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Florida's Pompano Are Fine Fighters, Finer Eating

Florida has numerous species of jacks swimming in its waters, but the most prized is the Florida pompano. Found off beaches and in inlets throughout the state, hungry anglers know that fresh pompano equals a delicious fish dinner. Pompano typically feed in shallow water for small shrimp, crabs and other shellfish. From the surf, anglers target pompano with mole crabs, also known as sand fleas. Throwing a sand flea at a pompano is the equivalent of dropping a cookie among kids – it will get picked up. Surf fishers spend hours digging for sand fleas and still more hours keeping them alive for a few days of pompano fishing. While sand fleas may be the best bait, small cut pieces of shrimp will certainly catch a fair share, too On the Gulf Coast of Florida, pompano fishermen tend to throw artificials more frequently than east coasters. With the Gulf’s usually calmer surf, anglers aim for pompano by casting parallel to troughs with small bucktail or nylon-haired jigs tipped with a bit of shrimp. Gulf Coast anglers also drift passes on strong outgoing tides, employing a near-vertical jigging technique known as the pompano pump. This technique allows everyone on the boat to take advantage of drifting over a school of hungry pompano. Color can play an important role in catching pompano with jigs. Typically in cleaner water, yellow, white or brown hues are best, while in dirtier or stained water bright pink or chartreuse often get the nod. Jigs should be heavy enough to keep close contact with the pompano, which are definitely bottom feeders. Anglers barely feel many pompano strikes – often the only thing you’ll feel is extra weight on the line. Short, quick pops of the rod tip will mimic a fleeing shrimp and produce more strikes. When tipping a jig for pompano, a fingernail-size piece of shrimp will suffice. Too big a piece and you’ll lose the action pompano find irresistible. Pompano tackle can be any light inshore rod, and braid is almost a necessity to detect the soft strikes. Surf anglers usually employ a longer rod to reach farther out into the surf. While not as glamorous as their cousins, the permit, pompanos are definitely representative of their hard-fighting jack family. Their abundance throughout Florida’s waters makes them one of the most sought after gamefish for shore-bound anglers. And in addition to the fun of catching pompano, their puffy, white meat makes for great eating.

Butterfly Peacock Bass Fishing Tips

More than 300 miles of urban canals in Dade and Broward counties have fishable populations of butterfly peacock bass, an introduced species that reaches nine pounds.

Butterfly peacocks prefer live fish or fish-imitating lures, rather than plastic worms commonly used for largemouth bass. The best bait for butterfly peacocks is live shiners, but artificial lures also work well, including topwater plugs, jigs and crankbaits. Light spinning tackle is recommended in canals for this open-water fighter.

Intersections, dead ends and fallen trees concentrate butterfly peacocks. Shade provided by bridges, culverts, vegetation, and other structures provide some of the most productive spots. Butterfly peacocks are caught only during daylight hours, as they do not feed at night.

Kissimmee: Just For Fun

You've got three days. Let's see how much pure family fun you can cram in. Ready, set, go! In Kissimmee, the challenge is: so much fun, so little time. So allow me to help you to fit it all in with this yippee!-conducive itinerary. Day One Cruise Irlo Bronson Highway (Hwy. 192) and watch the fun pop out: fantastic gift shops, amusement parks, and family restaurants shout for your attention. Head to the Old Town Shopping, Dining and Entertainment Attraction and hit Happy Days Go-Cart Track for a little go-cart action. Then check out the Ferris wheel, bumper cars or laser tag, or amp up your experience with the rock wall, ropes course, zip line and much more. In one section, rides and games are tot-sized and throughout, snack stands and restaurants sell kid favorites: cotton candy, popcorn, giant pretzels and pizza. In between rides, hit the fun shops, selling everything from sports team paraphernalia to magic tricks. For the brave in the family, spice the fun with fear factor at Old Town Grimm Haunted House. Recommended for kids ages 10 and older, it's an old-fashioned scare mansion with loud noises, ghoulish actors, flashing lights, and spooky special effects. For the less-than-brave, ask for the "light scare" treatment. Old Town stays open until 11 p.m. for late-night family amusement. Day Two After your first active day and late-night out, sleep in and then head to St. Cloud for hometown fun and fulfillment. Take the kids to Lakefront Park to fish for bass and perch. When you finish feeding the fish, head downtown for a bite to eat. For top night-time dining and entertainment, make reservations at the Medieval Times dinner show. Day Three Begin the day at Gatorland, where toddlers to teens will have fun at attractions that range from a fountain playground to gator feedings that appeal to gruesome appetites. Plan to stay at least three hours to hit all the shows, climb the observation tower overlooking gators galore, pet farm animals, visit baby gators and munch on a lunch of gator nuggets (or more conventional snack fare) at Pearl's Smokehouse. Spend the afternoon in downtown Kissimmee, checking out the traditional hometown with its lovely churches and cowtown heritage. Look for murals that depict a time when cattle ranching was the town's main industry and artwork including sculptures that rotate out each year. 'Fraid we've run out of time, yet still more fun awaits. Perhaps you should consider extending your vacation so you can make it to all the parks, museums and other attractions we couldn't fit in.

