The early bird doesn't just get breakfast around here; he also gets refreshed. The last two times we tried to get in to Rock Springs at Kelly Park, we were turned away due to capacity. This time we left the comforts of bed and the company of many pillows, while it was still dark outside. It is my favorite of the springs near us and a beautiful park. Lily chose it to do her photography project and Power Point for school, so most of these pics were hers and I will note that with the Scalelily tag.
Her assignment was pictures representing her day and the day also included an hour wait for the Park to open up. So she took a picture of the bar where they rent the tubes and then pics along the fence line, where we were parked, waiting to get in.
It's nice being the first people to the island and the water. The water is very clear and we noticed a large snapping turtle trying to flee the swimming area before it was over run. Lily jumped in and swam after him, getting some pretty cool under water shots. He was a mossy old guy, but beautiful and when my Scales approached, he stopped walking and held his ground. This wasn't the first time we were inspired but such a prehistoric looking water dragon.
The water is so cold at first touch. Even in the morning, the ambient temperature is pushing the upper 80's and that is without factoring in the humidity. It makes the water feel that much colder, but then you acclimate and don't want to get out. It is truly refreshing.
Last Sunday we dropped Lily off at Science camp, and Drew went to her great grandmother's and grandmother's for the week. They drop her off at a fishing and marine life day camp everyday; where was that camp when I was a kid? After we said goodbye, I headed over to the Inlet in St. Petersburg for a little while. Last year the snook were stacked in here, but this year all I saw were sheepshead. Oh well, it was crazy hot outside so we headed home.
Friday saw us back on the road again and as quiet and peaceful as it was at home; you do start to miss them a bit. I took a stroll around the Eckerd College campus since I had some time to kill while waiting for Drew. My wife and her grandmother went to Lily's award ceremony and I got to see the little tall one's. It was truly a moment of pride when her counselor told everyone how helpful she was, and later when her grandmother told me how delightful she was. She was burnt to a crisp, but smiling after yet another day on the water. She had sand dollars, sea shells and 4 certificates; what a champ!
Lily, trying to feign angst and independence at Science camp. She was depressed about leaving though and apparently met some fun people during the week. They get older way too fast, but I am happy she learned a lot and had a good time doing it. She explained induction to me on the way home.
This place is like Cuba being settled by Italians. Everything is amazing and you know this the moment it hits your nose at the door. You smell food, but in a clean environment where people take a lot of pride in what they do. I have to have a Deviled crab, ok two, when I come here, but they also have one of the best pressed Italians I have ever had. Cacciatore & Sons is located on Armenia Street in Tampa, so I usually hit it on the way over or way back.
There are a lot of great places over here and we found yet another Italian market while on the hunt for a particular stuffed pepper. Mazzaros!
So that was St. Petersburg, and recently I was asked if I still do the fishing thing. I do, but I hate this heat and I am in the middle of a big project at work, so I don't get out as much as I would like. When I do, like today, It is truly a pleasure and thanks to Brian and Right Hook once again for the day out on the water.
We went out on the ST. John's river today, courteous of Brian's generous uncle. I gotta say those Yamaha motors sound great, thanks for letting us use the boat. We went looking for catfish and gills, and sure enough Brian put us on them. I struggled in the beginning, but I can only take so much trash talk before I have to catch up and take the lead. It was not without cost though. I love pan fishing but I noticed a larger fish chasing one of the red bellies I was reeling in, so I threw a live one out on another rod. I went back to catching hand size blue gills and was pulling one in the boat when Brian starting yelling at me. I thought he was talking to his daughter and by the time I realized what was going on, my Shimano Crucial was disappearing into the dark water. What a rookie move. Brian let me mourn for a bit and then asked if it was ok to make fun of me now, of course, I earned it.
