I escaped red tide and drove away to attend my 30th annual Florida Outdoor Writers Association conference last week. It was held about 150 miles north on the Adventure Coast (Aripeka, Hernando Beach, Bayport, Brooksville, and Weeki Wachee Springs). Tammy Heon with Florida’s Adventure Coast Visitors Bureau hosted, and our FOWA executive director Butch Newell worked to make this one of our best conferences ever. I’m coming back ASAP! The folks are authentic and friendly, with so much to share.
They welcomed us Wednesday evening with a special mermaid show at the one and only Weeki Wachee Springs, followed by an enjoyable dinner on site. It was great to see the springs and even better getting to meet the real mermaids. How many states have a mermaid job description available? Make time to check it out if you are nearby. This is a beautiful first magnitude natural spring and river. The theater is unforgettable, even before the beautiful mermaids swim onto the stage. This is truly a unique experience for your family and friends. Bring your camera, or video is even better.
We attended workshops all day Thursday at the Sand Hill Scout Reservation. It was great to be in rural Florida again. The reservation is 1,200 acres, just east of the springs on State Road 50. We enjoyed several professional presentations by helpful speakers and learned more about sources for factual information to share about fishery, water and land management. I learned a lot and met many great people. It closed with author and Tampa Bay Times journalist Craig Pittman sharing unique stories about our unusual state — both educational and very funny!
Hernando doesn’t have the beautiful sandy beaches we do, so coastal growth has not overcome them as much. This is low country with wide, expansive salt marshes and hammocks. You have woods besides the developed areas. You can explore and enjoy Florida with minimal manmade “improvements.” I felt the outdoor experience our state has built up most other places. If you want to experience Florida with minimum human help, try this area. You may get hooked and not leave.
Brooksville is old Florida with history and plenty to do. We enjoyed a fabulous meal at the Bistro downtown for our awards banquet. Everyone went out of their way to be sure we felt welcome and enjoyed our visit. It’s challenging to serve filet to a hundred picky eaters (medium rare like most prefer), but they pulled it off perfectly.
Friday morning, we joined up with several local guides to check out their fishing opportunities. I was surprised to find they were also fishing with whitebait minnows. Capt. Josh Fritz was ready with a well full of lively minnows for our outing. We all enjoyed the chance to fish with natural backgrounds — similar to fishing inside Turtle Bay, with natural growth like mangroves instead of condos and buildings. There are only a few structures standing out along that part of the coast.
We found trout, reds, snook, and assorted other species. I was disappointed to discover that they have also lost much of their natural grassflats, even out into the Gulf. I had remembered more grassy flats than we saw. We had the chance to explore an area like what our coastline used to be just decades ago. It was fun and exciting to be the angler for a change. Capt. Josh was wonderful and fun to share a day with.
Saturday some went shooting, others kayaking, and some of us went to the Chinsegut Hill Retreat & Museum. It was a treasure and so different to have a hilltop view in Florida. The Retreat is on top of a hill and offers guest rooms and facilities for special occasions. If you want to hold a family reunion or any group gathering, this is a place to consider. It’s quiet and remote, yet just off the beaten path. Not too far removed — just right.
It was good to spend some time exploring another part of Florida, and even better to come home and find that red tide seems to have mostly subsided locally for now. Let’s hope it’s not just a fluke.
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.