Places to Propose

You've gotten the ring... and the courage. Now, it's time to pop the question. There's just one minor detail: Where should you do it? The question, "Will you marry me?" should be asked in an achingly romantic spot. It must be magical, memorable and most importantly, mandate a "Yes!" In Florida, the odds are in your favor. Every section of the Sunshine State is spilling over with sensuous scenarios sure to elicit success. Here are just a few: Pop the cork and the question with your heads in the clouds, on a heavenly hot air balloon ride. Blue Water Balloons in Orlando offers a champagne toast flight. What a way to spend the day! Have a dolphin do it. Discovery Cove in Orlando can have a buoy personalized with your proposal delivered by a dolphin, along with a video recording or photographs of the special moment. Create your own fairytale at Walt Disney World. While you're holding hands over dinner at Victoria and Albert's at the Grand Floridian, the concierge will arrange to carpet your hotel room in rose petals. Charter a glass coach to the wedding pavilion, where a violinist adds ambience and a photographer forever preserves your proposal on film. Afterwards, watch fireworks from your chariot before returning to a heart-fluttering floral fantasy. Other ideas are taking your beloved to Cinderella's Royal Table inside the castle or chartering the 52-foot "Grand 1" Yacht to watch the nightly fireworks. Discover the keys to romance. Florida Yacht Charters & Sales, Inc. offers romantic sails through the Florida Keys, complete with culinary-skilled captains to help couples cast away their cares. There's nothing more sensual than the gentle lapping of waves against the hull. Traditions live on for a reason. You won't go wrong with an intimate, candlelit dinner and dance, especially at the sexy Leopard Lounge in The Chesterfield Hotel. It's located three blocks from the ocean and two blocks from Worth Avenue in glamorous Palm Beach, where you are sure to find the perfect bauble to bedazzle your betrothed. Fan the flames of romance at The Lodge & Club at Ponte Vedra Beach. The "Stir the Fire" package is sure to melt your hearts. Begin the evening with a sumptuous candlelit dinner on your oceanfront balcony; feed each other decadent desserts in your whirlpool bath, then cuddle up fireside with a glass of champagne. Who knows? She might discover a diamond at the bottom of her bubbly. Propose under a canopy of stars. After an exhilarating day of fishing, hiking or kayaking, relax by a crackling campfire and let the wilderness work its magic. There are hundreds of beautiful state parks throughout Florida to pop the question. (www.floridastateparks.org) St. Augustine is hauntingly romantic. Start with a champagne sunset cruise on a tall ship, saunter with spirits of the night on a ghost tour and take a horse and carriage ride back to a charming Victorian-era bed and breakfast inn. America's oldest city is dripping with history, and it's a lovely locale to create some of your own. A dollar says she (or he) will accept. Particularly if the dollar is among the quarter of a million's worth on display at Cabbage Key's rustic island bar. Instead of autographing it like hundreds before you, pen your proposal before taping it to the wall. Cabbage Key is a fun stop on an island hop. Visit popular Sanibel and Captiva, or cruise to lesser-known North Captiva, a remote island with crushed shell roads and no cars. Accessible only by boat, it is the consummate blend of wild, natural beauty and catered comfort. The North Captiva Island Club offers vacation rentals with resort amenities, and even accepts pooches. Share a romantic seaside picnic and surprise her with a sparkling ring tucked in a seashell, or soar above the shore in a bi-plane or helicopter, where the vista below reveals "Marry me" carved in silky white sand. Sip champagne at sunset, and express your undying love as the embers of the golden orb extinguish beyond the horizon. With 1,260 miles of coastline and waters ranging from emerald green to midnight blue, Florida's beaches present a panoply of aqueous settings for a picture-perfect proposal.

