Day 3 – First Annual Cross Florida MTB Challenge

October 21, 2009 Day 3 – Ocala to Yankeetown

The stale air in our room made the day seem long in coming. Once up, we grabbed some dilute coffee and a stale bagel from the lobby and started to pack our stuff.

Problems started early as I awoke to the sight of both of my tires being completely flat. We had planned to ride to the Santos bike shop so I could buy more tubes, and some Tuffy tire liners or new tires. But now I was going to have to scramble just to get my bike to the shop.

Unfortunately I did not have enough patches to fix the several leaks found and had to run around the streets of Ocala in my flip-flops looking for a patch kit. The AutoZone and CVS where closed but I did find a patch kit at a locally owned convenience store. This kit was a bit odd as all the patches were very stiff and thick. Fortunately, I was able to patch a tube with this kit and had my bike rolling by 9AM.

Craig rushing to fix tires
Craig rushing to fix tires

Because we had decided to got into downtown Ocala to make sure of finding a motel, the Santos bike shop and the Santos bike trails were five miles to the south on US301. US301 had a sidewalk for a few miles but we where quickly forced to ride on the shoulder of this busy high-speed highway. After about 2.5 miles of US301 madness, Ken did find some side streets that could get us to the south. Just when we thought we were home free, the only street that seems to go through ended at a gate with a no trespassing sign! But again our luck held for as we paused to figure out our next move, a lady came out of her house to collect the little yapping dog at our feet and told us that the street did go through and that most people just ignore the gate and sign. So we did the same and quickly made our way to the Santos bike shop.

Arriving at the shop was such a relief, for even though I had put tremendous effort into patching my tires this morning, my front was slowly leaking the entire way down US301. I had to stop several times to add more air. Once at the shop I knew my troubles were over.

I bought six tubes, two patch kits, Tuffy tire liners, and energy bars. The tire liners where not the width I wanted but I thought they would work. Spending the next thirty minutes in the bike shop parking lot, I threw away all the old tubes, outfit both my tires with new tubes and liners, and restocked my bags with new tubes and candy bars. With the burden of flat tires removed, I was beginning to relax again.

The girl at the shop directed us to a trail that left out of the back of the shop and connected with the main Santos trails. This was news to us and it was much better than riding the roads back to a trail crossing. Since it was already 10AM, we didn’t bother to look for breakfast and decided to take the most direct route through the Santos and Greenway trails so that we could maybe make up some time and have a little sunlight for exploring areas unknown to us.

About to cross the landbridge
About to cross the landbridge
Land Bridge over I75
Land Bridge over I75

Being familiar with the Santos trails, nothing exceptional happened and we smoothly made our way to where the trails cross CR484, our previous furthest west on these trails. From here on we had never been on any of the Greenway trails and no actual bike trails yet exist. Hiking and Horse trails do exist and a limerock road is available. Not wishing to bother any hikers or sample the joy of riding on the sandy horse trails, we stuck to the limerock road. The road made for a wonderfully relaxing and enjoyable ride. This road would make a great place to ride with cyclists of all levels and the scenery is worth the trip.

From CR484 we headed through the Greenway looking at the forest that clings to to ridge lines that border the old barge canal diggings and finally came upon sweeping views across Ross Prairie and SR200. At this road crossing we could see a convenience store to the north and rode up to get more food and water. We were not on the hard road more than 100 meters when both of my tires started to go flat. I did ride through a few patches of sandspurs and I guess the hard pavement pushed the thorns the final little bit into my tubes. By the time we reached the store, I was riding on my rim.

Craig at SR200 fixing tires
Craig at SR200 fixing tires

We purchased lots of food and water and while Ken patiently rested in the shade of an Oak tree, Craig fixed both of his tires, finding many sand spur thorns embedded in them. The tire liners had worked but since they were about a centimeter too narrow, the thorns were able to find a home on the outer edge of the tread. Why didn’t I buy new tires at Santos?

New tubes in and we are ready to go. Back onto the Carr Greenway and across the Ross Prairie, we initially had to search for the trail and we wiggled and weaved through the trees and dried up marshland until we stumbled back upon our limerock road. It is clear that the road hits SR200 south of where we hit SR200 when coming from the East. Once back on the road, we found one of the old canal digging areas had stayed treeless and was a very pretty prairie.

Pretty little Prairie in the canal diggings
Pretty little prairie in the canal diggings
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Ken on the prairie

The road now traveled over some amazingly beautiful areas with clumps of large oak trees, cypress trees in the low spots, and Slash pine on the canal ridges. Several spots had ancient live oaks forming cathedral-like clearings under their heavy branches.

Ken took this picture of a magnificent spot that has Live oaks growing over a shallow creek-like depression.  These oaks form long canopied tunnels with soft under growth that was tempting us to take a break and fall asleep for forty or so years.  This grove is something out of a fairy tale that could be part of Narnia or even Alice’s Wonderland.

Wonderland in Florida
Wonderland in Florida

We next stumbled upon a Stonehenge like memorial to a twenty-something Pruitt that had died in the crash of a small airplane.  A ring of boulders just off the road and under the canopy of several ancient live oaks, memorializes the young Pruitt whose promising life was cut short.  He must have been much loved as the Pruitt family has donated this property to the state for use in the Greenway Project.

