Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tuesday Terrors: Lightning

As I sat in my tree stand this afternoon, wondering what this week's Tuesday Terror would be, I watched (and listened as) a big thunderstorm rumble across the horizon. To my right was a pine tree quite similar to the one I was sitting in. The only difference was the giant inner-wood crack that ran from crown to roots. It had obviously been zapped by mother nature recently. After seeing all of this, it was clear what today's terror would be...Lightning.

Photo taken from

According to national geographic (and about a billion other sources), Florida is the lightning strike capital of the US. Over 1500 lightning strike deaths have occurred in this state alone. Why? Might you ask...

Well, take today for example. My first hunt of the 2011 archery season and I nearly keeled over from the heat. I'm not usually one to complain about it being too hot for anything, was too hot. I was drenched before I even got out of the Jeep. To add, it was so humid I could see the steam rising off the dirt road. This heat generates afternoon storms like crazy and it's these storms that produce so much lightning.

Now, I took a meteorology class a few years back...but I honestly can't remember what they tried to teach me about lightning aside from the fact that strikes apparently occur from the ground up and what we see is the electricity going back up. There was some other crazy stuff they tried to teach me, but my brain exploded while trying to wrap it around the concepts. All I know is that it likes to strike the highest point nearby...and it'll kill you. That's enough for me.

Florida probably leads the country in deaths not only because of it's weather, but because some of our favorite outdoor activities involve sitting in trees, sitting in boats, or swinging clubs at little white balls. All of these activities (or any outdoor activity to be fair) makes one vulnerable to lightning should there be a storm nearby.

I had my close call with lightning two summers back. While pulling in a stringer from a canal in south Florida, a bolt struck the water nearby and shocked me up to my elbows. That was more than enough to make me extremely wary of lightning from now on.

Just try and be smart about it. Don't go stand in some field when a storm's nearby, or find shelter under the tallest tree. Seek some low-lying place and make yourself as short as possible if you're stuck outside. Otherwise, get inside...or at least in a car.

Even though lightning can be something beautiful to look at from a distance, it's something you just don't play around with up close. It's kinda light Russian-Roulette with mother nature...There's no telling where the next strike will land.

Lightning at night during my internship

Should have a report from my hunting trip coming out later this week. Rutting deer already? Bird-like dragonflies? Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hunting Season is Here...

And I haven't made a hunt yet. It makes me....Angry


What kind of teacher has an exam scheduled for the Monday morning after opening weekend?? Oh, a fisheries teacher...that's who.

Yes, sadly I missed the opening weekend of archery season here in Florida due to having to study. I'm actually still in the process of it as I write this, but I'm taking a break from my 8 hour studying binge. I suppose I could have hunted had I studied last week, but who studies early? Honestly...

I made it out to Lochloosa WMA last Tuesday (and completely forgot about Tuesday Terrors...whoops) for a scouting trip. Lochloosa is home to the kevlar deer I encountered last year. Hopefully they're feeling a little less...arrow proof this year. Scouting around in a new spot this time and wasn't particularly impressed. What also turned me off on this particular spot was all the marking tape.

If any of you are public land hunters, you probably know what I'm talking about. Marking tape...It's simply omnipresent on a management area. I understand if you need to mark a trail, or maybe the entrance to your trail from a road. But this was ridiculous. Some guy had gone ahead and marked EVERYWHERE. The flagging didn't even lead anywhere. I think he just marked off an enormous area in hopes of deterring other hunters from hanging a stand near by. I usually rip this kind of flagging down, but seeing as how I had no intention of hunting there due to the lack of deer, I left it up. Still...It irks me.

I'll probably end up hanging a stand in the same general area where I shot the doe last fall. I had a brief moment of clear thinking last week and realized that I could reach an area I had picked out on GoogleEarth by making bookmarks and then manually entering their coordinates on my GPS. I'll try this out and will be making my first hunt of this season come Tuesday.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Last Gulf Trip of The Summer

Apologies for being late in posting this. Even though I'm not -that- busy with school this semester, I'm still having trouble finding time to write. This report is from back in August, right before school started.

