Keeping Yourself Safe in the Florida Environment

Since the Florida environment is so very different from Colorado and most of the USA, it necessitates living in it for a while before being able to understand it’s seasons and fit into the environment safely. After a year of living full-time in Florida, I have found out by experience that there are some things out there that you should watch out for. Things that can bother you and hurt you while fishing. I am not talking so much about the more obvious enemies like sharks and alligators, although they need to be understood and respected. I am talking about some of the more common things you will almost surely run into on a daily basis when fishing. Things like the heat, sun, rain, hot sand, bugs, fish with teeth and spines, lightning, oyster beds, sting rays, jellyfish and even cold weather.

 PROTECT YOURSELF FROM THE SUN, HEAT, LIGHTNING, AND THE COLD. 

 The first time I went out in my kayak fishing this past summer it was for around 6 hours in June and under direct sun. I have never been one who gets sunburned easily. I have dark eyes and am dark complected. I put on sunscreen in the morning and figured that would be enough. I wanted to get a tan so I didn’t wear a shirt and I had on shorts. I got consumed in the fishing and didn’t reapply the sun screen until the afternoon. By then it was too late. My back, shoulders, and thighs got cooked and I was in pain for several days. It was hard to sleep at night and every tiny movement rolling over in bed was painful, even the weight of sheets on my burned skin caused pain. Eventually much of the burned skin peeled off. It’s been 50 years since I had such a burn. You’d think I would have learned about the sun by now, but I underestimated its danger. In Colorado I never wore shorts while fishing and always had on a long sleeve, sun protective shirt. In Florida it was a temptation to take off my sun protective clothing and I fell for it.When fishing  out of a kayak, which is how I fish the most, your legs are horizontal, so the angle of the sun’s rays hit the top of your knees and thighs, tops of the feet, shoulders, ears, and back of the neck. It is easy to get a burn in a short time.

In July one of my friends came from Colorado and we went out on the beach fishing for Snook. We walked about 4 miles. I told him of my experience in getting burned. He put on sun screen but by the end of the day he was also burned, only worse. The sand working in between his sandals and his skin rubbed him raw, plus the sun burned the tops of his feet, shoulders, arms and legs. Walking in the hot sand from the water’s edge to the parking lot also burned the bottom of his feet. He was pretty miserable for almost two weeks. Needless to say, the sun is of major concern, so is walking on the hot sand. In the afternoon during the hottest time of the day, the hot sand or even worse, the hot pavement, may burn the bottoms of your feet. You may have to wear some type of beach shoe when walking the beach. If you are going to be out in the sun in Florida in the summer you are going to sweat. I sweat so much, I actually sweat off the sunscreen. I am covering up a lot more now with quick dry, long sleeve shirts, pants and a wide-brimmed hat, and of course drinking lots of water and  reapplying sunscreen. Without water you are flirting with dehydration and heat stroke. When choosing a sunscreen I would suggest you get one that is friendly to the salt water environment. One example is  Stream2Sea. Chemicals such as oxybenzone in many sunscreens have been proven to destroy coral reefs.

If you are coming to Florida in the winter you should bring your waders, a breathable rain coat and a good sweater. This past winter in Florida was cool at times. I saw temperatures in Bradenton Florida reach into the 30’s. Early one morning I actually saw ice on the grass. It was refreshing! Northern Florida received some snow this past winter. When it gets below 50 here, with high humidity and wind, you can get chilled very quickly. If you are going to get out and wade fish in the winter, you will find waders are necessary or you will get very cold. If you are fishing out of a boat or kayak and getting wet, I would suggest you wear a slip over breathable pant that will keep you dry. Many years ago I bought an Orvis breathable, pullover wind shirt. All it does is hold in body heat. It has proved to be the most valuable garment I have to keep me warm. It is light weight and packable. I take it everywhere I go. WHEN YOU GET COLD IN FLORIDA, YOU ARE REALLY COLD, AND IT CAN HAPPEN QUICKLY.