Pruitt Memorial
Pruitt Memorial

After the memorial, the trees gave way to open pasture and to the end of the lime rock road at the Pruitt trailhead of the Florida Greenway.   The Pruitt trailhead is the most westerly Greenway trailhead on the east side of Dunnellon and is made up of a parking area, horse corral, port-a-john, and a trail notice bulletin board. This trailhead marked the point where we had a difficult choice to make.  Should we leave the Greenway and head into the legendary dangers presented by CR484 or should we try to work our way through the unknown roads and trails of the Halpata Preserve?  The SR484 route would be fast but not much fun and the Halpata route would slow and fun.  Or, at least it had some potential to be fun.

Unfortunately, all my flat tires and our underestimating how long it would take to get to the coast answered the question for us.  If we hoped to get to Yankeetown before dark, we had to take the fastest route and leave the Halpata route for another day.  So we got onto CR484 and the tremendous number of high-speed trucks, trailers, and cars did not give any relief until we arrived at the Rainbow River just east of Dunnellon.

Rainbow River
Rainbow River

At the bridge over the Rainbow we paused and took a few pictures of the beautiful blue waters of this marvelous spring fed run that during the summer is packed shore to shore with swimmers on inner-tubes drifting on the cold water in the hot sun.  We continued on for about a quarter mile but I again had a flat and we decided to retreat to the cool shade on the banks of the Rainbow so I could fix my tires in relative comfort.

While waiting, Ken distracted himself by studying the local teenagers as they beached themselves and he tried desperately to understand their not so subtle verbal and non-verbal attempts to attract the attention of the members of their peer group while simultaneously staying completely invisible to spandex wearing old men on the shore.

On the road again and we do not get out of Dunnellon before I have another flat!  At this  point I’m a crazed maniac and can just barely bring myself to fix the tire.  But we rode to the gate that guarded our best non-paved road, sat in the shade and again fixed my tires.  I was so mad that I would have been happy to jump the gate and trespass on this hunting lease and dare anybody to try to stop me.  Ken however was more calm and after talking with a local decided that we should abandon the “damn-it-all” route and stay on the hard road until we got to the next public access at Goethe State Forest.

Luck was on our side as we hammered down SR40 to the west of Dunnellon.  The traffic was light and not nearly as scary as CR484.  This road was the usual Florida highway with the usual oak and pine forest along its edges, pretty but nothing special.  Taking a turn to the north at CR336, we expected logging trucks and boat trailer but only got a few cars and pickup trucks.  Now we were heading into the “The Gulf Hammock” famous for moonshine, lumber, and good-ole-boy police and politicians.

We had no trouble finding the road that ran along the southern edge of Goethe State Forest and it was nice to be off the pavement and back into the woods.  This forest had a different character than those we had previously traversed.  Maybe it was the setting sun but the woods seemed more ominous, darker somehow, even a little bit mangled.   Somehow the forest did not seem natural but was more like an inadvertent result of man’s activities.  Probably all Florida forests are the result of man’s activities but, except for the wetland areas, this one had a twisted look and feel.

However, the road through the forest was straight and well maintained and we made good progress.    About halfway across the forest, we came upon a dark, dank, dreary hunting camp filled with old molding campers, trailers, and mobile homes.  It appeared to be inhabited and was tightly packed under the gnarled limbs of 80 foot pines and 200 year old oaks.  This decrepit collection of temporary shelters had not seen the light of day for many years and now it was too late for the light to do anything but make more obvious the grouping’s condition.  We pedaled faster in hopes of getting past the camp before any of the resident trolls noticed us.

My front tire began to slowly leak but I refused to fix it and just stopped every few miles to add more air.  :-(

As we began to get close to the west side of the forest, we could hear in the distance the noise from the vehicles on US19 and knew we would soon be done with Goethe.  However, the road suddenly became rough, narrow, and closely covered by overhanging limbs (not a good sign!).  Then the road ended at a gate with the requisite signage:  No trespassing – Trespassers will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  At this point I was ready to just jump the fence and get out of the woods before the sun set and the werewolf or whatever gave this forest its crooked vibes came out out to play.

Ken, as he is known to do, made an amazing navigational leap of faith that was both crazy and incredibly intuitive.  We had seen a small unmaintained road split off to the northwest about half a mile back and Ken suspected that this road would be forced to stay in that direction because on the west it had private property and on the east it had a tremendous swamp.   If it stayed in this direction, then it would surely intersect with a clearly marked road to our north that would lead us out to US19.  I again suggested that we just trespass.

Amazingly, the road did continue in the same northwesterly direction, it had been recently mowed by someone that probably uses it to gain access to his hunting lease, and it sure enough took us directly to the clearly marked road to our north.  Popping out of the forest at Cedars of Lebanon Cemetery we thanked the pioneers of long ago for build a cemetery in the woods that would later require private landowners to allow public access to the cemetery thus granting us a legal way to escape.

The proposed route had us staying on US19 for only a half mile before heading into Gulf Hammock on the many dirt roads that criss-cross it.  But having never been on these roads, and since a local told us, “Don’t go that way”,  and with darkness about 45 minutes away, we decided to just get this trip over with and hammer down the hard road into Yankeetown.  The trip down US19 was not as bad as I expected.  We had a wide shoulder and not much traffic.

Turning right onto SR40A we cruised that last few miles into Yankeetown without a problem.  I figured we would look for a bar and have a drink to celebrate but Ken noticed the entrance to the Withlacoochee Salt Marsh Park.  We had never heard of it before and it was a pleasant surprise and a great way to end our trip.

The park road carries you out into the saltmarsh and has a visitor center with facilities and a board walk.  At the end of the road is a observation tower and picnic area.  It is a beautiful park with great educational opportunities  for young and old.  It does an excellent job of showing off the transition from the freshwater tidal swamp into the coastal saltmarsh.  The sunset over the marsh from the top of the observation deck was worth the trip.

