We visited the East Coast this year for our annual Florida Outdoor Writers Association conference. I signed up for the last seat on an airboat ride with Capt. Joshua Mattson. He greeted us at DeLeon Springs State Park a little west of Daytona Beach.
Capt. Josh has a perfectly rigged sled, designed to carry six passengers and crew in comfort and style. He provides comfortable headsets equipped with microphones, allowing him to share his knowledge and point of critters of interest. I was amazed to see he even has tanned alligator hide inserts in his seat covers! They look great — the perfect touch to set up our adventure.
We encountered many sights on the tour, which featured beautiful scenery and plenty of wildlife (eagles, gators, ospreys and many pond birds). The area is natural with old cypress trees and varied natural shorelines. I enjoyed this trip and our captain’s company. He also does bow fishing for tilapia and mullet, gator hunting, and fishing charters.
If you want to go experience that part of the state, contact him at 386-747-0631 or email@example.com. I recommend his services; he’s a wonderful host with excellent equipment. Everyone raved about the experience.
After our adventure, we had breakfast at the park’s restaurant. The Old Spanish Sugar Mill & Griddle House is unique. The restaurant sits beside the springs and outflow. You have a server, but you cook your own pancakes on a griddle in the middle of each table. If you want eggs or meats, they cook them for you in their kitchen.
It’s Old Florida all the way — an awesome family experience and something you don’t want to miss. It will be talked about frequently. The cost is reasonable, and if it’s too busy, just tour the springs and museums while you wait for the crowds to thin out. Call 386-985-5644 for info.
The next day, we were offered the opportunity to fish from the Sunglow Pier. As it was blowing between 20 and 30 knots, I decided to watch the sunrise and eat a top-notch breakfast at Crabby Joe’s Deck & Grill. It was great to be on the ocean; especially on a pier and not a boat! We had planned to fish the Atlantic from one of the local headboats, but it was way too rough.
I did venture down to the Ponce Inlet and check out the fishermen on the jetty. They caught a few snook and redfish, so it was interesting. The park and lighthouse are decent tours if your interested.
Our hosts, the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitor Bureau, set up an impressive welcome-aboard dinner at the Wilbur Boathouse in Port Orange. The boathouse is located on the beautiful Halifax River (a saltwater system, despite the name). The tide was out, and we watched the fiddler crabs playing along the water’s edge. Several shorebirds and ospreys entertained us as we watched the sunset.
We enjoyed the music and a tasty dinner. Chef Tom Papa catered the event and outdid himself. Everything was good, but his shrimp and grits was so good I had seconds. The setting and dinner blew us all away! We felt treasured.
Everyone worked hard to ensure our experiences around Daytona were exciting and fun. Driving on the beaches was not possible this time with the strong west winds and huge surf. If you have the opportunity, check out the other coast — it’s very different from our side of the state and offers great adventures.
I had an invitation to visit a local piece of Old Florida recently. Peace River Seafood is out on U.S. 17, a few miles East of Punta Gorda. They offer the most local seafood of anyone I’m aware of around here. Barnhill Fish House in Matlacha also has a great selection, but at Peace River Seafood, they’ll cook it for you too.
Our group wanted to sample it all. It takes patience to pick blue crabs, but they’re a tasty treat if you have the persistence. They serve peel-and-eat or fried shrimp. Our oysters and clams were steamed; easy to open and eat. We had fried mullet and yellowtail snapper both grilled and bronzed. We also enjoyed gator gumbo and fried lobster bites. This destination is worth your time and effort if you like Fresh local seafood in an old Florida setting.
Our beautiful weather over the past week has allowed us to get out into the nearshore Gulf and enjoy steady Spanish mackerel action with a few larger king mackerel mixed in. We ice them immediately then eat ‘em fresh. Cook them most any way you like or take time to smoke some.
I make a fish dip with any leftovers. To make this, just make sure to remove any bones and mix fish pieces with Dukes mayo. You can add seasonings or sweet pickle relish or not. It disappears fast.
We should be able to enjoy good mackerel action for the next month or two, depending on wave action and water temperatures. It’s time to enjoy our fall mackerel migration; the fast-paced action and liberal bag limits make it one of the most fun things you can do on the water. Let’s go fishin’ now!
Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.