Florida is the #1 state in the USA for lightning strikes with around 1.5 million strikes per year. Most of these are in the wet season which begins in the spring and lasts into the late summer. In the winter there is little rain or lightning, at least in Bradenton where I live. Once the rainy season arrives in the spring, rain and lightning will be a daily afternoon experience. When it rains here in Florida it really comes down. A breathable raincoat is a necessity to bring on all outings, walking or boating. The Weather Channel on your phone should be your best friend before and during your fishing trip. It will alert you to upcoming storms and lightning. Storms in Florida come in fast and move out fast. I thought Colorado’s South Park and Cheesman Canyon were bad for lightning, but Florida is worse with around 25 lightning strikes per square mile per year. In the summertime wet season, most anglers will fish early in the am and be off the water as the thunder storms come in during the afternoon and evening.

PROTECT YOURSELF FROM MOSQUITOS, NO-SEE-UMS, AND FIRE ANTS

There are places and times in Florida where the mosquitos and tiny no-see-um will drive you crazy. So far in Florida I have not seen the huge numbers of mosquitos that I have heard about. I have been bothered by the no-see-ums occasionally. Bugs are more of a problem as you move south in Florida down by the Everglades. In the summer months the bugs and heat in southern Florida are almost unbearable. I spent four days fishing around Chokolosky on the edge of the Everglades in mid December but found only a few mosquitos. I fished along Alligator Alley in the Everglades in February but didn’t even see one mosquito. I spent two days in the Keys and two days in Chokolosky in April and was not bothered by bugs. My wife Martha finds a dozen mosquito’s every time she walks the dog. Some people are just bug magnets. It is a good idea to always have insect repellant. Eventually you will need it.

I remember vividly my first and hopefully my last experience with the Florida fire ants. They are very tiny and not an insect that you would think could cause burning and itching that can go on for a couple of weeks. I was bass fishing by one of the many  canals on the east side of Florida. As I was walking along the rim of the canal and casting into the far side, I felt a sting on my right leg and looked down to see hundreds of ants, each about the size of a pepper grain, crawling up my pants. I shook them off quickly but it was too late and I received two dozen bites. They made little red welts that  lasted for two weeks, often burning and itching like crazy.  Not fun! Stay away from tiny ants! The main way to keep them off you is to be observant of your surroundings. They don’t make huge mounds like the red ants in Colorado and they are often hard to spot until it is too late.

Florida also has a host of other insects that could cause irritation and pain such as bees, wasps, and poisonous caterpillars. For the most part if you are in a boat you won’t come into contact with these creatures. Of course if you are allergic to bee stings you should always carry your epi pen. I have seen several paper style wasp nests in the mangroves so it’s best to look out for them if you are very close to mangroves.

PROTECT YOURSELF FROM THE RAZOR SHARP TEETH AND NEEDLE LIKE FINS PRESENT ON MANY SALT WATER AND FRESHWATER FLORIDA FISH.

I have caught thousands of Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout and Brookies in the West. I rarely got a nick from their teeth or fins.  I have been cut a few times by the teeth of a trout while removing the fly with my fingers. The cuts were easily avoided if I would have used a hemostat to remove the fly instead of my fingers. The teeth of fresh water trout are small  in relation to most salt water fish, and the fins of trout are harmless. Not so with many salt water fish.

Generally speaking, salt water fish have more teeth, larger teeth and stronger jaws that like to “chomp”. There is a reason a Snapper is called a Snapper. Once that jaw snaps shut it is hard to get it open, even with a pliers. If your finger is in the mouth those teeth will cut you badly. I caught my first Blue Fish in Sarasota Bay few years ago. I didn’t know a Blue fish from a Sucker. Blue fish have a row of small, shark like teeth on the top and bottom of their very strong jaws. They have lips that cover over the teeth. You might not realize they have teeth until too late. My fly was engulfed deeply in the Bluefish mouth. Like an inexperienced Colorado Trout fisherman, I reached my thumb and index finger into its mouth to get the fly. Chomp, chomp goes the Bluefish and there was sharp pain in my thumb. By the time I got my fingers out, I was cut pretty bad and blood was running down my thumb and wrist. There was enough blood in my kayak, most of it mine, to attract sharks! My only revenge was that I ate him for dinner. A general rule in saltwater fishing is never put your fingers in a fishes mouth, no matter how big or small. Even little fish can do immediate and severe damage. A pair of saltwater pliers is a necessary investment. Not only will the pliers help remove the hook without putting your finger onto the fishes mouth, most pliers will have a cutter necessary to cut the larger tippet diameters uses in Saltwater fishing. Make sure the pliers you get are aluminum and not stainless steel as they will rust.

