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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 (, 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 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 This not-for-profit organization is Northeast Florida's trusted source for golf vacation packages, golf course information and accommodations.

Island Style in Sanibel and Captiva

Whether you're coming for a short visit or lingering on vacation, there's one Gulf coast destination to always remember: the islands of Sanibel and Captiva. These two breathtakingly beautiful islands (located just three miles from Fort Myers in the Gulf of Mexico), offer world-famous shelling, wildlife in abundance, notable shopping and fine dining with a seafood slant. And all can be further enjoyed with a stay at one of Royal Shell Vacation's vacation rentals, which allow you to customize your vacation home away from home. From a "secluded hideaway" kind of vacation home just steps from the beach to a luxurious resort condominium with a bird's-eye-view of the Gulf, you'll find a perfect way to enjoy your stay on these tropical, unspoiled Florida islands. Taking in the Scenery on Sanibel While Captiva is noted for its quaintness and quietude, Sanibel is where you can find a little more action. Nestled among the tropical landscape, there are plenty of fine dining and shopping choices, many of which are located right on the main street, Periwinkle Way. This tree-lined street is also well-known for the bike path that stretches alongside of it – the path is part of a 25-mile trail that meanders through both islands. Should you feel like taking in the scenery on two wheels, there are several bike rental facilities available, including Billy's Bikes and Rentals. As you explore, check out the many beach accesses dotting the coast. Don't miss Lighthouse Park Beach, located on the southern tip of the island and marked by the historic Sanibel Lighthouse. Toward the other end of the island, take time to discover the 6,400-acre J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, famous for its diverse bird life, and the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, offering more than 30 exhibits of mollusks from around the world. (Both are located right off Sanibel-Captiva Road.) When it comes to dining, finer establishments such as Jacaranda Restaurant serve up succulent fresh seafood, while casual eateries and coffee shops. When it comes to kicking back, there are plenty of Royal Shell options in close proximity to all you'll see and do. If you prefer a cozy home that's close to the beach, the Tiki Cottage, a charming three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath residence, is a solid option. If a luxurious stay beckons you, the upscale Sanibel HarbourResort, with your choice of a two- or three-bedroom and two- or three-bath vacation condo, might be your best bet. The majestic resort, located just over the bridge from Sanibel Island, offers everything from The Spa at Sanibel Harbour to fine dining choices such as Tarpon House (serving up Southern-inspired cuisine and picturesque water views). Cozying Up in Captiva Crossing the bridge from Sanibel to Captiva, you'll pass over Turner Beach (Blind Pass), a white-sand beauty with impressive shelling opportunities. Even more removed from civilization than Sanibel, Captiva is a little less developed, a little more quiet. The "Heart of Captiva," a short, scenic drive from the bridge, is where delicious casual dining is the standard, and Key lime pie is served just about everywhere. You just might find the best at Keylime Bistro. Another great dining stop is the Bubble Room, famous for its eclectic menu and equally interesting décor.Memorabilia, antiques and old amusement props create fanfare for the eyes while the tastebuds dance (don't leave without dessert). Despite Captiva's smaller size, there are still a wide range of places to stay. If the idea of your own private tennis court and heated swimming pool piques your interest, you'll enjoy the comfortable luxury of the Outer Banks Home. This six-bedroom, five-bath bayfront home is just a short stroll to the beaches. If you prefer a beachside stay, check out the homes and condominiums at South Seas Plantation on Royal Shell's website. The resort offers a range of units, including ones fit for larger parties – consider the impressive four-bedroom, four-bath beachfront townhouse that's surrounded by 330 acres of a natural botanical paradise. Kick back, spread out and come sunset, you can toast to a whole new view of "paradise." For more information on planning your in-state getaway to the islands of Sanibel and Captiva, contact Royal Shell Vacations at 800-656-9111 or visit

A-Foot at Walt Disney World Resort

Footloose & Car-Free

It's like its own kingdom, it's own "small world," a country unto itself. Walt Disney World Resort's 47 square miles take you away from reality to a place where life is neat, orderly, constantly fun and totally car-free carefree. The only time you need enter a car is at Epcot's Test Track attraction or Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland Speedway. Four main parks - Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom - plus shopping and entertainment districts and recreational scenes give your feet plenty of a workout. Many resorts have bicycles available. As an alternative, sit-back-and-relax modes include trains, monorails, horse-and-buggy, boats and shuttles. The monorail system whisks you between the parks and to some of the accommodations in the land. Buses provide transportation to Disney Springs, Disney's Boardwalk, golf courses, other sports venues and resorts in Walt Disney World. At the parks, pick up a map as you enter for show times, dining options and directions. Steep parking fees and long lines to get into the lots are just a couple of reasons to leave the car.

