Oh, the Southwest region of Florida… There’s so much to say!
I arrived in Land O’ Lakes, Florida, after a 15-hour drive, eager to begin a new adventure as a 52-year-old. I woke up early the next morning, drove to Cabela’s and purchased fresh and saltwater licenses.
Over the past three years, I traveled for work and learned to ask where to fish and hunt. If you are a solo female angler or huntress, this is the most important part of getting better. So, there I am, licenses in hand and I walked directly back to the fishing department and was greeted by two men eager to help. I explained that I was new to the west coast of Florida and struggled with where to start my freshwater adventure. They suggested I try a managed area near Lakeland called Tenoroc State Fish Management Area. These stocked ponds were previously phosphate mines used in the 1950’s-1970’s.
Tenoroc is Coronet spelled backward after the Coronet Phosphate Company, the Smith-Douglass Company, and Borden. In 1982, Borden donated 6,058 acres to the State of Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Department of Environmental Protection began a restoration project and stocking program.
Unfortunately, I arrived to find the area closed, only open Friday – Monday 6:00 am – 8:00 pm with a $3/day use fee. I left disheartened, but not beaten and headed back towards Land O’ Lakes to check out a few community lakes and parks.
I ended up at the local community park. I could tell this was not going to be a long-term spot but I needed to wet a line. I tossed my line towards the bank and could feel something on the other end of my line. I saw significant rolling under the water and thought it might be a crappie when I recalled the “Alligators Live Here” sign. Alligators “roll” their catch. I backed away to get behind the shrubs and suddenly, the line slacked. I finished reeling to find an intact hook and a smidge of artificial worm left.
On day two of four, I did the research only to uncover that Florida uses a quota hunting program for many of their managed area units, specifically Green Swamp Wilderness and spring turkey. All units were sold out. Being a self-taught huntress and using the help of the Sisterhood of the Outdoors, I reached out for help and suggestions on how I could spring turkey hunt without using a guide or spending extra money.
Florida is getting on my nerves and I begin to understand why these things are happening. Tourists and residents don’t respect natural resources, leave trash, and harass wildlife. I felt annoyed but headed to a nearby canal I’d seen on the map. To my left is a large pond/marsh with a huge 10-foot-long alligator watching me.
On day three of four, I decided to take out a kayak and fish for bass in the Hillsborough River outside of Tampa. I paddled, fished, and drifted.
When fly fishing, I use a topwater fly or Clouser minnow. Given the fact that I’d never fished for bass in open river water in Florida, much less out of a canoe, I continued to use the rod/reel/worm set-up. One thing I’ve learned with fly fishing is to have options. Because freshwater holds so many different fish, you could be catching the wrong species, so never get in a canoe without your own tackle.
I’ve learned to have no expectations of catching fish but to just enjoy the view, be in the present, and be thankful for every day. A harvest or a fish is just the “icing on the cake.”
On my last day, I hit up a new fishing spot with plenty of shore access, lily pads, and cover for bass. The wind wasn’t going to let me flyfish, but I tried anyway. I changed my fishing lures and worm colors, but today the fish were full. I packed up and set out to drive to Fred Howard Park. I ended up on a small outcropping of large coral rock boulders to use as shore protection.
As the sun sets, I begin to roll everything together on my crash course of Florida fishing and hunting. It seems to find places to saltwater fly fish are covered. I’ll definitely have to figure out my freshwater fishing style and techniques. Hunting is going to take time to understand and gain quota permits.
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