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My bait ball pattern tied on an Umpqua U505 hook with a 4x long shank allows you to grab the hook with pliers without damaging the fly. It also helps keep the fly from breaking of due to toothy critters.

I am tying most of my flies on 4x long hooks that are easier to grab onto with the pliers without ruining the fly. Sometimes if your fly is hooked deeply into the fishes throat, the best thing to do may be to just cut the line.

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This Bowfin clamped its mouth shut and I never could get the fly out. Luckily my fingers were not in there too.

When fishing an Everglades canal I caught a Bowfin. It is an indigenous fish to Florida. It is on top of the food chain. It is very strong, will jump and has the strongest jaws I have ever seen. My fly was deep in its mouth and I couldn’t get the mouth open. I used two pair of pliers but couldn’t open its mouth.  I ended up just cutting the line. Later I was cautioned to be very careful with this fish. Once it clamps on to you it may not let go and can cause extreme injury, having rows of tiny teeth and very powerful jaws that clamp shut.
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The fins on many Salt water fish are like needles. The saltwater catfish is the most dangerous, as it’s spines have a poison on them that can be very painful and could get infected.  This catfish (left) caught me good on my right index finger. I was in pain for several hours and almost quit fishing. He stuck me while I was trying to remove the hook.  From now on I will use a FishGripper in one hand and saltwater pliers in the other. I am not touching another one of these critters. Catfish are powerful fighters for their size and fun to catch, but the risk of getting stuck is high.  The barb on the dorsal fin is serrated and won’t come out easily once it penetrates your body. Make sure to wear the Catfish out in the water before netting it or bringing it into the boat as they like to flip around uncontrollably. As you begin catching and releasing salt water fish just assume that the fins will stick you and the teeth will cut you. You will soon learn the species that are ok to handle but they are few. Pinching down the barbs of your hook will really help in getting the fly out of the fish and out of your body. Because you will be casting in windy conditions, often with force, it is only a matter of time before you will hook yourself. You will not be using a #18 trout fly with a small barb! Even a small fly can be hard to get out of your skin. You will probably be using at least a #6 salt water hook which has a much larger barb. Best to pinch the barb down. Just remember, “I told you so”.

PROTECT YOURSELF FROM OYSTER BEDS AND BARNACLES: 

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Oyster beds like these are home for millions of sea creatures and magnets for predator fish. They are also very dangerous to walk on and touch, they will also tear up your wading shoes, kayak or boat.

Oyster beds create homes for billions of small fish, crabs and other sea life and are fish magnet areas for Red fish, Snook, and Sea Trout. Eventually, when an oyster bed gets large enough, a mangrove seed will drift in and get planted among the oysters. Over time,  an oyster bed can become a mangrove island, an interesting development to watch over the years.  Oyster beds are great to fish around but never get out and walk on one. Oyster shells are like thousands of knife blades and because they are very uneven, can cause you to lose your balance and fall down. You could get seriously injured if you trip and fall down on them. Oyster shells can also cut up your flats boots. If you are fishing around oyster beds make sure your fly line, leader and tippet does not get caught on them, as they can quickly cut though your terminal tackle. If you hook a fish around an oyster bed, be sure to raise your rod up high and try to keep your fly line from touching the shells. Walk around Oyster beds just like you would walk around the spawning beds of trout in a stream. Oyster beds are  the homes for billions of sea creatures and they filter and clean the water.

PROTECT YOURSELF FROM STINGRAYS AND JELLYFISH:

thI see lots of Stingrays especially if I am wading on the beach or sandbar. Around 1,500 people a year are stung by a Stingray in the USA and many of these accounts are in Florida. Stingrays may lay on the bottom and get covered over by sand. They may also have camouflaged coloring and be very hard to see. If you step on one you can receive a very painful, debilitating injury. You may have to go to the doctor to get the barb out and you will be in great pain. There are many different kinds of rays. The ones you will encounter are usually small but have a very bony, sharp, striated spine that can penetrate deeply into your muscles causing extreme pain and infection. The best way to avoid getting stung is to look ahead in the water as you walk, slide your feet across the bottom, and do not lift your feet so you step down on one. Stingrays can bury themselves in the sand where they are not visible. More on the Stingray shuffle.