My dad and I got down to Pensacola Beach right at dawn to discover the Gulf was doing its best impression of a mirror. Such rare events hardly ever happen to us, so we quickly took advantage of it and launched the kayaks in record time. I was after another King Mackerel from the kayak and I wouldn't have been disappointed in another Tarpon either.

I trolled diving plugs around for a while with no luck and soon switched to a sabiki rig to catch bait. I realized I'd left my bait bucket at home, so I was forced to improvise with a plastic bag.

Let my live bait sit for almost an hour with -nothing- picking it up. And if it was even possible, the water slicked off even more. I soon decided to paddle out to a nearby buoy in hopes of picking something up. I slow trolled a live cigar minnow behind the yak and just as I rounded the buoy, something picked it up. Almost immediately, I was cut off on the buoy chain. So I rigged up another cig, cast it out, and failed to pick anything up. As I paddled back by the buoy, I looked down in the water and saw probably six or seven remora that thought my kayak was a big yellow shark. I watched the fish for a while, and noticed that one of them looked funny. It also had something sticking out of its mouth...

My king rig! And it wasn't some dumb remora, it was some dumb Cobia. A VERY tiny Cobia. Like, maybe 20 inches long. He refused to spook and just kept swimming around the buoy and my kayak. After trying and failing to get the Cobia to bite again, I resorted to the one thing that usually works for me: Snatching. Now, some of you may be wondering, "Why would you snatch a baby Cobia? You can't even keep it". Well, I knew this, and since it was so young, I actually wanted to try and get the king rig out of its mouth (and get my king rig After only a few tries with a second wire king rig, I got the treble hooks right into the Cobia's side. I'd like to say he put up a good fight, but it was over almost faster than it began. He we bonkers, dove straight down, and pulled the hooks right out. I never saw him again. I got a little video just prior to the snatching episode. I thought it was kinda neat seeing all the bait under the buoy.

After that, I decided to paddle back closer to shore. One thing I should mention is the abundance of Jellyfish. There were honestly hundreds of thousands of them. So many, in fact, that every time I'd make a stroke with my paddle, I'd hit one. And any time I got going some decent speed, my rudder would hit one and bring the yak almost to a halt.

There was a shocking lack of fish that day. No spanish jumping, King skying, or Tarpon rolling. Nothing. Just remora and one weird Cobia. I blame the jelly fish, but who knows. One thing I do know is that for the first time in almost 10 years of kayak fishing, I got a little sea sick.

Now I've been sea sick a few times in my life, but it's always been on bigger boats and in rough water (like 5-7ft seas). This day was weird. There was hardly any wave action, but the boat still rocked slightly. I think the thing that really messed me up was the fact that the water and the sky blended together so I couldn't find my horizon.
Just looking at the picture makes me feel funny
I didn't get to the point of upchucking, but I really didn't feel good. So with the lack of fish, and slight sea sickness, we decided to call it a day. I would have liked my last Gulf kayak trip of the summer to have been successful, but it at least gives me something to look forward to for next summer.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cedar Key Fishing, September, 2011

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to get to fish Cedar Key, Fl with my dad. Prior to this trip, I'd only fished Cedar Key once and that was from a jon boat and I was about twelve years old. This time would be from the kayak.

After an extremely hectic Friday, I managed to escape Gainesville late and make the hour and a half drive over to Cedar Key. Upon arriving, I was reminded of something I'm personally not used to: Big tidal shifts. Back home in Pensacola, the only real difference between high and low tides is that they are on different parts of the tide table. Honestly, there's about a 1-1.5 ft difference in the tides in Pensacola. And that's with really strong tides.