Parking Zone

Walt Disney World encompasses some 29 themed resorts ranging from budget Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground to mid-range All-Star Movies Resorts (with movies, music, and sports themes) to luxurious Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. The resorts cluster around each main theme park and Disney Springs. Most are within walking distance to that main attraction and its other resorts. They often encircle lakes, providing scenic walking loops and water taxis between properties. Disney resorts provide guests a handy guide booklet to the kingdom and its complex transportation system. Several other non-Disney properties lie within Disney confines, including Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin and Sheraton Safari. Even if you're not staying at a Disney property, you can catch a shuttle bus from most hotels and resorts in the Orlando-Kissimmee area.

Walk This Way

Disney guests usually begin their path into dreams and imagination at Magic Kingdom, the first Disney World park and the most visited. Seven lands make up Magic Kingdom's 107 acres, each with its own theme attractions, shops and eateries. It could take a couple of days to see it all. Epcot's two distinct lands - Future World and World Showcase - are arranged in circular patterns. You can conceivably see everything in one day, if lines are short and you stay from opening to close. Hollywood Boulevard takes you through Disney's Hollywood Studios, where attractions, diners, entertainment and souvenir shops revolve around blockbuster films. Although Animal Kingdom is Disney's largest park - 500 acres - its human-accessible aspect is smallest. One day suffices as long as you get early to the most popular attractions. Two water parks - Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon - let you cool down with a splash, and the resorts have their own swimming pools, some with slides, playgrounds, and other kid-fun attractions. Many resorts offer water sports on their lakes, including kayaking, pedal boats, sailing, water-skiing, jet-skiing, and fishing. Fort Wilderness Resort even offers pony rides, horseback riding, carriage rides, and a petting zoo. Kids programs and video arcades at many resorts keep the little ones happy while the adults sneak off to be pampered at one of two major spas on property (many of the resorts also have their own smaller day spas), or for adult recreation and sizzling nightlife. Sports enthusiasts find their favorite form of play with Walt Disney World's 81 holes of golf, two miniature golf courses, jogging trails, tennis courts, and the Wide World of Sports Complex, where you can do everything from race in a NASCAR stock car to watch the Atlanta Braves in spring training. Stroll Downtown Disney Marketplace by day for great shopping and restaurants. By night, its Pleasure Island really comes alive with comedy, dancing, live music and big screen entertainment. There's more shopping, dining and partying at Disney's Boardwalk. Fishing excursions depart from both Downtown Disney and the Boardwalk. DisneyQuest, billed as an indoor theme park, injects still more high-tech into the Disney cutting-edge entertainment scene. For more information on getting around Walt Disney World, go to

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


'Twilight Zone' is out, 'Guardians of the Galaxy' is in

Disneyland is shutting down the fifth dimension and will be re-theming "The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror."

The popular ride in Disney's California Adventure will no longer look like the golden age of Hollywood, but will soon look like something out of the Marvel universe after the ride shuts down in early 2017 for a refurbishment, Disney has announced.

The change is only coming to the California Adventure version of the ride. Walt Disney World's version in Disney's Hollywood Studios will remain themed to "The Twilight Zone."

>> Read more trending stories  

The announcement, which came during San Diego ComicCon, had been rumored for months on Disney fan sites, but Disney, which now owns Marvel Entertainment, denied the change until the weekend. 

The ride components of the a fast elevator-type drop will stay, but the interior an exterior of the building will be changed into "Guardians of the Galaxy."

Imagineer Joe Rohde hosted a behind-the-scenes planning video explaining what park-goers will experience.

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"Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT!" will reopen next summer around the same time as the "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" hits theaters, KNBC reported.

The news of "The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror's" re-imagineering was not met with cheers; rather, many fans are unhappy that Marvel's moving into the simulated hotel, kicking the ghosts out.

Parks on both coasts are currently going through a major expansion adding "Star Wars" lands, one in Disneyland in California and one in Hollywood Studios in Florida.

