climate solution puzzle. “Oysters are the quiet unsung heroes of our estuaries, working hard every day to protect our coasts, clean our waters, feed and shelter fish, birds, crabs, shrimp and other wildlife,” says Anne Birch, Marine Conservation Director for The Nature Conservancy in Florida.  She further asserts, “When we help to restore and conserve oysters back to their once thriving populations we’re also helping our estuaries and our coastal communities flourish.”

A healthy one-acre reef filters approximately 24 million gallons of water daily, supporting underwater grasses and other plants that need light to survive underwater. These plants, in turn, yield additional benefits, like fish production and carbon storage, completing something of a virtuous cycle.

The Nature Conservancy Florida, City of Punta Gorda, Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves, and a number of community volunteers completed the installation of reef habitat to attract and support new oysters.  Once abundant throughout Charlotte Harbor, oyster reefs provide habitat for important fish and shellfish such as mullet and blue crabs.  Oysters also improve water quality, and may help to stabilize shorelines by reducing erosion from wave and tide action.  One goal of the project is to determine which of three reef building techniques is the most productive and effective for increasing oyster populations and attracting additional species to the area — information critical to the broader goal of expanding oyster restoration throughout Charlotte Harbor to support communities and fisheries.

Partners in the creation of new oyster reef habitat in the shallow waters along Trabue Harborwalk in Charlotte Harbor, Florida, have accomplished great success.  Up to 1,400 oysters per square meter have taken up new residence on sections of the reef.  In just nine months following the creation of the habitat along the coastline of Punta Gorda, a community of diverse wildlife has appeared, anchored by arrival of the new oysters.

Oysters require specific water conditions to flourish and hard surfaces on which to settle.  The nine newly created oyster reefs are spread over nearly four acres and include three reefs composed of oyster shells affixed to mats, three reefs of fossilized loose shell, and three reefs built from mesh bags containing fossilized shell.  Approximately 50 tons of shell were used to build the reefs. Monitoring results indicate that oyster recruitment was excellent for each method.  A success criterion for a recent oyster reef restoration project in the Chesapeake Bay area was greater than 50 oyster recruits per square meter –- the Punta Gorda reefs far exceeded this benchmark.

Click here to see a poster about the life cycle, habitat and restoration of the Eastern oyster.

This project is funded by the generous support of The Mosaic Company Foundation, Sally Mead Hands Foundation, and individual donors. “We are tremendously pleased to see the oyster reef restoration project thriving,” said Mark Kaplan, Mosaic’s Vice President – Phosphate Services and President of The Mosaic Company Foundation. “We value our partnership with The Nature Conservancy and are proud to support their commitment to improving coastal habitat and water quality in Charlotte Harbor.”

The Nature Conservancy continues its commitment to restoring oysters in coastal areas throughout Florida and will use data collected here in the planning of additional habitat restoration in the Gulf of Mexico, including a future project in the Pensacola region.  The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.  Visit The Nature Conservancy on the web at www.nature.org. To learn about the Conservancy’s global initiatives, visit www.nature.org/global.  To keep up with current Conservancy news, follow @nature_press on Twitter.

FWC – Gone Coastal Column is Back

Captain Sean-Goddard of Inshore 2-Offshore Charters shares a nice Tampa Bay sheepshead caught in a secret, uncrowded hotspot not more than one mile from the boat launch. Visit https://www.inshore2offshore.com for detailed info. Forrest Fisher Photo

By Amanda Nalley

For those many of us that fish the many forms of Florida coastal waterways, we are always searching to know more about life in the sea and all of those things that affect that life. In a recent column by Amanda Nalley, you may be happy to know that there is now another source to check or updated information. Nalley shares her news and story below:

It’s been a while, and we’ve missed you. After a long hiatus, Gone Coastal, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Division of Marine Fisheries Management column is back in action with some changes.

You may not be seeing us around quite as much as you used to though. Gone Coastal is going quarterly. Why? Because we have new friends for you to enjoy in the form of videos.

The Marine Fisheries Management Division now has a YouTube channel  called FWC Saltwater Fishing. You can get there easily by going to MyFWC.com/SaltwaterFishing. Check out new updates weekly on various subjects from how-to videos to artificial reef deployments.

Have a burning question about marine fisheries regulations? Want to know more about catch-and-release? We are here for you. Send your questions, photos, and fishing tales to Saltwater@MyFWC.com. Make sure your photo meets our photo requirements by visiting MyFWC.com/Fishing, clicking on “Saltwater Fishing,” scrolling down to “Get Involved” and clicking on “Submit a photograph!.” Learn more about our Saltwater Angler Recognition Programs and how you can “Catch a Florida Memory” by visiting MyFWC.com/AnglerRecognition or contacting AnglerRecognition@MyFWC.com. And don’t forget to record all of your catches on the iAngler phone app or at www.snookfoundation.org.