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Salt Marsh Park Observation Tower
Ken on the tower
Ken on the tower
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Withlacoochee Salt Marsh

After our visit to the park, darkness was complete.  We mounted our bike lights and started heading toward Inglis in order to meet up with our ride back to the real world.

The Perfect Year Outside 2009

All,

Here is a list of events in which I am thinking of participating. Add
some of your own and let’s see if we can get a few people to do some of
them.

January 10, 2009
FLO Orienteering tenative date. They will possibly have an O event on this date in Croom. If so, we should be there. www.floridaorienteering.org

January 25, 2009
6 Hours of El Lagarto in Lakeland where I plan to ride solo corp. and
pray I am able to finish without too much blood being spilled.
www.redtrailracing.com

January 25, 2009
Florida Challenge Half-Marathon at Alafia State Park. For those not doing El Lagarto this is a great trail run as the course covers all the fun single track bike trails including Roller Coaster, Gatorback, and Moonscape. Dianne is planning to run this while I do El Lagarto.

February 14, 2009
Alachua Stomp. 30 hour adventure race at M.K. Rawlings Park in Alachua County. 10 hours each of trekking, paddling, and mountain biking.
www.wecefar.com

February 21, 2009
12 Hours of Santos in Ocala, if I can actually ride those trails without
crashing every lap. www.sportsbaseonline.com

March 15, 2009
Squiggy Classic 6 hour Adventure Race at the Wilderness parks in Tampa
where Dianne and Craig will defeat the solo efforts of both Gazelle and
Ron. www.wecefar.com

March 28-29
Capital City Cyclists Tour de Big Bend. A weekend double century. The routes will send riders through scenic Big Bend Florida. Riders receive breakfast, food stops, and an after ride meal. Only costs $60 for the entire weekend. www.cccyclists.org

March 28-30, 2009
First Annual Florida Coast to Coast XC Mountain Bike Challenge
Three days of riding the bike of your choice through the last remaining fragments of undeveloped land between Flagler Beach and YankeeTown. Traveling through state parks, wildlife management areas, the Carr Greenway, and possibly jumping fences onto private land. Each night will be spent in the best room available at the nearest Super8 motel. In room alcoholic beverages are provided. No support, bring your rain jacket, your sense of humor, and your appetite for adventure.  **CANCELLED**

April 11, 2009
Croom Fool’s Run 50M/50K/15M in Croom of course. I think WeCeFar is going to move the Croom Quest date because of this race.

April 12, 2009
Croom Quest Multisport Challenge
Kayak, Mountain Bike, Run at Croom. An off-road triathlon for those that love the mixture of dirt and sweat. Both a long and short version are provided this year. www.wecefar.com

April 18, 2009
The Urban Mountain Bike Race and 2x Speed Trials.
When: 6:00pm
Where: Downtown Lakeland, FL (East Iowa & Lemon)
www.redtrailracing.com

April 25, 2009
Talon Adventure Race at Alafia State Park. Our old nemesis is back and after beating everyone at Squiggy, I might like to do it again at the Talon.

May 2, 2009
2nd Annual Georgia 12/6 hour mountain bike race – Endurance Point Series. Ft. Yargo State Park, Winder, Georgia.
www.dirtyspokes.com

May 3, 2009
Space Coast Freewheeler’s Cross Florida Bike Ride. Cocoa Beach to
Bayport. That sounds familiar. www.spacecoastfreewheelers.com

May 17, 2009
HammerHead 100  Solo only.  25 mile, 50 mile and 100 Mile options.  Ocala, FL (Santos Trails – Land bridge Trailhead) www.goneriding.com
HammerHead Course Map > trail.motionbased.com

May 22-25, 2009
Florida Coast to Coast Adventure Race
I’m not sure of the date of if this organizer is planning an ’09 event. But since this race usually has 80 mile bike sections it will be good
training.   www.floridac2c.com

August 16, 2009
Fool’s Gold 100/50 Mile Mountain Bike Race & Festival. Wow! I’ll need
to work on endurance and the ability to ride downhill without squealing.
www.55nineperformance.com

November 10-14, 2009
La Ruta de los Conquistadores in San Jose, Costa Rica. Probably can’t
afford it or finish it but working toward a tough goal is great fun.
www.adventurerace.com

Craig

Horrible Hundred 2008

November 16, 2008
Clermont, Florida

THE RIDE

HH2008 Route Profile

HH2008 route map

Everyone missed a very good ride. The Florida Freewheelers once again set the standard for supported bike rides in central Florida.

New to the race this year was the ability to pick up your packet the night before. This was a great feature and we took advantage of it. It was very nice not to have to worry about getting to the start early so we could wait in a line. We showed up thirty minutes before the start, casually finished our bike prep and strolled to the start with ten minutes to spare.

We started in the middle of the pack, estimated at 1000+ cyclists. They claimed a record number of riders but I do not know the exact number.

Since the 100 mile route was going to be challenging for me and probably impossible for Dianne, we tried to stay at or below 18mph. But you know how it goes when you start a ride, nobody has any sense and finding a group going that slow is difficult.

I was just getting settled in when Dianne noticed she forgot her sunglasses and since the first seven miles of the ride is just a loop around Lake Minneola, we where able to swing by the van and pick them up without losing more than five minutes.

After this break, we where positioned with riders more compatible with our speed requirements and we rode with several different groups for the next 50 miles. We never found a group that was completely compatible since Dianne climbs too fast and descends to slow but Craig climbs too slow and descends too fast. Actually, we aren’t even compatible with each other.

