Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

The Christmas Golf Cart and Boat Parades are over and Christmas Day has arrived. The Leek and Smoked Mahi Mahi tart is ready for breakfast. May God bless all of you on this special day.

Merry Christmas, and of course clear skies!

Mark and Renita

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Day of Kayaking at Fort DeSoto

The splash sounded like a large hand slapping the water. I looked over and expected to see a brown pelican, but to my surprise a dark black shape leaped again and I could actually see its waving wings. They seemed to ripple as the manta ray slammed back into the water’s surface.

We had picked up Jenny at her place on Treasure Island and the days plan was to explore the kayaking opportunities at Fort Desoto County Park. Armed with the toll money, pretty unusual for Wyomingites, we entered the park and turned right arriving at the kayak concession. We were going to use ours but Jenny needed to rent one for the day.

The person in charge asked if we were going to brave the cold, it was about sixty five degrees, and he recommended a two hour tour of Soldiers Bayou. Providing us with maps we headed out to the usual jumping mullets and dashing schools of baitfish.

Larger fish were working the schools and so I stopped to cast my chartreuse bodied jig but was again stymied by no takers. It might seem like I am destined to go fishless here but I am an eternal optimist, (I do go jade hunting in Wyoming after all.) Continuing on past osprey nests it seemed unusual to see the large birds sitting on nests in December.

Passing a brown pelican roost we were surprised to see them perched in the black mangroves, but I guess it’s not unexpected to see them taking advantage of any place to rest. A little further and we had come to the end of Soldier Bayou and only half a hour had passed.

Gliding between the small islands we headed out into Mullet Bay, trying to find the pass between Fort Desoto and Shell Key. Turning several large corners we fought the north wind and while it was somewhat strenuous it felt good to get a bit of a workout. Each corner turned out to be another cove and we finally stopped for a bit of a breather.

It was time to turn around and the wind pushed us back in a gentle quarterly direction. Giant mullet continued to leap around us and it is no wonder that they smoke mullet here and make the very popular mullet spread. If I get some large mullet with my net I may actually try to smoke some myself as the one we ate at the smokehouse was really quite tasty.

Returning to Soldier Bayou we stopped and tied up for a relaxing lunch. An immature brown pelican starred at us hoping for a free handout but we all know better than to encourage such behavior,( I leaned this in Texas when I had a brown pelican take the fish off my line and I ended up having a hooked bird. It was scary to land and release such a large billed bird).

We passed several other fishermen casting jigs toward the mangroves but they didn’t seem to be having any more luck them me. At one place a Green Heron flew and landed right in front of me and didn’t seem frightened. It was probably looking for a handout and so Renita and I both snapped images.

Latter we drove around the park and looked for more places to launch our boats. One place that offered promise was very near the Shell Key pass. Jenny warned us however to watch the tides and not paddle with a strong outgoing tide as people are washed out to the Gulf. She has taken the local Coast Guard small craft and seamanship course and it always pays to listen to the locals.

We had a good day at Fort Desoto. Later we walked a bit of the beach and saw lots of washed up horseshoe crabs and Renita filled up a bag with more shells, (one can never have enough). I cast a silver spoon at the mouth of the pass and actually caught another strange ocean fish, (My score is five different species of which I can identify one, a whiting). We enjoyed the beach but Jenny, like a Floridian, complained about the cold. Laughing we headed back to the warmth of her house to decorate Christmas cookies. Clear skies

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Kayaking and Diving with the Manatees at Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River


It was a long drive from Pinellas Park to Crystal River. Sure only seventy four miles but there must be at least fifty thousand stop lights and I think I hit them all. I was feeling bad about subjecting Jenny and Eric to such a road trip when we finally reached Crystal River and the boat launch.

Sliding our kayaks into the canal, Eric and Jenny helped us before they entered their yaks and soon we were all paddling towards Three Sister Springs and all hoping to see some manatees. Before we even reached the mouth of the spring we spotted out first manatee and then another.

As we continued to the spring two dive boats anchored and unloaded their cargo near the mouth. It seems like everyone here buys a pontoon and starts a manatee dive service but it didn’t really matter as  there were manatees resting in the prohibited area. Paddling into the spring itself we spotted two more manatees and I had long since forgotten the tiring drive.

We floated in the springs and watched the sleeping giants before heading back out and turning toward Kings Bay. Two turns later and one of side canals was filled with sleeping giants. Their grey brown bodies, some with dabs of algae growth, would periodically lift their snouts into the air for a quick breath.

This time of year many areas are buoyed and ban boat entrance to protect them, but there were so many manatees that even outside the banned areas one has to be on the lookout. Trying not to disturb a large male I missed spotting another and it rose and gently collided with my kayak, reminding me to be more careful.

Besides the massive males, mothers and pups were in good numbers, and we were all rewarded with the sight of them slowly swimming past us. Heading into Kings Bay we saw other buoyed areas and a flag marked the King Spring. A strong breeze was blowing however and we decided not to go too far into the main bay. Eating our lunch Jenny and Eric both decided they wanted to swim with the manatees and so we headed back to the clear spring water.

You are not allowed to tie up to vegetation so they anchored in the shallows  and were quickly in the water. Jennie had brought her dive camera and we were later able to watch the movies of the manatee’s underwater ballet.

I wished I had a wet suit, (and maybe I should purchase one), as I envied their swim. Eric hadn’t brought his but that didn’t stop him. He was rewarded with a face to face encounter with a large calf; perhaps it thought he was a really weird looking manatee. Too soon he was shivering in the cold water and returned to his craft while Jenny kept snorkeling.