Cedar Key (along with the rest of the Gulf Coast) has much stronger tides. Cedar Key actually has about a 5 ft. tide. So when we arrived late Friday evening, I'm not greeted with thousands of little islands, sloughs, and fishy looking spots. Instead, I see...Mud. Endless mud flats. Low tide at Cedar Key is brutal and everyone who fishes there answers to the tides first.

Photo taken from

So after consulting the almighty tide table, we realized that low tide was at 7:30am the next morning and high tide wasn't until 1:00pm. I know I'm not alone in thinking that the earlier you can get out on the water, the better. But...It was impossible. Low tide was just too low, even in my yak. So it was kinda weird being on a fishing trip and not waking up until about 9:00am. Even after launching at around 9:30, I still succeeded scratching the bottom of the kayak to hell on oyster bars.

My dad and I paddled out to the closest island which was around 1/2 mile from launch and began fishing. After a couple of hours, I'd circled almost the whole island and hadn't had the first bump. I finally spotted an area where the strong incoming tide was flowing around a point on the island and started to catch fish. I only managed to pull in a few small specks, but hey...It was better than nothing. Moments later, my dad came over and landed a very nice red.

The island was essentially cut in half by tidal mud flats and the incoming tide made it possible to paddle through the middle of it. To our surprise, we didn't see the first sign of any fish in the shallows aside from mullet. Once on the outside of the island again, we started seeing what -looked- like mullet being chased around oyster bars by big fish. But we failed to catch anything aside from the bottom and got off the water around 3:00 pm.

Later that day, we drove down to an area on the Lower Suwanee National Wildlife Refuge that has an indian shell mound. There is a boat launch there and the area (even though it was low tide) looked really fishy. We decided that we would fish this area the following morning.

Once again, I had to shake the weird feeling of waking up late and fishing late the following day. We launched by the shell mound and began looking for fish. I happened to look at google earth the night before and saw where a channel was located in the area and we used that to paddle deeper into the marsh. After about 30 minutes of paddling and fishing, the tide really began to get moving and the current started shooting my yak through the narrow cuts and sloughs.

Rather than get dragged all the way inshore, I broke free from the current and paddled into a calm area on the backside of an island. Another thing I'm not used to is fishing around large amounts of oysters. It seemed like every 10 casts I'd hook the bottom and would have to paddle over to get my lure free. After just a few casts on the backside of this particular island, I hooked the bottom yet again. Except something was wrong...The bottom was moving! I -actually- had a fish. With all the fish I've landed over the years, I still find it funny when I have a fish on and don't realize it for a few moments. After quite a strong fight, I pulled in my first Cedar Key Redfish. Within slot to boot!

I must have found a little school of Reds because my next few casts hooked even more.

And just as quick as I got into them, they were gone. With that, I kept paddling along, hoping to get into another school. Soon I spotted something in the water, but didn't believe it when I saw it. A few moments later, I saw it again and my heart skipped a beat.

Photo taken from

Tailing redfish!

Sure I know Redfish will sometimes tail in shallow water when they're feeding, but that's like saying monster bucks will come running to doe in heat urine...It just doesn't happen to me. The only tailing reds I'd seen before this were in my dreams and in Florida Sportsman magazine. Something about Pensacola Reds makes them reluctant to do this, so when I saw that tail, the first thing I did was perform my patented 'insta-fail-cast'.

The move has taken me years to master, but I consider myself a pro at it. I've made this kind of cast to everything from lunker bass to Tarpon. The first step is to acquire enough adrenaline in the system to send you into seizure-like shakes. The next step is to grab the nearest rod and hook the lure onto every loose item in the boat. It's here that I like to sometimes put my own personal touch on the move by dropping the paddle in my lap hard enough that the fish think all the banging is a reenactment of River Dance going on above. During all of this, it's important to mutter every obscenity that you can think of in order to mentally prepare for the upcoming cast. Finally, with all the prerequisite steps complete, it's time to finish the 'insta-fail-cast'. Assuming the fish is still in the same county at this point, take aim with your rod, and let loose a cast that lands either eighteen inches from the boat, or in the canopy of the nearest tree. Really, just as long as the lure doesn't land in the same area code as the fish, you should be alright.

