Tom Rahill, Barry Offenburger and I are scrambling over piles of limestone boulders and through thickets of Brazilian pepper and tangles of vines that stop us in our tracks and try to trip us. It’s …
Make the Most of Autumn Weekends in Florida
Just because the kiddos have gone back to school doesn’t necessarily mean the end of vacation season. Families can extend their summer fun into fall with some terrific Florida weekend getaways. Here’s just a sampling:
Scallop Crystal River
The warm Gulf waters off this west-central Florida town hold an abundance of tasty bay scallops and the harvest season is open through Sept. 24. Kids as young as kindergarteners and their families may take a limit of two gallons of mollusks per person per day using a mask, snorkel, fins and catch bag in four to eight feet of water. It’s fun, safe and easy and the quarry doesn’t put up much resistance. Bring your own boat or hire Captain Colin Guy (352-634-2901) to put you on a limit, like he did with my dive buddy and me two weeks ago. Then have your scallops expertly prepared at either Katch Twenty Two in nearby Lecanto (352-746-6691) or at West 82 Bar and Grill at the Plantation on Crystal River resort (www.plantationoncrystalriver.com), which is also a great place to stay. Another fun water activity is to snorkel with Crystal River’s resident manatees. Book a tour with Colin’s mom, Captain Cindi Guy of Majestic Manatee Tours (http://www.majesticmanateetours.com) who will put you up close to the huge, friendly marine mammals. And if you’re thinking about getting hitched while you’re in Crystal River, talk to Cindi. She’s licensed to perform weddings and even operates her own wedding chapel.
Fish, Dive St. Pete Beach
Fishing is excellent both inshore and offshore in the St. Petersburg area in late summer and fall. And Captain Tim Kehoe, the water sports guru at Guy Harvey Outpost St. Pete Beach, can hook you up. Wade the resort’s beach and catch a hard-fighting snook, or further out, a black drum using live shrimp for bait. You might also bump into pompano and flounder. If you’d like to explore the offshore Gulf for red and gag grouper, Captain Tim will arrange a charter or party fishing excursion for you. And you can have your catch cooked deliciously at the resort’s RumFish Grill.
If you make it to the area Sept. 7-10, you can compete in a Lionfish Safari hosted by the non-profit Reef Monitoring, Inc. at North Straub Park in St. Pete. The event combines a spear fishing tournament with an educational, fun festival featuring lionfish tastings, live music, kids’ activities, marine conservation programs and cash prizes for the Safari winners. Register at www.reefmonitoring.org.
To book your stay, visit www.guyharveyoutpost.com.
Slam Fish, Golf Balls, and Shake Flippers with a Sea Lion in Islamorada
There is no better place to score flats fishing’s big three –bonefish, tarpon, and permit– than Islamorada on the cusp of summer and fall. From first light to late morning, you may encounter tarpon in the 30-to-50-pound range slow-rolling in Florida Bay that will eagerly gulp a fly or live bait. Bonefish– some as large as eight pounds–can be found tailing on ocean side flats on the incoming tide, and they are happy to devour a live shrimp or a fly pattern that mimics one. To complete the slam, look for permit on rocky flats near channel edges mainly in the back country. They can be extremely tough to catch on fly rod, but hardly ever refuse a live, silver-dollar crab if it lands anywhere near them. Permit, tarpon and bonefish all are for catch-and-release only, so capture just their images for your Facebook page. To book a fishing charter, check out Bud n’ Mary’s Fishing Marina at www.budnmarys.com.
Visitors who enjoy both boating and golf can combine their hobbies in the Conch Scramble charity golf tournament Sept. 30 in Islamorada. Teams of four, plus a designated boat driver “caddy”, stop at nine waterfront venues where they come ashore to tee off. Each player gets two shots at floating holes using biodegradable golf balls that dissolve into fish food after a few days in the water. Proceeds benefit athletic programs and facilities for Keys students. To register, visit www.conchscramble.com.
A favorite family destination in Islamorada is Theater of the Sea– one of the oldest marine mammal facilities in the world–open since 1946. Here you can watch dolphins perform aerobatics, become acquainted (and paint a picture) with a sea lion, swim with nurse sharks, and visit Quasimodo– a green sea turtle who wears a special custom life jacket. For more information, go to https://theaterofthesea.com.
Book your stay at the Islander Resort, a Guy Harvey Outpost at www.guyharveyoutpost.com or call 1-800-513-5257.