We skipped the first SAG stop and motored along until at mile 50 we found ourselves all alone as we traveled through the third world enclave that is Mascotte and into the flat lands of Bay Lake Rd, and Empire Church. Once we emerged from this purgatory and again crossed to the north of SR50, we had to battle the headwind for 10 miles to the next SAG. I tried grabbing any wheel I could find but was repeatedly given the evil eye. I even let Dianne try her luck but nobody was willing to help. So I just said, “see ya,” and motored into the next stop with tired legs.

After two PBJ sandwiches, two brownies, two handfuls of doritos, and lots of water, we realize we where at mile 70 and about to hit the big hills that make this ride so famous. Dianne’s back had been bothering her all day but she took another Ibuprofen, said her legs felt good, and was excited about the last 30 miles. I wasn’t so sure, myself.

But we felt pretty good and when Buckhill Rd appeared we felt like superstars as we passed dozens of riders as they slowly pedaled or pushed their bikes to the top. As you know, Buckhill Rd. has four hills. So I can just imagine these bike pusher’s misery as they topped one hill only to see the next.

Sugarloaf Mt. was very neat. We had spectators at the bottom looking up at the crazy cyclists and shaking their head in disbelief. We had dozens of cars with cheerleaders of all ages at the top: cow bells, pom-poms, clapping hands, and prone cyclists gasping for air could all be seen. In between, Sugarloaf was steep and covered with bike pushers, crying women, men massaging calf muscles, triple chain ring spinners, and standing pedal pounders audibly sucking air and hoping their hearts would not give out.

On the backside of Sugarloaf, we celebrated with a high-five and blasted down the hill with a “yeee-haaa.”

We took it easy for a few miles and skipped the last SAG stop. My chain dropped off as I shifted into my small ring on a steep climb and as I was putting it back on I saw behind us the group we had hoped for this entire day. Twenty riders working together, oh joy! We hopped on and road that train for seven miles before we could no longer climb with them and they left us with five miles remaining. Only seven miles but after 87 miles of loneliness and rejection, it was a delight.

I don’t even remember climbing Hospital Hill. We did it last year and they claimed we did it this year but I don’t remember and was actually beginning to think about other things than riding my bike. Maybe I was tired. Dianne, however, was peppy. She left me for dead on every hill in the last 30 miles and if it wasn’t for her poor descending ability, I would have never seen her again. That’s the payment I get for towing her around for 70+ miles.

At the finish, the organizers had set up a finish arch complete with balloons and a clock: 6:58:22. This was not our fastest 100 miles but it is my favorite. Something about overcoming the cold and the wind and Dianne’s aching back that make it that much sweeter.

Foot long hotdogs, Bratwurst, BocaBurgers, Cheeseburgers, grilled Salmon, chips, sodas, water, etc. where piled high at the finish tent. Hundreds of riders where setting in the Sun by the lake enjoying their post-ride endorphins. It was a good day and you should have been there.

THE WEATHER

The weather forecast was for 41 degrees and 15-20 mph winds from the Northwest. We were lucky and only got 45 degrees and 10-15 mph winds.

In preparation for doing battle with the wind and cold Dianne was wearing a headband covering her ears, long sleeve Smartwool undershirt, cycling shirt, arm warmers, two pairs of gloves, cycling shorts, leg warmers, Smartwool socks, cycling shoes, and shoe covers. Had it been 41 degrees as forecasted, she would have added the long running pants she brought.

Even Craig was scared of freezing and was clad in clip-on ear covers, long polyester thermal undershirt, cycling shirt, cycling shorts, long running pants, thick polyester socks, cycling shoes, and shoe covers.

When heading South I felt comfortable and when heading North I was freezing. But on average our dress was perfect and we did not sweat too much which helped us not to be too cold when riding into the wind.

There was wind and it was annoying but it was not the completely demoralizing blasts of frost that I anticipated. Whenever we headed into the wind we just hammered away and let our speed drop to whatever it would be. We did not try to push into the wind and that let us have the energy needed to blast away when the wind was at our backs.

Of course, as anyone knows that has ridden around Clermont, there is not much chance to just put down your head and smoothly stroke the pedals. Except for the 25 mile loop around Mascotte, this route is either not-so-gently rolling or wickedly up and down. Believe it or not I was more tired doing the flat boring stuff south of Mascotte than doing the big hills.

The ride support was once again fantastic with SAG stops every 15-20 miles. Each stop was stocked with helpful volunteers, PBJ sandwiches, brownies, cookies, petzels, chips, chocolates bars, fruit, water, Gatoraide, Port-a-potties, chairs, shade, maps, and mechanics.

Craig

Leach Adventure Race 2008

Two teams grabbed their required equipment and completed the 2008 Leach Adventure Race.

Here are some interesting statistics on this year’s race:

Ron Black and Justin Smith dominated both physically and mentally and managed a first place in their division. They never made a serious mistake and hung tough in the hot sand dunes.

Ken Black and Craig Skiles felt the heat and could not keep the pace. Ken struggled with his bad ankle early in the race and Craig made bad decisions late in the race and they were soundly defeated. Twenty minutes behind the leaders, they still managed to win third place in their division.

My topo software gives me the following distances for the different sections of the race.

Canoe – 4.31 miles
O-course – 2.5 miles
Scooter – 2.37 miles
Bike – 18.26 miles
Run #1 – 5.43 miles
Run #2 – 4.27 miles

Justin and Ron took a better route on Run #2 so the distance they ran was 3.8 miles.