Luckily, my near perfect 'insta-fail-cast' didn't manage to spook my tailing Red. I quickly made a cliche' normal cast and got my lure within inches of the Redfish's nose. I gave the rod a quick twitch and...Nothing. The fish acted like there wasn't even a lure there. I made another cast, hoping that maybe the fish just didn't see it. But once again...Nothing.

I rapidly began digging through the tackle box and pulled out my go-to inshore lure: A chartreuse double tailed grub. I made another cast and 'wham'. Redfish.

Shortly after releasing the red, I saw more tails. These, however, were massive. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be -giant- Black Drum. I made several casts before I finally got one to pick up my grub. Sadly, I was extremely out gunned. I fought the fish for close to a minute before he finally realized he was hooked. Then he started peeling drag. It sorta looked like a mini-sub moving through the shallow water as he dragged me around in circles. I fought the fish for maybe five minutes. I got close enough to see it and would estimate it somewhere between 30-40lbs. He made a few circles around the boat, then finally came straight at the yak, behind it, then under it. At that awkward angle, I was forced to put the rod tip in the water and try to spin the yak around. However, before I could get the kayak spun around, the main line found a set of oysters underwater and snapped the beast off. I was livid pissed slightly perturbed. Prior to this, the biggest Black Drum I'd ever seen was about fifteen inches long.

I spent the rest of the day trying to catch another. I took out the GoPro, and then proceeded to not catch another fish all day. Sometimes that's just how it goes. I got a short video of me failing with a cast, then accidentally foul hooking another big Black Drum for a second before the hook pulled. If you watch closely, you'll see the fish tailing.

Overall, I had an absolute blast fishing Cedar Key. I would have killed to have just one more day to chase after those tailing Reds and maybe throw some actual bait at the Black Drum since they weren't real interested in my lure. -Super- muddy water played against us, so next time maybe bait would be the way to go. Regardless, I look forward to the next time I make it down there and maybe I'll get a rematch with one of those big ugly Black Drum.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tuesday Terrors: Florida Walking Sticks

This week's Tuesday Terror is the Florida Walking Stick, or Two Lined walking stick. 

Photo taken from

-Wait. Like a bug kinda walking stick?
-Yes, that kind of walking stick.
-But I thought Tuesday Terrors were...You know...Dangerous.
-That's correct...

Though it may not be the most obvious of Florida's dangers, it still poses a threat if directly encountered. And by directly encountering...I mean picking it up to look at it.

My first encounter with a Florida Walking Stick was outside of Pensacola Junior College when I was still getting my associates. A male and female were together and had failed miserably at resembling a stick by attempting to hide on the library's brick wall. My initial reaction to the insect was something along the lines of:
"Oh dear God what is that".

I certainly didn't pick it up, or touch it even. My limit of research was to google 'walking sticks in Florida' and up popped the picture of the Florida Walking Stick.

I didn't realize the danger in these insects until I took an entomology course at the University of Florida. For our grade, we needed to have an insect collection of approximately 50 bugs. My dad was down visiting and we went to look for shark's teeth in a nearby creek. Since I needed my collection, and was going in the woods anyways, I took my kill jar with us. While walking across a boardwalk, I spotted something on a post. The Florida Walking Stick!

I really didn't want to pick it up. Again, it had a male attached to its back and was busy making little walking sticks. I tried my best to coax it into the kill jar, but was failing. My dad finally said something along the lines of "Don't be such a wimp", but manlier and with more expletives. He then proceeded to grab the bug. What happened next was the -exact- reason why I just don't go picking things up.

The insect immediately squirted a white milky substance all over my dad's hand. It stank to high heaven and was apparently slippery as it fell right out of his hand. After a few disgusting moments of trying to catch a now slippery and foul smelling creature, we finally managed to get it into the kill jar. It really did smell terrible, and my dad went down to the creek to wash his hands off.