Feds will require airline baggage fee refunds when bags are delayed

A new measure signed into law will require airlines to refund baggage fees when bags are delayed.

With the new law, “passengers won’t have to spend a ton of time tracking down a refund when the airline doesn’t deliver,” according to U.S. Sen. John Thune, chairman of the Senate Commerce committee, during remarks on the Senate floor last month.

>> Read more trending stories

The measure in a Federal Aviation Administration re-authorization extension bill signed into law in July directs the U.S. Transportation Secretary to issue regulations on the matter within a year.

The new regulations would require an airline to “promptly provide to a passenger an automated refund for any ancillary fees paid by the passenger for checked baggage” if the bag is not delivered within 12 hours of arrival of a domestic flight, or within 15 hours of arrival of an international flight. The passenger would need to notify the airline of the lost or delayed baggage to get the refund.

U.S. airlines collected more than $900 million in baggage fees in the first quarter of 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. American Airlines collected the most baggage fees among U.S. airlines, with $262.5 million in baggage fees in the quarter. Delta was in the No. 2 spot with $197.7 million in baggage fee revenue in the same period.

Vero Beach, Hutchinson Island and Martin County Area Beaches

Beaches and parks are listed geographically from north to south.   Beaches with this symbol have beach wheelchairs available, either provided as a courtesy, or available for (prearranged) rent and delivery from private companies. This area offers an outstanding number of golden Florida beaches, including many protected state and national parks. The local city and county beaches have plenty of onshore activities, and the area is known for several offshore shipwrecks that are perfect for some spectacular scuba diving.

 

 Sebastian Inlet State Park 

Sebastian Inlet State Park features some of the best surfing in the state in three miles of blue Atlantic water. Situated on the tips of two barrier islands, the park is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the Indian River Lagoon to the west and the Sebastian Inlet flows between the two. It is a favorite spot for picnicking, swimming, surfing, fishing, boating, snorkeling, Scuba diving, bird watching, and camping.  Vero Beach 

Vero Beach is where you can escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. This area offers plenty of public beach access and a number of full-service parks, depending on your needs. Humiston Beach Park and Jaycee Park are the only areas in Vero Beach that provide beach wheelchairs. 

Wabasso Beach Park is located in Vero Beach amidst some popular family resorts. It has wide, quiet beaches that are perfect for swimming.

Golden Sands Beach Park is a traditional beach park with lifeguards, grills and picnic area, dressing facilities, restrooms and showers. It's a good place if you feel like snorkeling or Scuba diving.

Jaycee Park is more than eight acres of oceanfront park perfect for family gatherings. There is a playground, a restaurant, a scenic boardwalk, a large picnic area and a buoyed swimming area.

Finally, Humiston Beach Park is located in the heart of Vero Beach's island shopping district. Throughout the year, this four-acre park is the center for arts and crafts shows and other festivals. 

Hutchinson Island This beautiful barrier island features 21 miles of pristine beaches including Fort Pierce, Port St. Lucie, and the beaches of Martin County from Jensen Beach to Stuart Beach. Public parks lie along seven miles of this Atlantic coastal stretch, projecting an unspoiled, tropical tranquility. Fishing is also abundant, and several offshore shipwrecks provide excellent diving opportunities. From the Pines north of Ft. Pierce Inlet south to Waveland Beach, there are 33 points where you can access these beautiful Indian River beaches. 

Pepper Park Pepper Park is best known for the 1700s Spanish wreck Urca de Lima that lies sunken in 15 feet of water just 200 yards offshore. So put on your fins and mask, and swim out to take a look. Aside from the great snorkeling and Scuba diving, the park also features tennis, basketball and volleyball courts, picnic areas and a boardwalk.

