Where to go when you want to know

Published February 10, 2007

The February 3 e-mail began: "I read your article on Crappie this morning."

Now, I appreciate feedback, but experience has taught me that messages starting this way typically turn out really good or really bad.

The next line had me ducking for cover.

"Coming from northern Illinois, I've fished crappie my entire life."

I thought: "Okay, this guy's about to take me to the woodshed."

I should not have been so defensive, but I must admit to mentally preparing myself for the old, "You Florida boys don't know squat about crappie" barrage.

Past conversations with some of my northern friends have led me to believe they think they invented the species.

But Bob just knocked me right back into gracious sensibility by stating that he loves crappie fishing and wants to know where to catch them in the Nature Coast region. Public access and boat rental were his key points.

Honestly, as a purveyor of information, the opportunity to point fellow anglers toward the fish they seek defines "rewarding" for me.

But Bob's inquiry made me wonder how many area anglers - visitors and residents alike - could benefit from a handful of reference sources for local fisheries.

It's easy to give folks a "fishing report" with lots of lingo and conversational fodder. But considering how many times I've found myself looking for information like the nuggets Bob sought, I scratched around and came up with some good starting points for local fishing access.

One of the most overlooked sources of recreational information is the local tourism office. Tasked with promoting their county's features and benefits, staff members will gladly forward information and literature on where to go and what to do.

I frequently consult my recreational maps of Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties for boat ramps and general geographic reference. Contact these offices at:

PASCO COUNTY: (727) 847-8129, www.pascocountyfl.net

HERNANDO COUNTY: 1-800-601-4580, www.hernandocounty.us/visit

CITRUS COUNTY: 1-800-587-6667, www.visitcitrus.com

Each county's Parks and Recreation office can provide information on park locations and offerings.







Other helpful resources include:

National Wildlife Refuge System (www.fws.gov/refuges/) - Lists NWRs by state with information about location, features and access.

State parks (www.dep.state.fl.us/parks/): Look for boat launches, fishing piers, canoe trails and other outdoor recreational amenities.

Fishing and boating charts will also help you learn the lay of the land and identify potential angling targets. Most include references to known fishing spots. Most bait and tackle shops carry Waterproof Charts, Florida Sportsman Fishing Charts and Top Spots Charts.

For an overhead perspective, Standard Mapping (www.standardmap.com) offers highly detailed photo maps created from satellite imagery.

Local guides also can offer help, but consider that these individuals make their living through their angling know-how. In other words, avoid the old "pick your brain" approach.

You'll get a better response by simply stating what you're trying to find and asking if the guide can steer you in the right direction. Many guides maintain informative websites with summaries of local fishing action.

Chartering a professional fisherman for even a half-day trip will prove highly educational in terms of location and tactics. Considering the time and fuel you may spend in sniffing around on your own, a guide's fee often represents a real bargain.

Visit the Florida Guides Association online at www.florida-guides.com, or look up the Homosassa Guides Association at www.homosassaguidesassociation.com.

Lastly, be sure to look around the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission site (www.myfwc.com). There you'll find state fishing regulations, conservation items and fisheries news.

TACTICAL TIP: In most activities, one of the greatest sources of knowledge rests in the hands of those who have refined their skills through experience. I encountered such an example as I watched an angler launch a crappie boat by himself at a lakeside ramp.

Prior to backing down to the ramp, this savvy boater tied a rope to the bow eye and looped the other end around the winch handle on his trailer.

He then backed his trailer to the appropriate ramp depth, unhooked the winch strap and gave his boat a shove. As the boat slid off with plenty of slack in the tether, the boater unleashed the rope from the winch stand, walked down the dock and secured his boat to a cleat.