For a view of Justin and Ron’s Leach GPS track see the link below. The GPX file for this route is much more detailed than shown on the website. They must be filtering out some of the points to save memory.

RonJustinLeach08 MapMyRide

RonJustinLeach08.gpx
KenCraigLeach08.gpx

Craig

2008 Bike Across Florida Route

WeCanBAF Sunday April 20, 2008
Start Time: 6:45AM (Police Escort is scheduled to arrive at 6:30AM)
Start Location: LaQuinta Inn, 1275 N. ATLANTIC AVE., Cocoa Beach, FL
Finish Location: Cracker’s Bar and Grill, 502 NW 6th St., Crystal River, FL

Pre-ride Social Gathering 6:30PM Saturday April 19, 2008
Roberto’s Little Havana Restaurant
26 N Orlando Avenue
Cocoa Beach, FL
(866) 339-7042

Remember that any transportation from Crystal River back to your house is up to the each individual rider. Maybe next year we can add a party bus for the return trip. :)

The finish of the ride has been changed so that we are not stranded at the High School. Instead we will finish at Cracker’s Bar and Grill and can have a meal and a drink before heading home.

Below you will find a link to the route cuesheet. Look for the unmanned sag stops. My support team will wait for me at these locations and will leave water and ice for those that might be behind. If all the support teams meet at these locations then we will have unprecedented support. My team is planning to also stop in between these stops so that they are only 10 miles from me at any time.

Here is the 2008 Bike Across Florida route.

WeCanBAF 2008 CUESHEET

No-Nonsense Flats Fishing

Crystal River, Florida November 16, 2007

flatssunset.jpg

In fishing, as with most sports, it is easy to get carried away when buying equipment, learning new skills, and practicing with both. This post hopes to remove the mystery behind flats fishing in Florida and provide you with a simple and hopefully short list of the truly necessary, bare-bones, set of skills and equipment needed to be a successful flats fisherman in Florida.

Put down all the over-blown fishing strategies, casting techniques, and lure selection hype that you have ever used or read about and pick up the no-nonsense professional advice presented below.

Your Boat

Boat? Who needs a boat? All you need is a good pair of wading boots or old sneakers Sure, a boat can get you to many more fishing locations than can be fished from the combination of your car and your feet, but never think that the spot you can wade from the parking lot of the boat ramp is not a prime fishing location. Many times the good fish holding structures around boat launching areas are overlooked by boaters in their hurry to power over the water to find their favorite and probably over-fished spot.

Here are three of my favorite spots in the Ozello/Crystal River, Florida area that I often wade during an incoming tide and often catch Redfish and Speckled Trout.

Your Equipment

No-nonsense equipment doesn’t mean junky equipment and it doesn’t mean expensive equipment. No-nonsense equipment is high-quality, rugged, affordable, and functional beyond the fishing skills of all but the most demanding professional tournament anglers. For a day of wade fishing the flats of Florida you need the following equipment and only the following equipment. The only thing you could possibly need to add to this list is your personal medications. Of course, there are many different equipment lists that I could present to you but this is the exact equipment that has been proven to catch fish year after year.

The List

  • Shimano Carbomax 7′ one piece spinning rod
  • Shimano Sedona 4000FB spinning reel
  • Trilene XL 10 lb test clear monofilament
  • Trilene XL 20 lb test clear monofilament (leader)
  • Fingernail clippers on a retractible lanyard
  • Quick drying polyester shirt with chest pockets
  • Quick drying polyester shorts with pockets
  • Hard billed Sunhat
  • Polarized Sunglasses
  • Wading boots or old sneakers
  • Micro flashlight
  • Sunscreen and lip balm
  • Bug spray
  • Small drybox for tackle, ID, and fishing license
  • Small Leatherman tool with scissors
  • Tackle selection
  • Snack food

Fishing Rod

carbomax-cast-spin.jpg
A graphite/glass composite rod is what you need. It is much more rugged than pure graphite and outlasts rods four times more expensive and casts and fights fish as well as any on the market. My all-time favorite flats fishing rod is the Shimano Carbomax 7′ medium action one piece spinning rod. Shimano’s part number is CMS70M.

I know what you are saying, “If this guy is such a good fisherman, why is he recommending a freshwater fishing rod for saltwater flats fishing?” Well, this is your first lesson in no-nonsense fishing and its equipment. Don’t believe the marketing hype of the equipment manufacturers. They almost all make excellent equipment but, without exception, they push the uneducated buyer into spending too much. A comparable rod from shimano that is categorized as “saltwater” will truly be an exceptional fishing rod but it costs three times as much as the Carbomax and it is not as rugged over the long haul because it is made of 100% graphite instead of the more reliable graphite/glass composite. The Carbomax rod is completely usable in saltwater and nothing, not even the reel seat, will corrode.

Fishing Reel

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A good quality properly cared for fishing rod usually lasts much longer than your fishing reel. I know it seems that it should be the opposite but it is not. Unless you intend to spend time having an expensive reel regularly serviced, do not waste your money by purchasing a spinning reel that costs more than the rod. The best no-nonsense spinning reel for flats fishing in Florida is the Shimano Sedona B Series SE4000FB with front drag.

When you are done fishing, gently hose off the reel with freshwater, let it dry, spray it with WD-40, and wipe off the excess. The life of your rod and reel is extended dramatically by this little bit of care.