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Don’t touch Jelly Fish like this one which is almost impossible to see in the shallow water.

There are many types of Jellyfish in the ocean. Some of them can sting you. Some are translucent and very hard to see. The main thing is to just stay away from them. If you wear long pants while wading you have less possibility of contact with a jellyfish.

PROTECT YOURSELF FROM ALLIGATORS, SHARKS, AND SNAKES.

If you are fishing in fresh or brackish water in Florida you will come in contact with alligators. There are over a million of them in Florida, however officials put the odds of someone being seriously injured by an unprovoked alligator in Florida at roughly one in 2.4 million. You are many more times likely to get bitten by a dog than an alligator. There are 8-12 unprovoked alligator attacks a year in Florida. Common sense is the best protection from alligators which means don’t feed them, don’t swim in areas where they are present, don’t drag fish behind your kayak on a stringer, don’t wade fish in areas where there are alligators, don’t bother their nests, pull your fly away from an alligator if it is following your retrieve, and remove yourself from areas where you see babies or an alligator nest. If you want to have an incident with an alligator you can probably create one. If you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. The alligator I met on the Myaka river in the video below just sat there as I paddled by. I didn’t bother him and he didn’t bother me, except for a minute or too when I held my breath!

 

 

Sharks are common on Florida beaches, intercostal bays and brackish streams.  Sharks that eat your fish once hooked has become a problem in some locations, especially when fishing for Tarpon or Bonito.  I have had a shark eat my Sea Trout as I was reeling it in. There was a quick tug, I saw the shark, only a 3 footer, and all that was left on my line was the Seatrout head. I often see sharks when out around sandbars and grass flats in my kayak. Common sense prevails in dealing with sharks. Personally I don’t swim far out on the beaches or wade much past my knees. I don’t have a stringer of fish trailing behind my kayak or with me if I am wading. Sharks can easily be chummed up if you want to fish for them, and they can be caught on a fly. Leave them alone and they will leave you alone.

PROTECT YOURSELF FROM SNAKES

Florida is the home for 45 different snake species of which only 6 are poisonous. My general rule is be on the outlook for them and leave them alone. I have only seen couple of snakes on Florida but I am always on the lookout for them. More on Florida Snakes.

PROTECT YOURSELF FROM POISONOUS  PLANTS

More on Florida poisonous plants. 

PROTECT YOURSELF FROM HOOKS

Fly fishing necessitates casting a fly that has a hook and probably a barb on it. Everyone who fly fishes will eventually encounter the hook getting caught in one’s skin. If the barb has been pinched down, the hook can easily be removed. Casting, especially in the wind, requires some type of eye protection to be safe. All anglers should wear a shatterproof sun glass. Because of the power of many salt water fish, I do not advocate using two flies while saltwater fishing. One hook can be in the fish and the free fly could easily get caught in the angler. More on removing a hook

 

 