There are places for me where I can't just pass through. Too many things or something so significant has taken place there that the mere mention will start a slide reel of moments. As I sit at the Beacon, contemplating a plate of shrimp and fish, reflections of our day at the beach take me much further back in time. I ate here as a small boy, ran down Flagler Avenue to the beach. My favorite burger to this day is at Breaker's, and I have loved every patch of sand that my sole has touched on this shore line. So much has changed that it hurts some times to reflect, and though the Beacon and Breaker's are mostly and gratefully intact, to my knowledge, no one has filled the void of other lost hangouts. Goodrich's, Sea Harvest, and Sea Treasure have all gone the way of the dinosaur. There are places that have filled that real estate, but not that feeling. I can no longer find a fresh fish sandwich that is so big that I can first remove a filet and eat it on the side before enjoying the rest. All that back then was at a lower price too, and it wasn't just quantity, it was well prepared. I keep staring out this window and I wonder if so much time has past that I no longer recognize some of the faces on this avenue. Hmm, and I wonder, with all this gray, the many pounds and worried lines, does Volusia county still recognize me?
I took the girls to a place that someone long ago had decided was worth protecting. As we walk along the boardwalk at Smyrna Dune Park, I listen to group in front of us, complaining about how barren this is, how hot and ugly the dunes are. One of the women said she wished they would have just gone to the pool. I also wished they had, because to me this is beautiful, and both the dunes and the mangroves are essential. This is the reality of a healthy environment, not the high rise where your pool is at. The mangroves are filtration and home to a myriad of fish, crabs, birds and other life. They, along with our estuaries, are the nursery for many of the fish and shell fish we consume. The dunes are our first line against weather, and it is there, in the many burrows, that you will find Gopher tortoises, the Eastern Diamond back, and land crabs. It is beautiful once you really open your eyes.
The inlet is fantastic, and here you can look across to the light house on Daytona side. There is a nice park over there on the north side of the inlet as well. The tide is moving out at the moment and the water is actually quite nice. We had tried to get in to the Springs earlier in the day, but it hit capacity before my car could make the booth. I love Rock Springs for the cool water, but this was nice, not hot and not cold, very easy to adjust to.
The girls wanted to wade out to the temporary island, or sandbar, so we loaded up our stuff and headed out into the inlet. We saw some blue crabs as we crossed the tidal pools and talked to a fisherman, who said the same as everyone else, they were only catching catfish.
Me and the girls were enjoying the water when a man and two women, identifying themselves as from Michigan, expressed to us some concern about what was in the water. Apparently one of the women had received a nudge by something in the water and she pointed to a dark figure that had moved over to me and the girls. I told her it was probably just a manatee, and stood up to where I could see better, and waited. They had seen news of a gator attack before they came down from Michigan, and so they asked if there was anything to worry about in here. I told her I had never seen a gator this far up inter-coastal, but there are multiple species of sharks. Her husband had apparently told her there were no sharks here. We waited and sure enough he had to breathe, so he came up, and we were rewarded with some relief and a beautiful manatee. The old fella had barnacles on the side of his face and other areas of his body. His tail was cut, and why he chose this spot I don't know, but he stayed around us for quite some time.
Ah the jetty, it was such a magnet to me as a kid. It was crawling with little crabs, a pan fish hook and a hand line would help you probe it's little caves. I watched a woman and her children look for treasures with their dip net. I remember, you could sometimes find a seahorse, an octopus, or file fish. It is a place to take care though, as my girls saw the hard way at a Gulf inlet. A young boy was playing on the rocks and fell into the many mussels and barnacles there. He was bleeding from head to toe, and could not stand on his cut feet. I picked him up but could not traverse the rocks with the extra load, so I jumped in to the water and carried him to his family. Nature is not without her teeth and thorns.
Drew, old eagle eye, found this urchin tucked inside the rocks. So many of the animals in here gave but a glimpse or a notion that they were there, but moved away too fast to get a picture or identify.
It was hot, and I could sense that my sunscreen had not held up so well, so we made the trek back down the walk. It is a beautiful boardwalk and definitely a wonder place to have your exercise in the morning or the cool of winter. It is a fun place to spend the day, wet a line, swim and explore. There are layers here to discover and knowledge of tide and time of year are helpful if you like to catch fish. Take care on the rocks, but don't leave without a peak into them. You may be surprised.