The Line

Now add some good ten pound test monofilament fishing line and your rod and reel combination is ready to fish. Trilene XL clear is my favorite as it is very limp an rolls off the reel smoothly and is slow to twist up as is very common with line fished from a spinning reel. The new braided lines such as PowerPro are excellent but I do not recommend them for spinning reels because the line is held by the finger during a cast and the small diameter and low stretch characteristics abrade the skin from your finger tip after just a few casts. You also need a spool of twenty pound test monofilament fishing line to use for making leaders (we talk about leaders later). Although the flourocarbon monofilaments are very popular for making leaders and do work very well, I am not convinced that they have the “invisible in water” property that they claim. Since they are triple the cost of regular monofilament and have only marginal, if any, added benefit, they do not qualify as no-nonsense equipment.

The Clothing

Your clothing is needed to protect skin from sun exposure and to regulate your body temperature. In the summer select light-weight, long-sleeved polyester shirts preferably with large chest pockets and light weight polyester shorts with a built-in synthetic mesh liner and large pockets that can close with velcro. In the winter, simply add an additional layer underneath the light weight shirt. Some polyester thermal underwear is always nice when the north wind blows. Of course, wading in the cold winter time water is only enjoyed by the hardiest of individuals and I recommend switching from wade fishing to kayak or boat fishing during the colder months of the years.

Columbia has a large selection of inexpensive and functional models. But any brand works as long as it is light weight, loose fitting, and made from a synthetic, fast drying material. You can fish in a raggedy cotton tee shirt if you wish but for all-day trips on the water the superior comfort provided by a loose fitting, polyester shirt and short makes them no-nonsense choices.

Your wading boots need not be fancy armored anti-stingray boots or even chi-chi stylish bonefish boots. Just buy a pair of sturdy scuba-diver booties and fear nothing except oyster shells.

A hat is a must have accessory and I recommend a hard billed version instead of a floppy bill. In windy conditions the soft bill is annoyingly flippy-flappy. The hard bill provides stable sun protection and even doubles as a face saving rain shield in times of need. Again, Columbia has good models that are reasonably priced.

Never leave the house without your high-quality polarized sunglasses. Sunglasses are so important that you need to make sure you never forget them. If you do forget them, go home and get them or stop at a store and buy some new ones. I am not kidding! Polarized sunglasses are so important mainly because they allow you to see under the water even when the sun is producing significant glare on the water’s surface. But sunglasses also provide protection for the eyes just as your clothing is protecting your skin. Fishing all day in bright sunlight without sunglasses can cause headaches, fatigue, and irritability. Fishing all day in bright sunlight with good polarized sunglasses prevents all these maladies. My favorite glasses have always been ActionOptics with brown glass lens. The glass lenses are extremely durable and the brown color is useful in both the bright light of a summer day and the overcast gloom of a winter morning.

The Tackle

Choosing tackle is where most fisherman make the most mistakes. The number one reason they make these mistakes is because the tackle manufacturers know that fisherman are attracted to bits of plastic with flashing glitter and bold colors. Never expect the lure you like to be equally attractive to a fish. Sorry but fish the world over don’t care about the latest and greatest flashing chunk of plastic. However, years of trial and error by millions of fun seeking fisherman have found certain lure shapes, lure movement patterns, and lure colors that consistently attract fish. Just stay with these basics, learn to be confident in their time-tested effectiveness. Don’t be persuaded by your buddy’s constant talk about his mail-order super lure. Here is a list of lures your tackle box should not be without along with the several color patterns that always work when fished with confidence.

Lure Selection

  • Heddon Zara Spook
    • Saltwater super spook in “redhead” color
  • Mirrolure 52M
    • Classic Black Back/Silver
  • Culprit 6″ Jerk Worm
    • Albino Shad
    • Watermellon Pepper
  • BassAssassin 4″ Curly Shad
    • Chartreuse silver glitter
    • Candy corn
  • Owner Offset WideGap Worm Hook 3/0
  • Offshore Angler 1/4 and 1/8 oz. jig heads
    • Red deluxe shad head
    • Glow deluxe shad head

A Small Box

Let us put all this into a small box and see if it fits into your pocket. I recommend a Flambeau 3003 Tuff Tainer. It is big enough to hold your leader material, hard lures, jig heads and a few of each type of soft lure. It does fit in your pocket but I agree that it is not very comfortable or secure so I would advise a small waist pack that can be used to store your tackle as well as your snacks, water, sunscreen, micro-light, personal identification, fishing license, and bug spray. Choose a inexpensive model such as the High Sierra Passport Lumbar Waist Pack. Don’t spend big money on a waterproof pack. It is not possible to make it waterproof. Instead, spend time making everything in the pack waterproof by using plastic bags and small waterproof containers.

A Small Light

Quite often while wade fishing early in the morning or late in the evening, there is just not enough sunlight to properly tie a knot or find that last chartreuse curly shad. The answer is to bring with you a small flashlight that can clip onto the bill of your hat thus freeing your hands for more important duties. I have used a many different types but my current favorite is the Bil-Lite from Q-Lite, Inc. This light is sturdy and bright and has a lens that focuses the light into a clean circle with very little light wasted around the edges. The batteries are easy to replace but the light is not waterproof so be careful.

Your Skills

Now we have all the the equipment needed to make you a first class flats fisherman. But this equipment is of no use unless you know how to use it. The skills you must acquire and practice are as follows:

  • Cast accurately in both distance and direction
  • Tie strong small knots when attaching hooks and creating leaders
  • See fish under the water using your polarized glasses
  • Know the tide and how it effects the location you are fishing
  • Know the weather and how it effects the location you are fishing

Accurate casting is achieve no other way than with practice and the best way to practice is to go fishing. Don’t worry about your poor casts but do learn from them. Notice how the wind effects your casts. Notice how the lure type and weight effects your casts. Fish and learn and enjoy your lessons.