 Fort Pierce Inlet State Park/North Jetty Park 

Fort Pierce Inlet State Park/North Jetty Park is a 340-acre state-owned oceanfront forest overlooking sand dunes and the sparkling Atlantic Ocean. The North Jetty is a prime spot to try some fishing, and there are picnic and camping sites, grills and restrooms. If you're a nature lover, you'll find plenty of wildlife here, so bring your binoculars for some bird watching.

 

South Jetty Park and Pier, on the south side of the Fort Pierce Inlet at the end of Seaway Drive, is a 1½-acre ocean park with a 1,200-foot fishing jetty, boardwalk, restrooms, picnic areas and pavilion. South Beach Boardwalk is a scenic boardwalk set at the top of tall, sea-oat-dappled sand dunes from which you can see the sparkling ocean below. If you are looking for a place to lunch, there are raised picnic pavilions, as well as showers and restrooms.

The Beaches of Martin County

Encompassing the communities of Port Salerno, Stuart, Palm City, Jensen Beach, Indiantown, Jupiter Island, Hobe Sound and Hutchinson Island, Martin County serves up beautiful beaches and more than 75 parks – not to mention the most bio-diverse lagoon ecosystem in the Northern hemisphere, the St. Lucie Inlet.

Jensen Beach is bustling with excitement. Locals and visitors alike flock to the sandy shores of this park on Hutchinson Island. Several picnic pavilions, as well as volleyball courts, bathrooms and showers make this a complete all-ages park.

Stuart Beach overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and golden sand beach, featuring a 250-foot boardwalk. Volleyball and basketball courts are on site, as well as a playground and the Elliott Museum, which houses a collection of Americana dating back to 1750. Bathtub Reef Beach is an undeveloped 1,300-foot beach with a shallow offshore reef that is good for snorkeling and diving. During low tide, inspect the tidal pools of the rocky reef for sea life. The park features lifeguards and a river boardwalk on the west side of MacArthur Boulevard leading to the Indian River. St. Lucie Inlet State Preserve is set on the north end of Jupiter Island. This 928-acre park has 2½ miles of remote beach accessible only by boat. A boardwalk leads from docks to the shore. Inland you can explore the mangrove-lined creeks, or offshore, search the limestone reef for unique underwater life. Blowing Rocks Preserve has extensive rock formations on and off shore. Fishing, snorkeling and diving are popular along this beach on Jupiter Island. There are no lifeguards on duty, but there is an extensive boardwalk area on the Intracoastal side on the park, as well as a nature center. You can enjoy the park even on days the ocean is too rough for swimming. Just be careful as you watch geysers explode through the formations when the waves crash on the rocks.

Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge is a pristine 967-acre park featuring 3½ miles of beach on Jupiter Island. It's one of the state's most popular turtle nesting beaches, so if you are here in the spring or summer, you'll be sure to spot some nests. On the mainland, preserved nature trails weave along the Intracoastal Waterway.

 

Photos by Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA

 

Exploring the Treasure Coast

 

Sea oats and native vegetation line the beach at Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge. ~ Contributed Photo

 

In September 1696, a young Quaker merchant of Jamaica named Jonathan Dickinson was shipwrecked near the St. Lucie Inlet along with his family and other passengers and crew members. Dickinson encountered the local Ais Indians, a tribe that lived along the shores of the great lagoon called Rio de Ais by the Spanish, and now called the Indian River.

 

Although Dickinson never returned to the area, his name lives on in Jonathan Dickinson State Park, an 11,500-acre preserve near Hobe Sound that allows visitors to step back in time and see what this pristine area looked like before it was settled by Europeans. Located at the confluence of the Indian River Lagoon and the St. Lucie River in southeastern Florida, the St. Lucie Inlet includes the communities of Stuart, Jensen Beach and Hobe Sound. The inlet separates the barrier islands of Hutchinson Island to the north and Jupiter Island to the south. In stark contrast to the faster pace just to the south, these destinations feature a culturally vibrant, yet laid-back quality of life centered on beaches, boating, fishing, community and the outdoors.