ITEMS HELPFUL WHEN FISHING IN FLORIDA

  1. Salt Water Plier. Used for pinching down barbs, removing hooks from fishes mouth, tightening knots, and cutting tippet and wire. A necessity for Salt Water fishing. Stay away from Stainless steel as it will rust.
  2. A Fish Gripper.  It holds a fish by the lip so you do not have to hold it in your hand. It keeps you from rubbing of the protective slime of the fishes skin and keeps your hands from getting pricked by the sharp fins.
  3. A DeHooker. This is a tool that slides down your tippet to the hook and then with a quick snap will remove the hook from the fish, some of the time. It really helps to pinch down your barbs. The hook comes out of the fish much easier and out of your body too when it has no barb.
  4. Hook sharpener and a good snip. Your hooks may get dull by hitting barnacles or  bony mouths. Keeping them sharp will insure more hook ups. Most  salt water fish have very bony mouths and can dull your point. Best not to use your teeth to cut 20 lb fluorocarbon but I still do it when i can’t find my nipper. Use a nipper and save your front teeth.
  5. Hard bottom wading shoes. Flats booties or salt water wading shoes that will protect feet from barnacles and other salt water hazards are necessary. There can be glass and even used hypodermic needles on the beaches. I don’t go barefooted but may be a little paranoid. Flats booties do not give much arch support so you may want to pay the extra money and get a salt water wading shoe with better support and a firmer sole. If you are going to wade around in a soft, muddy bottom you will want to have a wading shoe that you can lace up tight and not one that zips up the side. It is easy to lose a zippered shoe in a soft, sticky bottom. If you walk the beach fishing your zippered booties will get filled with sand and you may have trouble using the zipper. Best to have a salt water shoe that laces up.
  6. Protective Clothing. Q+qJmhDVQgmQExlNJonS+AA wide-brimmed sun shield hat, long sleeve sunshield shirts and pants, sunshield gloves and face shields help to protect from the sun.  A Buff turns your cap into a sun protected garment. Always have a breathable, light weight raincoat nearby. Storms come in fast and leave fast in Florida. In the winter, while kayaking I have on a breathable rain pant the keeps my legs dry from paddle drips.
  7. First aid kit. IMG_2101Just like when you go camping, a first aid kit is a necessity. Bandaids and disinfectant pads are necessary in case of minor cuts. It is possible, and I have done it several times, to cut yourself with the fly line, backing or leader. I carry waterproof first aid tape to protect my fingers if they get cut. Fishing in saltwater with cuts in your fingers can be “a pain.” You can get cut from teeth, fins, spines and may need immediate first aid to guard against infection.
  8. Polarized Sun Glasses are a must. Many prices, styles and types available.
  9.  Cell Phone. Almost all of Florida has cell phone access. Everyone I know who carries a cell phone while fishing, including me, has destroyed a phone or two by getting it wet. Just go ahead and invest in a good waterproof phone case. I also cary a small recharger and cord. I use 5 apps on my phone. They are the Weather Channel, Navionics, Google Maps, Windfinder and Tides. The Weather Channel gives daily weather estimates, send out alerts to dangerous conditions, coming storms and lightning. Google Maps is great for road information and driving directions to the fishing location. When in my kayak fishing I turn on Navionics which shows me where I am located in relationship to mangrove islands, grass flats, cuts and streams and keeps me from getting lost when in my kayak. It can map your route and save it so you have a history of the trip. It can give a good estimate on how deep the water is and where access points are located. Many of the fishing spots I go to have been found by using Navionics or Google Maps. Windfinder is an app that shows current and coming wind conditions in relationship to where I am fishing. The wind speed and direction will help tell you which spots you should fish. Tides gives me an idea of incoming tides which is crucial information for Salt Water fishing.
  10. Stripping basket. Striping baskets are not used much in Western trout fishing but I find them very useful in Florida. I use one when wade fishing or walking the beach. You can strip your line in so that it falls into the basket. The basket keeps your line out of the water and keeps the line from getting tangled in weeds and waves. If you want easier casting with less tangles a stripping basket is very helpful.
  11. Sunscreen and insect repellants are a must. Best to use sunscreens that are not harmful to the environment. Some sunscreens actually are harmful to Coral Reefs and fish. Really? If you go to a popular Florida beach you will easily smell the sunscreen. Gallons of it enter the environment every day. Insect repellant are necessary at certain places and times of the year.
  12. Drinking Water. Just like in Colorado fishing and hiking you will need water. This can not be over emphasized. I take water with me when fishing and have back up water on my kayak and in my truck at all times.

Just like in Colorado where we have powerful sun, a high altitude, lightning, fires, snakes, mosquitos, bears, mountain lions, elk and deer, poison ivy, bees and wasps, Florida has many harmful things you might encounter. I find the Boy Scout motto, “be prepared” is a valuable attitude to have when going outdoors. Nothing is more important than knowing the environment you will be fishing in and having the right gear, so you can go out there and confidently “rip some lips”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Keeping Yourself Safe in the Florida Environment

  1. Great post.
    Almost every thing in that post holds true to where i fish in Western Australia except with a few great white shark atracks mostly on surfers each year we carry electronic shark sheilds that were invented in South Africa and are very effective.
    The esturine crocs we have in the far north are stone cold maneaters so very few people risk fishing mangroves or creeks from a kayak up in that area . Our uv levels are extreme year round so head to toe cover is the easiest way for us as far as sunprotection goes .
    Interested to see your saltwater catfish have poisonous spines as all common catfish in Australia do .Watching catfish noodling on the net recently .If you did that to an Aussie one it would be a trip to the ED for sure…

    Like

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