Seeing fish underwater is only possible when you have very good eye sight and have spent many days on the water. Even the best fisherman seldom actually see the entire fish but can tell you from just the way the water is moving over a swimming fish or the shape of a shadow on the hard bottom exactly what species of fish is being seen. After you have spent years fishing you also will have this skill. Until then, look movement in the water; look for water moving in a way inconsistent with the surrounding water. Cast in front of every movement and you soon learn from your trial and error.

Knowing the tide is as easy as looking up the high and low tides in a local tide chart. But knowing how the tide effects your chosen fishing location requires you to go fish that location. The most important thing to learn is that fish like moving water. They use that moving water to wash bait into an ambush or they use that moving water to signal that they can now swim up onto a previously dry mud flat or a previously too shallow grass flat. Once the water stops moving, the fish know to stop what they are doing and start to do something else. It is your job to know what the fish will do next.

A good rule of thumb is to fish a grass flat or mangrove shoreline during the incoming tide. As the water floods the flat or shoreline, the fish move further and further onto the once shallow area in order to find food. As the tide begins to move out, you can reposition yourself so you can cast into the deeper channels that drain the flat or shoreline. As the water moves off the flat, the fish begin to retreat to deeper water and use the channels on the flat to help ambush bait that is being washed out with the tide.

Knowing the weather is not easy. Wind can completely alter the tide prediction. Sudden changes in temperature seems to slow down the fishing action but Sudden decreases in barometric pressure seems to speed up the fishing action. It is just not possible to know all that the weather does to your favorite fishing spot.

The best rule to follow is to fish the morning and evening during the summer as the cooler temperatures and absence of direct sunlight make the fish hungrier and your presence less noticeable. In the winter, fish the few days before a cold front brings its high winds, cold temperatures, and bright blue skies. Once the harsh winter weather passes through, stay at home and clean up your tackle and wait for the next cold front.

Tying strong small knots is a must and next to casting is the easiest skill to acquire. No-nonsense fishermen need only to learn three knots: the Uni-Knot, the Spider Hitch, and the Surgeon’s Knot. There are many useful and wonderful knots that a fisherman can use but learning to tie these three perfectly, quickly, and in all weather is all you need to know.

The Uni-Knot – Attaching hook to leaderUniknotThe Uni-Knot is a knot tying system! If you learn the uni-knot you have learned the single most useful knot on the planet.
First, run the line through the eye of the hook for about six inches. Turn the end back toward the eye to form a circle as shown in illustration #1. With thumb and finger of the left hand, grasp both strands of line and the crossing strand in a single grip at the point marked just forward of the hook. Now, make six turns with the end around both strands of line and through the circle, as in illustration #2.

Maintaining the same grip with the left hand, pull on the end of the line in the direction shown by the arrow until all the wraps are snugged tight and close together. Snugging down tightly at this stage is essential for maximum knot strength.

Finally, slide the finished knot tight against the eye of the hook by dropping the tag end and pulling solely on the standing part of the line as shown by the arrow in illustration #3. The excess end can be trimmed flush with the knot after final positioning, as shown in illustration #4.

It takes just one slight variation to transform the hook tie into a loop arrangement, which provides more lure movement. When you get to the position specified in illustration #3, simply grab the tag end with pliers and tighten the knot without allowing the loop to slide through the eye of the hook.

The Spider Hitch – Creating a double line
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It is important to create a double line before tying your leader to your standing line. The reason is that your knot is much stronger when the line is doubled.

This knot is not as good as a Bimini Twist. But it is much easier to tie and just as strong for the short duration battles typical of flats fishing with light spinning tackle.

A. Double back the end of the line until you have about three feet of double line and grip the two strands with thumb and finger near the tag end, make a two inch diameter loop near the tag end and take the base of this loop in the same thumb-finger grip.

B. Wrap the doubled line around your thumb (and around the small loop too) for five turns.

C. Slip the end of the long loop through the little loop. Pull the entire long loop through, allowing the wraps to slide, one by one, from your thumb.

D. At first, tighten the knot by slowly and gently pulling the double line as one unit. If you detect that one of the lines in the knot are not tightening evenly, then just pull the single line that is causing the problem. Pull each line separately very gently until the knot is nice and smooth. Then, once again, pull all lines as a unit until the knot is as tight as you can make it with hand pressure and trim the tag end close to the knot.

Surgeon’s Knot – Connecting leader to double line

surgeon_knot.jpg
The Surgeon’s Knot makes a fast, easy and reliable connection for tying a heavy monofilament leader, or double line, directly to either monofilament or braided fishing line.

1. First, lay out the leader parallel to the double line made using the Spider Hitch, letting the end of the line and the end of the leader overlap for six or eight inches.

2. Tie a simple overhand knot in the doubled section, making sure that both the short end (line) and long end (leader) are pulled completely through. Do not tighten the knot at this point.

3. Next, simply go through the same opening a second time, with both strands exactly as before, again making certain both ends are pulled through.

4. Finally, draw the knot tight by gripping both strand on either side of the knot, and drawing down with steady pressure. As with the Spider Hitch gently tighten each line separately until the knot is smooth and tight. The ends of this knot may be trimmed flush with the wraps.