 

Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Hobe Sound ~ Martin County Convention & Visitors Bureau

 

Dickinson was not the first European in the area, of course. St. Lucie first appeared on the maps of Spanish explorers in the early 16th century as Santa Lucea. And less than 20 years after Dickinson’s woes, a Spanish treasure fleet was shipwrecked. It was the first of many galleons carrying gold to wreck, giving the region its name, the Treasure Coast.

 

Because of the area’s isolated location and the treacherous reefs just offshore, the structure known as Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge was established to provide food and shelter to shipwrecked sailors. The nearby Elliott Museum boasts exhibits focused on art, history, and technology.

 

St. Lucie is known for its fishing. Dubbed the “Sailfish Capital of the World,” the peak months are December through March, then June and July, with more than a dozen tournaments filling calendars from October through January each year. In addition to marinas, deep-sea charter and professional guide services are readily available.

 

Featuring a remarkable amount of shoreline for its small size, Stuartboasts a charming, walkable historic downtown. The Lyric Theatre, a former silent movie house, anchors the heart of the restored downtown in neoclassical style and is the town’s most visible landmark. It has hosted an eclectic mix of classical and pop performances, from Vero Beach country singer Jake Owen to Ricci Martin, the Rat Pack member’s son.

 

The town’s old courthouse, now the Court House Cultural Center, contains scheduled art exhibits and sponsors the ArtsFest each March. The Stuart Heritage Museum, formerly the George W. Parks General Store, memorializes the town’s early 20th-century history and architecture. 

 

The city is on its second name. When first settled in the early 1890s, it was called Potsdam, a name selected by German settlers. Following the 1895 arrival of Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway, the town was renamed after local landowner, Homer Hine Stuart.

 

Hobe Sound     ~ Allie Cooper Evans

 

Located about 10 miles south of Stuart is the village of Hobe Sound. With an eclectic assortment of shops, boutiques and galleries, Hobe Sound hosts cultural events that draw people from the entire Treasure Coast, like the Hobe Sound Festival of the Arts in early February. The town’s name comes from the Jobe Indians (the Spanish pronounced the name “HO-bay”), one of the Native American groups that lived in the area before the European settlement.

 

Hobe Sound is home to one of Florida’s finest nature preserves, the aforementioned Jonathan Dickinson State Park. This 11,500-acre refuge contains an abundance of tropical and subtropical wildlife and offers camping, canoeing, hiking, bicycling, picnicking and fresh and saltwater fishing. The 40-foot Loxahatchee Queen III offers two-hour-long exploration of the upper reaches of the Loxahatchee River, which is accessible only by boat and includes a ranger-guided tour of the restored camp of Trapper Nelson, the famous “Wildman of the Loxahatchee.”

 

Jensen Beach  

Jensen Beach was once known as the “Pineapple Capital of the World” before a combination of deadly freezes, blights and fires destroyed the industry at the turn of the 20th century. The prototype Old Florida beach town, it has a roundabout and a handful of good (and unpretentious) restaurants including Conchy Joe’s (on the water) and 11 Maple Street (gourmet in an Old Florida house).

 

The town, which sits on the land side of the Intracoastal Waterway, is home to many local restaurants. Just up Indian River Drive, the town’s most famous eatery is the Dolphin Bar and Shrimp House, a seafood house boasting a spectacular river view. Known for years as Frances Langford’s Outrigger Resort, it was owned by Langford, a 1940s and 50s-era movie star best known as Bob Hope’s sidekick.

 

Conservation-minded Langford lived in the town for more than 50 years before her death in 2005. Ask any local, and he or she will tell of Langford’s generosity and then send you to nearby Frances Langford Park, which has baseball diamonds, a playground and fitness trails. Not only does the restaurant have photographs from Langford’s Hollywood career, but patrons waiting for a table can have a look at her vintage fishing reels.

 

To visit Jensen Beach’s oceanside beauty, head out on the causeway to Hutchinson Island. Beach lovers frequent Sea Turtle Beach, a wide, sandy beach named for the loggerhead and green turtles that lay their eggs there in late spring. Heading south on Hutchinson Island, you’ll come across Bathtub Beach, which is popular with families because a coral reef protects the shore and keeps the waves to a minimum.