Watching them I saw a large snook and other fishing swimming into and out of the roped off area. Jenny finally headed back to her yak and they steadied each other’s craft as they boarded their boats. It had been four hours since we had launched and so it was time to return.

Our manatee encounters hadn’t yet ended as four of the graceful giants were feeding near the last bend. You could see them vacuuming the bottom with their round hose shaped mouths, releasing bubbles of methane as they plied the canal bed.

The drive back was filled with talk of the manatees and the day had been all it had promised. Some adventures we take are too beautiful and we spoke of returning to Crystal River and another day with the manatees. Clear skies


Ps we don’t advertise on our blog but we do recommend good service and the place we launched and rented kayaks from, A Crystal River Kayak Company, provided us with a great launch site and a friendly dock hand. We recommend them if you are into a self guided kayak trip.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Wheeden Island Preserve, Kayaking the Tunnels 2013

Finally, the tides were just right and we could enter the mangrove tunnels. Renita went first as I wanted to see how she handled her kayak in close quarters. The first tunnel seemed to be pretty easy and the path was wide enough so she didn’t have to take her paddle apart.  The tide was starting to fall and we wanted to run the tunnels before it became too shallow and forcing us to get stranded and wade.

The second tunnel was quite a bit narrower and we both took our paddles apart to row with just half. It went surprisingly well, and I had to row hard to catch up with her. Black crabs dotted the trees and I thought to myself that the tunnels were not for the squeamish or the claustrophobic.

We had been watching the tides charts for Gandy Bridge and Wheeden Island and the predictions were for a high tide of 1.4 feet starting to fall by 10 am and falling six inches by noon. Both other times we had paddled Wheeden the tides were low and the tunnel entrances were blocked by sand bars. So this was probably the last chance we would have this year and Renita readied our gear as I loaded the kayaks.

It’s only a short drive to Wheeden and soon we were pushing off from the dock. The parking lot was pretty empty, (we only saw two other kayaks all day), and after reaching marker three, we entered the tunnels. The first set of tunnels was all against a slow falling tide, and we entered some slack water just after the number nine trail marker.

Soon we reached a stretch where the tide was going out in the same direction we were taking and we could stop paddling. Riding the outgoing tides is a treat and the mangrove tunnels made it especially so. The trail was still narrow and I got wedged crossways between the two sides of mangrove roots, but again no one was coming and so I finally got unstuck.

Entering some open water I spied some fish working the surface and went over to cast my jig, but no success. Florida fishing is such a far cry from Grand isle and Matagorda, but then again I have been spoiled by fishing such great places. Meanwhile Renita was birding and I finally rejoined her for lunch.

We stopped in a cove shaded by the mangroves, and ate our lunch. It’s been quite warm here and the temperature was again in the low eighties. The wind picked up and as we entered the open water rowing became harder but it was still easier then when we were in the canoe.

The last marker passed by, marker 38, and we pulled up to the dock tired but happy. It had taken us three and a half hours of paddling to cover the four mile distance. The day had been all that we had hoped for, a peaceful and quiet paddle among the black mangroves. Clear skies



The tide had fallen eight inches in the time it took us to travel the tunnels. If you go be sure to check the Gandy Bridge Tide Chart. If you do get stranded the bottom is almost entirely sand, just watch for stingrays!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Walking the Beach at Fort Desoto

Monday is a good day to head to Fort Desoto. There was no one else at the beach and so we enjoyed the solitude. I took some images and waded along the shore soon spooking a small southern stingray. Oystercatchers fed in the surf along with the usual sanderling and dowitchers.

Renita and Jenny paused as I took a mother daughter shot, before we all looked for the perfect seashell. I kept an eye out for any baitfish or anything for that matter. The tide was coming in and the end of the island was marked by a pass that reminded me so much of the passes at Grand Isle.

There were actual standing waves at the mouth of the pass and of course I wished I had brought my fishing pole. However our beach search found two really unusual sea creatures, a sea slug and a flying fish.

The sea slug washed in the surf and as I touched the creature it released a bright crimson ink, probably a defensive response. Carefully nudging it I guided it into deeper water, looking out for any stingers and it must have been ok as for once I wasn’t bitten, stung, or impaled.

A little further a flying fish lay washed up among weeds at the high tide mark. I had never seen one before and so I arranged it for a better shot. U thought of the book Kon Tiki and the passage where the explorer wrote of making a meal from them. Seagulls instantly flew overhead as their ability to spot a potential food always amazes me.

Returning to the truck we next drove to the fishing pier, stopping to look at potential launch sites for our kayaks. Walking out on the pier we saw several fishermen cleaning fish and they were happy to show off their catch.

Many had Spanish mackerel, one had a flounder and three sheephead, and another filleted sand sea trout. I watched as a man cast his heavy rig and fished for the mackerel. He explained he was using his own home made spoons and used a long leader so the silver lure fluttered when he paused.

Others were catching small jack creville and even a few Florida pompano and so of course I started to cast my lure. I only succeeded in catching a snag and broke off my rig, but that was ok as I haven’t paid enough dues here in Florida to actually catch any fish.

At another spot I watched a man wading and throwing a large cast net. I have quite a bit of difficulty with my six foot one and his was at least eight feet in size! It really was a thing of beauty as his every throw resulted in a perfect circular splash.

After out picnic we headed back to Jenny’s house but not before a stop at the grocery store to purchase three pounds of clams, Back at her cottage I watched as she instructed me on one way to prepare them and of course they turned out to be a tasty dinner delight.

So we had another fine day at the beach, special time with our daughter, and a great seafood meal. Of course Renita collected a few sea shells, and that’s ok as they are destined to be added to our seashell collection in Star Valley. Every day is a blessing and this one especially so. Clear skies