Gone Coastal is one of many ways the FWC Division of Marine Fisheries Management is helping recreational anglers understand complex saltwater regulations and learn more about saltwater fishing opportunities and issues in Florida. We are available to answer questions by phone or email, and we would love the opportunity to share information through in-person presentations with recreational or commercial fishing organizations.

To contact the FWC’s Regulatory Outreach subsection, call 850-487-0554 or email Saltwater@MyFWC.com.

Florida Uses Science/Data to Manage Black Bears

The increasing black bear population of Florida is under scientific study and management by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Forrest Fisher Photo
  • Florida Bear Population Estimated at 4,030
  • Radio Telemetry Part of Study

To continue the cutting-edge science being conducted on Florida’s black bears, FWC researchers recently placed radio-collars on 16 adult female bears to track their movements in and around Tate’s Hell State Forest in northwest Florida. Data collected from this study will allow FWC researchers to better understand bear population dynamics in this area, which will further guide the agency’s comprehensive bear management program. This month, FWC bear researchers and one of the nation’s leading bear scientists, Dr. Joseph D. Clark of the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Tennessee, released the final modeling results estimating Florida’s black bear population at 4,030, up from a few hundred bears in the 1970s.

FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley said, “The latest science has confirmed that Florida’s black bear population is robust and widespread. Now FWC bear researchers are collecting data on this important bear population in northwest Florida. These data will guide our science-based decision making process as we work to best balance the safety and well-being of Florida’s communities with growing black bear populations across our state.”

The GPS collars on the female bears periodically record their locations using satellite telemetry and transmit those locations to researchers. These specially-tailored collars are designed to drop off in a certain amount of time and do not affect normal bear behavior. The collars can also send an alert if the bear stops moving for an extended period of time, indicating the bear may have denned for the winter or died.

Researchers will visit winter dens to see how many cubs are present, and then will put small, specially-made collars on the cubs to see how many of them survive their first year. Over the next three years this study will provide the FWC with more population information, including adult female survival rate, the age they first reproduce, the time between litters of cubs, the average number of cubs per litter, and cub survival rate. All of this information can be used to model population dynamics, including annual population growth rate.

Researchers have already noticed the collared bears are starting to become more active. FWC’s bear experts have observed this throughout the state. During the fall, bear appetites increase as they begin a natural process of putting on fat for the winter. To be prepared for winter, bears require around 20,000 calories a day and will actively seek out and consume any convenient food source. This draws more bears into areas where people live and work, which can be potentially dangerous. FWC urges Floridians to be more aware of what they can do to help prevent human-bear conflicts.

The agency is currently accepting proposals from local governments to receive a portion of $825,000 in bear-conflict-reduction funding. Proposals are due by October 14, 2016.

For more information on bear management in Florida, go to the BearWise page at MyFWC.com/BearWise or the general bear page MyFWC.com/bear.

Florida Seeks Public Input on Anchoring and Mooring Rules

The FWC has posted a brief online survey to learn public feedback about mooring and anchoring, please go to MyFWC.com/Boating to participate. Forrest Fisher Photo

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is seeking feedback from cruising boaters, local boaters and other residents in evaluating the state’s Anchoring and Mooring Pilot Program, and related ordinances.

The FWC has posted a brief online survey to accept this feedback. It should take approximately five to 10 minutes to complete and will be available to the public Oct. 1-9. Any input is greatly appreciated in evaluating and improving boating in Florida.

The Florida Legislature established the Anchoring and Mooring Pilot Program in 2009. The intent was to explore potential options for regulating the anchoring or mooring of non-live-aboard vessels outside the marked boundaries of public mooring fields throughout the state.

After public input, the FWC selected the cities of St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Stuart (in conjunction with Martin County) and the cities of Key West and Marathon (in conjunction with Monroe County) as five sites for the pilot program. They were granted temporary authority to regulate mooring in their jurisdictional waters through local ordinances.

All ordinances enacted under authority of the pilot program will expire on July 1, 2017, and will be inoperative and unenforceable thereafter, unless re-enacted by the Legislature.

Participation in the survey will help determine the effectiveness of the program, developed ordinances, and a variety of concepts related to specific restrictions on anchoring of vessels which may be considered in the future.

To access the survey and for more information, go to MyFWC.com/Boating.