 

Jensen Beach hangs onto its history and uses it to its advantage. Even though the pineapple industry collapsed by 1920, the pineapple is a permanent part of the town’s identity. The annual Pineapple Festival (complete with the crowning of Miss Pineapple) is held each November and remains Jensen Beach’s defining community event.

See Rocket Launches and Real Spaceships on Florida's Space Coast

If you have the kind of family that's always exploring, check out some of the amazing Florida firsts you can have along Florida's Space Coast.

Visit Exploration Tower at Port Canaveral, seven floors of exhibits, interactive activities and observation decks. It also offers a perfect spot for watching rocket launches from nearby the Kennedy Space Center.

Need a little space? Experience a day of fun, a lifetime of inspiration at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Float beside spacewalking astronauts during the IMAX film Hubble 3D. Become part of the future of exciting possibilities at the Exploration Space: Explorers Wanted exhibit and show. Tour NASA's spaceport facilities, get nose to nose with Space Shuttle Atlantis, launch into space on Shuttle Launch Experience, meet a real astronaut during daily Astronaut Encounters and walk among towering rockets.

Cave Diving at Peacock Springs

Located 16 miles southwest of Live Oak, Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park is home to two major springs, a spring run and six sinkholes, all in near pristine condition. Cave divers travel from all over the world to explore nearly 33,000 feet of surveyed underwater passages at Peacock Springs. This park features one of the longest underwater cave systems in the continental United States.

The Stuff of Legends

The man Flagler County is named for was a major force in developing the East Coast of Florida. Having made his fortune with Standard Oil, Henry Flagler found his way to the Sunshine State and came to know the beauty of what is now a thriving destination, especially for golf. It all stemmed from his vision to build a railroad that could bring visitors from the north and put Florida on the map.Of course Flagler, who died in 1913, would not recognize the place today, but his legacy is secure. And he would be proud to know that golf has been – and remains – such a big part of the tourist mecca he envisioned.Almost 20 miles of Atlantic Ocean beaches line Flagler County (www.visitflagler.org), making it a natural lure in itself. But this Northeast Florida county, which includes the cities of Palm Coast and Flagler Beach, is also a golf hotspot that perks up for the world's best players when the Champions Tour visits in March.Ginn's Ocean CourseThe Ocean Course is spectacular. Designed by Jack Nicklaus, it was cut out of the Atlantic Ocean coastline and is a true oceanfront course. Six holes overlook the Atlantic Ocean. The entire 18th hole, all 468 yards of it, stretches along the water.Opened in 2000, the course has already received many honors, including "The Top 10 New Courses You Can Play" as judged by GOLF magazine. "This is a gorgeous golf course... Jack did a heck of a job," said Champions Tour player Dana Quigley. She called the course's condition "magnificent."More Courses on Florida's First CoastWhen it comes to great golf, the game doesn't end at the Ocean Course. The area has its own marketing organization called Florida's First Coast of Golf, which offers information on Northeast Florida golf courses, lodging, tee times and reservations. Its searchable listings include course locations and amenities. (For more information, visit www.florida-golf.org).Area courses worth checking out include The Cypress Course at the Grand Club in Palm Coast, a semi-private course that offers excellent rates to visitors. The Pine Course at the Grand Club is an Arnold Palmer design that offers a fun, forgiving layout for all skill levels. Two courses at LPGA Tour headquarters, the Legends and the Champions, are within a short drive and are home to the grueling LPGA Tour Qualifying Tournament each year.A golf vacation in Flagler County also puts you in close proximity to St. Augustine's World Golf Village, which includes the World Golf Hall of Fame and two famous courses, the King & Bear and the Slammer & Squire. And just up the road in Jacksonville is another legendary course: TPC Sawgrass, home of THE PLAYERS Championship. In all, some 30 courses make up the Florida's First Coast of Golf lineup.For more information on planning your own golf getaway to Flagler County, contact Florida's First Coast of Golf at 800-766-8039 or visit www.florida-golf.org. This not-for-profit organization is Northeast Florida's trusted source for golf vacation packages, golf course information and accommodations.

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