We finally got back to the Econ, and and I finally kept my promise to paddle the second half of the trail. I prefer the cooler time of the year for such expeditions, so we didn't camp out, and we brought what I thought was good supply of water, but it didn't last the 11 miles. Our entry point was at Snow Hill Road, so we drove to the extraction point, dropped off my wife's car, and she road with us to Snow Hill, then drove my car back to swap with hers. Lily and I hit the water at about 8 am.
I love the Econ for it's many beaches along the way; the canoe can be rather cramped, so stops allow plenty of chances to stretch one's legs and explore.
We did some fishing and I managed 4 bass on top water. Lily threw a Rooster tail for a few minutes and caught this gar. It wasn't the easiest of bites and after she broke off on some branches, she was done fishing. We did see several Gheenoes and what a perfect boat for this lower end, if you launch at SR 46. Most of these guys were flipping soft baits, throwing clothes pin spinners, and one pair of anglers was alternating these approaches with a fly rod.
Lunch time was an awesome little spot, high on a hill with a screened in shack. This would be a great place to wait out a storm if need be, and the view was wonderful.
Another chance to stretch our legs and another beautiful palm tree, reaching for the red water. It was so hot Lily was taking her hat and soaking it in the cooler. This would provide about 10 minutes of air conditioning before it was dry again. So hot, if you think you have enough water, think again and throw in a few more bottles.
The cows were out and trying to keep cool. I guess this is why the gators here get so big. They would break and run once our canoe got too close.
The end of the trail is open pasture land and lots of shallows. The bank is scared with hundreds of catfish dens from times of higher water, and the face of it is hard like clay, baked in this relentless sun. We chased a snake out here and he disappeared, probably inside these dens. If you look behind Lily, you can see the SR. 46 bridge that crosses the St. John's River. This is our extraction point, and it looks so close, but because of the bends in the Little Econ it is still a paddle away. If you haven't done this yet, I totally recommend it and suggest you bring plenty of water and sun screen. I find the bass fishing in here better in the fall and spring, but the summer is a good time for catching big cats in both Econ and Saint John's.
Growing up I spent a lot of time going back and forth between New Smyrna and the Orlando area. In between these two places is a wonderful oasis, and one of my wife's favorite spots to be "buoyant and cool" while she was pregnant with Scale Lily. Sadly, this was Lily's first time back to the park, outside of the womb. We made the drive often when we lived in New Smyrna, but the move to Panasoffkee put us so far away.
It was about a 30 to 40 minute drive by way of I4, coming from the South west side of Orlando. It was Sunday though so the traffic wasn't bad and with no holiday the park was not full to capacity when we arrived. That does happen during Spring break and sometimes during the Summer, so leave early, have a back up or wait till slower times arrive.
The Spring flows into the St. John's river, and boasts the wild life that comes with that great water way. There were a lot of Ospreys, some bass, including spawners, Blue cats and hundreds of gar. I saw schools of mullet and big groups of Tilapia.
The park also rents kayaks and canoes, and today we were able to view a manatee and her calf, but there is a strict rule about remaining 50 away from the manatees. My experience with them in different areas off the state is that the manatees are often unaware of this rule, and will rub the bottom of your kayak, trying to scratch it's back or approach you while swimming.
On Pleasant Hill Road, where the possibilities are many, we found a nice paddle, giant bluegill, red bellies, and oh yea, those one's with the big mouths too. We parked at the bridge on Pleasant hill road where it crosses Shingle Creek, and then paddled east towards the glories of Toho.
The sunfish in here are aggressive, beautiful, and very robust. The Blue gill below managed to take drag after swallowing a white Rooster tail. It reminds me of Econ in parts but without as much dead fall and it stays rather deep at this end.
I tried pitching a craw, a rattle, and a worm, but ended up taking all my fish on top water, and between 1 and 4pm, not my usual time for throwing top water but it was the Lunar period. We got a lot of hits but only several good sets and fights that made it into the canoe. It's a nice paddle and inside the creek you do find some shade but make sure you bring plenty of water to deal with the afternoon.
The Zoom toad got a lot of attention near the mouth of the creek flowing in to Toho. This was my nicest fish for the day.
A great run in your kayak or canoe and you get to enjoy some good creek fishing on the way to one of Florida's premier bass lakes. Beautiful day!
Forty years old and still in awe of the outdoors.