Key Largo – Burmese Python Hatchlings Spotted

  • Officials Ask for Help
  • Invasive Species
An 18-inch-long python found in north Key Largo, Aug. 23, 2016. Photo by Jeremy Dixon, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

From the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission News, Burmese python hatchlings have been spotted for the first time on Key Largo. This is a discovery that’s prompting officials to send postcards to homeowners there asking for help spotting the elusive snakes. The postcards show a picture of a python and list a phone number to call if someone spots one.

One 18-inch-long Burmese python was found on Aug. 2, 2016, in Key Largo, and a second similar-sized python was found on Aug. 3 in the same location. A third hatchling was found on Aug. 23 in north Key Largo. These confirmed observations are the first known hatchling-sized Burmese pythons found in Key Largo. These observations suggest that pythons have reproduced near this location, but there have been no sightings of python nests or eggs in the area.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Exotic Species Hotline has received 31 credible reports of Burmese pythons in the Keys over the past five years, with recent confirmed sightings limited to Key Largo.

“While we have documented Burmese pythons in the Keys for a while now, this is the first time we have documentation of hatchlings in the area. This is not surprising considering the proximity to the known breeding population in the Everglades,” said Kristen Sommers, section leader of the FWC’s Wildlife Impact Management Section.

The United States Geological Survey, FWC and other partners are working together with local residents to increase detection and monitoring efforts for Burmese pythons in the Keys.

“We’re sending the postcards in an effort to collect more information on where and how often pythons are being sighted,” said Bryan Falk, a USGS biologist. “This information will ultimately help all of the agencies involved focus our research and control efforts in areas where python densities are highest, and hopefully mitigate their further spread. We worry about pythons becoming established in the Keys because there are several at-risk populations of small mammals, like the Key Largo woodrat and the Key Largo cotton mouse that would be easy prey for Burmese pythons.”

Residents and visitors can help by reporting sightings of Burmese pythons and other nonnative species to the FWC’s Exotic Species Reporting Hotline at 888-Ive-Got1 (888-483-4681), online at IveGot1.org or by downloading the free “IveGot1” smartphone app.

In addition to sustained efforts to manage Burmese python populations, USGS and the FWC continue to work to improve detection and removal capabilities for Burmese pythons and other invasive species, such as Argentine black and white tegus, in coordination with partner agencies and organizations. For more information about Burmese pythons in Florida, go to MyFWC.com/Python.

Florida Snook Season Opens

Limited Harvest starts September 1, 2016

Snook congregate in large schools during summer in deep passes and inlets to spawn, fry begin life as males, but between 18 and 22 inches long some become females. The Florida state record is 44 lbs 3 oz caught near Fort Myers. Photo Credit: www.iTrekkers.com

The recreational harvest season for Snook in Florida starts September 1, 2016, statewide. Unique to the region, Snook are one of the many reasons Florida is the Fishing Capital of the World.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) encourages anglers to continue to use moderation when determining whether or not to take a Snook home. Gulf Snook populations were negatively impacted by a 2010 cold kill. Gulf Snook numbers currently exceed FWC management goals, but are still rebuilding to pre-cold kill levels, which is one of the reasons why it is important to handle fish with care and use moderation when determining whether or not to harvest one.

During the open season, the daily bag limit is one fish per person. In the Atlantic, Snook must be not less than 28 inches and not more than 32 inches total length, which is measured from the most forward point of the head with the mouth closed to the farthest tip of the tail with the tail compressed or squeezed while the fish is lying on its side. In the Gulf, they must be not less than 28 inches and not more than 33 inches total length.

When releasing a Snook, proper handling methods can help ensure your fish’s survival and the species’ abundance for anglers today and generations to come. To learn more about catch-and-release and the best way to handle a fish, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater Fishing,” then “Recreational Regulations” and “Fish Handling.”

A Snook permit, as well as a recreational saltwater license, is required unless the angler is exempt from the recreational license requirements. Snook may be targeted or harvested with hook and line gear only. Snagging is prohibited.

Snook are closed to harvest Dec. 1 through the end of February and May 1 through Aug. 31 in Gulf state and federal waters, including Monroe County and Everglades National Park. In Atlantic state and federal waters, including Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River, Snook is closed Dec. 15 through Jan. 31 and June 1 through Aug. 31.

Researchers ask anglers who harvest the fish to save their filleted carcasses and provide them to the FWC by dropping them off at a participating bait and tackle store. For the county-by-county list, go to MyFWC.com/Research and click on “Saltwater,” then “Snook” (under “Saltwater Fish”) and “Snook Anglers Asked to Help with Research.”

These carcasses provide biological data, including the size, age, maturity and sex of the catch. This information is important to the FWC in completing stock assessments. If you see a Snook fishery violation, call the Wildlife Alert Program at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

Visit http://myfwc.com/fishing/ and click on “Saltwater Fishing” and “Recreational Regulations” for more information on Snook.