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Fall is fun

By TERRY TOMALIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 7, 2001


TARPON SPRINGS -- The phone rang because it was that time of year.

TARPON SPRINGS -- The phone rang because it was that time of year.

"The grouper are in," Ed Walker said. "The water is clear ... so get your mask, fins, spear gun and come on."

Walker, like most west coast watermen, looks forward to the fall when it seems like every species erupts into a feeding frenzy.

"You can see straight down to the bottom," he added. "You better hit before another cold front rolls in and messes it all up."

Fishermen, and it doesn't matter if you seek smoker kings or yellow-mouthed trout, know that cool water heats things up, inshore and offshore.

But fish aren't the only creatures that start moving when the north wind blows.

So, even though I run the risk of sounding like a pitchman for the Chamber of Commerce, here are 10 things you can do to take advantage of this season of seasons:

1) FISH: Trout, redfish and snook are fattening themselves for the long winter. Gag grouper, usually caught in deep water, move into the shipping channel and residential canals. Kingfish, migrating south to warmer waters, stop by local beaches, wrecks and artificial reefs to pick up a baitfish or two.

2) DIVE: The algae blooms of the summer are gone. The water is cooler, but cleaner, and the fish are more active. If you watch the weather and pile on the rubber, the Gulf of Mexico has some of the finest diving Florida has to offer this time of year.

3) SAIL: Cold fronts bring steady wind, and a weekend doesn't go by when a local yacht club or sailing organization doesn't offer some type of regatta. From windsurfing to one-design, the Suncoast is a sailor's dream.

4) CAMP: The bugs are gone. The temperature at night is just right for a little sleeping-bag snuggling. There are a half-dozen good state or county parks within a two-hour drive. Don't forget the marshmallows.

5) CANOE: Ever watch otters play in the river mist on a December morning? You can see this, and other natural wonders, 20 minutes from downtown Tampa, if you are willing to paddle.

6) SEA KAYAK: Why limit yourself to inland waterways? The west coast has plenty of sheltered bays, mangrove trails and barrier islands to explore. Bring a picnic lunch and a bottle of wine. It's a cheap date.

7) BIRDWATCH: For a $12 investment, get started on a hobby that will keep you busy for the rest of your life. "Birders" from all over the United States flock to Florida to see a myriad of migrating species. It's the greatest show on earth. 8) HIKE: Bring a backpack and spend the night or just find a shade tree and settle down with a good book. The Florida Trail has something for everybody, novice, intermediate and expert. Every mile walked will add months, if not years, to your life.

9) RIDE: You don't need a mountain to mountain bike. Hillsborough, Pasco, Citrus and Hernando have their share of good riding trails. You don't need much, just a set of wheels, a good helmet and a water bottle. Get lost. Then try to find your way home.

10) SURF: Who says the west coast doesn't get waves? Just head to Upham Beach next time the wind starts howling and the temperature drops 10 degrees overnight. You'll see dozens of grizzled graybeards on 9-foot longboards fighting for 2-foot waves. Hey, it beats having a heart attack waiting in traffic.

There you have it.

I could go on. But that's enough to get you started. All you need is a spirit of adventure, the right equipment and a little local knowledge.

But be careful whom you tell. There are naysayers who will give you a long list of reasons why the Suncoast doesn't measure up to California, Hawaii, the French Riviera, blah, blah, blah ...

And perhaps they are right. Please, be my guest, and go.

As for me ...

I have fish to catch while the catching is good.

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