Go Fishing

That is all a no-nonsense fisherman needs to own and needs to know. Now you must practice. Work on your knots while watching the television. Don’t be satisfied until you can tie them with your eyes closed. Work on your casting by going fishing or if you are completely bored, go in the backyard and cast a jig into a bucket of water from 100 feet away. Read the tide chart for the area you wish to fish and take note of the difference between the high/low tide published and the actual tide at your fishing spot. This difference is going to be about the same every time and can be used to plan your trip. Keep your hooks sharp and change your fishing line as often as you can afford. Have fun.

Introduction to Citrus County’s Nature Coast

The coastline of Citrus county Florida is fifty miles of real, alluring, and wildly mysterious Florida that borders the Gulf of Mexico from the Chassahowitzka River in the south to the Withlacoochee River in the north.This is a naturalist’s paradise. A land of vast forest preserves, wetlands with abundant wildlife, close offshore islands (keys) that seemingly float on the clearest waters north of the Florida Keys and a number of world-class sparkling springs. So distinctive are these crystal-clear springs, they have been listed by SCUBA Diving magazine among the top ten international spots.

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The Gulf of Mexico bounds the western edge and the northern and eastern boundaries comprise the Withlachoochee River. Many of its seven rivers are designated as “Outstanding Florida Water Bodies” and include the Crystal River, St. Martin’s River, Salt River, Homosassa River, Hall’s River, Withlacoochee, and the Chassahowitzka.

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Fishing opportunities in Citrus County are varied and extensive. The coastline of Citrus County and the Tsala Apopka chain of lakes cover more square miles of fishable water than one person could effectively fish in a single lifetime. This guidebook is designed to present an account of fishing opportunities and to help plan boat travel to those opportunities in Citrus County’s Gulf Coast. Some visitors will be drawn to the wilderness aspects of the vast salt marsh and the fish that populate the inshore grass flats and creeks: Redfish, Tarpon, and Snook, others the world famous and record setting Tarpon fishery found off the Homosassa and Chassahowitzka Rivers, and still others to the fertile and vast offshore action that produces more Cobia, Grouper, and spotted sea trout than any other area of Florida.

Heed a word of caution. In rapidly growing Florida, an area as vast as Citrus County’s Gulf coast does not stay relatively untouched by man without a good reason. Boating in the rivers and inshore waters of the Citrus county Gulf coast is dangerous for you and for your boat because the shallow estuaries and grass flats that are so productive for fish are built on a bedrock of limestone. Limestone outcroppings, sand bars, and oyster bars are too numerous to count and even local fishing guides tell stories of rocks appearing overnight in areas that had no such rocks before. Of course, rocks are not appearing out of nowhere but this illustrates the certainty that a fisherman, even a local guide with years of experience, will occasionally strike a rock.

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Citrus County is manatee country. No visit to Florida is complete without a manatee encounter, and the coastal area of Citrus County boasts the largest concentration of manatees in the state. These giant, lovable creatures grow to 15 feet and can weigh 3,000 pounds. Although several dozen West Indian manatees make Kings Bay at Crystal River their year-round home, from October through March the population swells to more than 300.

An easy and guaranteed way to observe manatees up close 365 days a year is located seven miles south of Crystal River at the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park’s Fishbowl Underwater Observatory. In this floating fishbowl, you go below the water’s surface, deep in the springs and on the opposite side of the glass, manatees, with their huge whiskers sprouting from their wrinkled faces, swim lazily by. Schools of jacks, shellcrackers, snook, mullet and sheepshead join the parade as if passing in review.

Chassahowitska National Wildlife Refuge and St. Martin’s Marsh Aquatic Preserve are important areas for waterfowl and for the survival of the endangered manatees. In fact, Chassahowitska is now home to a migrating flock of Whooping Cranes. Only about 400 of this endangered species exists in the entire world. The winter months bring many migrating bird species to Citrus County’s Gulf Coast.

In recent years fishing for Bay scallops has become popular off the coast of Citrus County. Bay scallops were once common along certain areas of Florida’s west coast, their populations began declining after the 1960s. Scallop numbers fell so low in the early 1990s that Florida banned all commercial harvesting after 1994 and restricted recreational harvesting to coastal areas north and west of the Suwannee River between July 1st and September 10th. Between the reduction in harvesting and various restoration programs carried out by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida Marine Research Institute, and the University of South Florida, scallop populations increased in some of the closed areas. As a result, in 2002, the coastal area between the Suwannee River and the Weeki Wachee River was reopened for recreational harvesting between July 1st and September 10th. Citrus County falls completely within this newly opened area.

Regardless of the fishery you choose to enjoy or even if you are a bird watcher or a botanist or a marine biologist this guide offers you the knowledge you need to boat safely and boat softly and respect the fish, birds, and other wild animals that make their homes in this bastion of wild country.

Planning Your Trip

It is important to gather as much current information as possible before starting out on a Nature Coast fishing trip. Fishing licenses are required for both Florida residents and non-residents unless traveling with a properly licensed professional fishing guide. Before starting your trip, make sure you stop at a local bait shop, department store, internet fishing site, or call the Florida department of wildlife to purchase your saltwater fishing license.

The key to a quality fishing trip in this wild part of Florida is good planning. Fishermen and boaters who underestimate the distance and time required to complete a trip may find themselves stranded on a sand bar at low tide as the sun is setting without any cell phone coverage or mosquito repellent.

Local tide predictions are of utmost importance for both catching fish and navigating your boat. Just as some fish most often feed on the outgoing tide on certain island points, your boat will not float on certain grass flats at low tide. Study the tide chart to find the best tide and time of year to fish your chosen area.