A few days later, I did a bit more research on this bug. Remember that white milky stuff? Turns out if you get it in your eyes, it'll cause symptoms anywhere from pain to temporary blindness. The pain was described as having a hot iron shoved into the eye socket.

So there you have it. Another little something to -not- mess with. Kinda makes me glad they prefer hide rather than charge right at you.

Should have some pictures and the report from the Cedar Key trip later this week. Tailing Redfish? Tailing Black Drum? 40lbs Black Drum while kayak fishing? Stay tuned!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Finally, a kayak trip!

Short post here. I'm just about all packed up for the weekend fishing trip. My dad will be driving down from Pensacola and picking me up to head down to Cedar Key for the weekend.

I've only fished Cedar Key once when I was younger and that was from a power boat. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for some big trout and reds...Hopefully on the fly! Report should be coming early next week. Wish me luck!

Oh, before I forget, this is what it looks like.

Yes yes...all those little islands...all those fishy spots. Saturday can't come soon enough!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tuesday Terrors: Rattlesnakes

Recently I've been looking for things that I can post on a weekly basis. Since I'm not fishing every week now, and hunting season is still a couple of weeks away, I can try this out to fill up the time. Hopefully, I'll have something to post every Tuesday for Tuesday Terrors.

The focus of Tuesday Terrors will be things in the Florida outdoors that can hurt/kill you. Each week will feature a new subject. Some (like this week) are obviously dangerous, while others may be overlooked or forgotten at times. And not all things are found -only- in Florida, but some. The purpose is to try and gather all the different dangerous things in order to be more aware...or maybe paranoid.

So with that, I give you the first installment of Tuesday Terrors.

With hunting season right around the corner, more and more people will be venturing into the woods to begin scouting. Aside from the heat and mosquitoes, there's another thing one must be especially careful to watch out for: Rattlesnakes.

Photo taken from
With it still being so hot and humid outside, the Rattlesnakes are out in full force. Even though they may not be as much of a threat later in the season when it's ungodly cold out, they're certainly something to watch out for in the preseason and early archery season.

I've encountered Rattlesnakes in just about all forms of habitat in Florida. But, if I had to select a few that they tend to hang out in, it would be grassy areas such as sandhills or old fields. I'd also watch my step in areas with thick saw palmetto cover. Areas with lots of Gopher tortoise holes seem to hold a population of rattlesnakes as well. It could be due to the presence of prey that use the holes, or even the holes themselves to stay cool in mid-day and warm in the winter.

Gopher Tortoise hole
Last summer I encountered several Rattlesnakes while prescribed burning and even a few while just walking around. And it's not just the big ones that you have to watch out for. I found this Pygmy Rattler crawling on my foot while I was finishing some photo-points.

Luckily he never got aggressive, and I was able to safely change my pants soon afterwards.

Snake chaps or snake proof boots are a good idea this early in the season. Yes they may be hot, yes they may be uncomfortable, but in my opinion, I'd rather be hot and uncomfortable than get bit.

I've had this pair of snake boots for quite some time now. They certainly give me a sense of security, but I've yet to be unlucky enough to test out their 'snake proof-ness'. I suppose if one was to get bit, my suggestion is to stay as calm as possible. I imagine that a rushing heart rate only helps to spread the venom faster. After you've shot the snake several hundred times (that's at least -my- next step), get to a hospital ASAP. I'm no doctor, but I've seen the pictures of people who've been snake bit and it's not pretty.

Overall, I'd just suggest to watch where you step, especially in places that look like they'd hold snakes. Wear snake boots or snake chaps, and generally just be careful. Even though they'll sometimes rattle at you to warn you not to get any closer, it's hard to run away on jello legs while your heart's in your throat.

Ready to strike

Hope ya'll enjoyed my first try and Tuesday Terrors. There's -plenty- more to come (not to worry, I haven't forgotten about the other horrible snakes), and they'll get better...I promise.