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One year, 100 goals

Or at least it seems that way for someone who counts all the way to enjoy the outdoors on the Nature Coast.

Published December 30, 2006

[Times photo: David A. Brown]
Sheepshead are slick and quick, so braided line can be helpful in trying to reel them in without them escaping.

With another calendar flipped to its finality, reflections of past Nature Coast experiences do two things: 1) instill an ongoing appreciation for this area's abundance of outdoors recreation and 2) provide motivation to walk, paddle or ride a little farther into this rich region and soak up the sunshine and ambiance along the way.

Here's a sampling of what I hope to accomplish in the next 12 months:

- Spend a few hours walking through Nature Coast historic sites such as the Yulee Sugar Mill ruins in Homosassa Springs and the Indian mounds at the Crystal River Archeological State Park.

Take a canoe trip through the Weeki Wachee River. I suspect I'll see otters, bluegill and bass upstream before encountering trout, redfish and snook near the mouth.

- Spend a couple of hours sitting on a stool in a bait shop. I'll bet an average day's traffic would yield a colorful and entertaining expose of human nature.

If the bait shop scene doesn't cut it, I think I'll park at a public boat launch and watch the show. Some can sling a 22-foot bay boat on and off the trailer and make it look easy. Others struggle with the relationship between the end of their tow vehicle and the front of their trailer.

(For the record, I would watch to learn, not to mock. But I can't promise I won't snicker a little.)

- Hike a trail in the Withlacoochee State Forest. If I spot a resident animal, I'm going to just stand still and watch it. If I get a photo, great. If not, the mental image will last forever.

- Learn to throw a cast net. Confession is good for the soul. So there, you know my secret.

Try my hand at crabbing from a local pier, maybe Anclote Gulf Park or Bayport. I understand that hauling in enough blue crabs for a decent boil just requires patience and an understanding of the day's tides.

- Wade the beaches of Anclote Key (Anclote River) and Durney Key (Cotee River) during the summer snook spawn. Catching linesiders in crystal clear, shin-deep water is actually a rewarding byproduct of this skinny water cat-and-mouse game.

- Sharpen my hooks, check my rod guides and re-tie my leaders after tussling with a big snook. I tell everyone else to do this, so I guess it's time I start following my own advice. (You get pretty spoiled when you spend a lot of time with guides, but losing a fish to a dumb mistake serves as a wake-up call.)

- Join a bird walk and focus on learning to recognize species by their calls as much as by their appearances.

- Use only braided line when targeting sheepshead. These nibbling fish are incredibly quick and braids prove helpful in detecting their subtle strikes.

- Dive with the manatees in Crystal River. I've seen plenty from the decks of flats and bay boats. However, I'm told that staring eye-to-eye with these gentle critters is pretty cool.

- Take a ride on the Range Buggy at J.B. Starkey's Flatwoods Adventure in Odessa. It has been nearly two years since my last ride and I still remember marveling at the wildlife and "Old Florida" history lessons. Horseback rides offer another interesting way to see the Starkey property with more pace control.

- Spend some quality time with a fly rod. Sure, I've fooled plenty of bluegill with tiny poppers, but that's like saying I convinced my ever-mooching Boston Terrier "Buford" to eat a handful of table scraps. We'll shoot for more challenging quarry and see if I can imitate something a trout or redfish likes.

- Watch a Cowboy Shoot at the Hernando Sportsman's Club. I saw one several years ago and it was a blast - pun intended.

Seriously, watching skilled shooters dressed in period costumes competing on a series of Old West themed courses makes for some fine entertainment. You can learn a good bit about shooting sports and firearms safety along the way.

- Try hand-lining grouper on one of the nearshore rocks off Chassahowitzka. I nearly donated one of Capt. Luke Magnuson's rods in the spring when a perky gag grouper pounced on the diving plug that I was ripping across the rock. I imagine hooking a grouper on a hand line would yield similar impact.

- Hunt ducks with Mike Locklear in Ozello. A wave of redheads at sundown is worth the wait.

Even when the birds refuse to cooperate, riding the rocky shallow in a duck boat, tossing out decoys, hiding in the mangroves and chatting with fellow outdoorsmen is good for the soul.

- And lastly, I think I'll keep a running list of activities that will no doubt end up on next year's resolution list.

That's what I love about the Nature Coast - more outdoors fun than you can get to in a year.

[Last modified December 30, 2006, 06:55:40]

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