<iframe src="//;border=false" width="100%" height="750" frameborder="no" allowtransparency="true"></iframe><script src="//;border=false"></script>[View the story "Disney's changing "Tower of Terror" to "Guardians of the Galaxy."" on Storify]

Gone Fishin'

"Do you think this guy has a bathroom in his boat?" I'd asked my friend Janet. It was well past midnight; we planned on meeting our guide at 6 a.m., and the toilet thing was keeping me awake. I have never before, not once in my life, fished. And while I'm no stranger to 4:30 a.m., I usually only greet the hour after a particularly good party, or a bout of insomnia. So I feel a little grumpy, rising in the dark, making a pre-dawn run to a Shell station on the outskirts of Lake Wales before the appointed rendezvous with my bass guide. I am fueled only by a weak cup of coffee, that I know, just know, will run right through me. This is your last chance! That's Jim Dowling, my guide, meeting up with us. He points to the boat he's towing. That vessel proves, even to my untrained eye, bathroom-less. I purposefully put this thought out of my mind and decide to enjoy the ambiance. An alligator floats placidly by, ignoring us. It's all new to me. I'm sitting in a 22-foot Champion Bay boat atop Lake Walk-in-Water, listening to the dawn songs of anhinga and herons, on a catch-and-release expedition to find some largemouth bass. Keep your rod in the water. When he runs, count to five, turn the handle, tighten the line, and jerk the rod as hard as you can. Then crank. They call Polk County Central Florida's Lakes Country. With 554 bodies of fresh water, largemouth bass reign. You'll find no shortage of spots to cast your line. Camp Mack's River Resort is a fisherman's legend.

If you want to hook your kids, think about visiting the Tenoroc Fish Management Area, near Lakeland, where an intensive management philosophy has created some of the best catch rates in the state for a variety of sport fish. Special opportunities are available for children and disabled anglers; bank fishing access is provided on many lakes. The 14 lakes in this former phosphate mine range in size from 7 to 227 acres. All anglers are required to register at the area headquarters, where a daily use fee of $3 is charged. Access quotas control the number of anglers on all lakes, and harvest restrictions on sport fish ensure angler satisfaction. Limitations on the use of boat motors also apply here. Let him run for five, then turn the handle Jim owns Bass Fishing Charters out of Indian Lake Estates. He has spent more than 15 years carting tourists and corporate groups to some of the state's best fishing holes. Along the way, he has captured, in freshwater and salt, a 13-pound bass and 180-pound tarpon. Now concentrating on central Florida lakes, he guides at least 200 days each year, and, on vacation, goes fishing in Tennessee. He goes to bed, generally, by 9 p.m. Jim's a great teacher. He laughs a lot, with – never at – me and my equally inept friend. And he shatters my preconceived notions of the sport, my dread of being stuck on this 7,500-acre lake for hours with nary a nibble to interrupt my enjoyment of the - as the Madison Avenue guys would put it – rich, satisfying aroma of my coffee. It's a picture I've culled from an old Folgers commercial, and Jim thinks it's a pretty accurate depiction of fishing in Northern climes. You can sit there for hours and hours and say, "oh, we got a bite, now." That's not much fun. Not as much fun as being surrounded by bass who seem perfectly willing to jump into our boat. It's high spawn season after all – February through April – although you can catch bass here all year long. See, you've got the hang of it already. That's Jim talking to Janet, who, moments out, gets first bite. She pretends to kiss the bass, and Jim encourages us to feel its sandpapery teeth. While I'm trying to compose my jealous face into a congratulatory one, I realize something's on my line. A three-pounder. You got a bite. It's a pretty good indication, when your bobbin goes down. It's amazing to me, the physical strength this takes, even with a fish of only two or three pounds. My arms ache, and the next morning my sternum, where I've rested the fishing pole, feels sore. It's the price of a good day. During our four-hour expedition, we catch roughly 15 fish, using wild shiners as bait. I learn to cast, and love it - the feeling of tension, the feel of release. It's a sensation marred only by my obsessive need to look over my left shoulder before I throw out my line, so worried am I about hooking Jim or Jan. As an extra added attraction, I learn the etymology of phrases such as "getting your lines crossed" (which I had always assumed arose from the early days of Ma Bell) and "in the weeds." See, if you keep your rod down, and pointed toward the fish... Out again, from Camp Mack's. Another guide. Another early morning call. We head out at 7 a.m. My feeling is, in any civilized society you'd fish at noon-ish. "Ha, ha," you say, "fish are most active at dawn and at dusk." Let me counter: In any civilized society, the fish would also arise around noon-ish. As generally nasty as the early morning has left me, I can't help but fall in love with Camp Mack's River Resort. You get the feeling that, when Sheriff Andy Taylor took his boy Opie out to fish – not just for the afternoon strolls pictured at the beginning of every Andy Griffith Show episode, but for weekend respites – this is where they landed. Pulling in, I feel immediately assailed by memories of Girl Scout campouts. I don't understand why, until I see the campfire. It's the smell that has brought me back in time. The campfire here runs 24/7, the restrooms are labeled "inboard" and "outboard." You buy your bait at the Liar's Haul (make sure to check out the 13-foot stuffed alligator), and share fish stories at the Liar's Lair Saloon. Bring a boat or rent one. If you want to make a vacation of it, take the RV, rent a cabin or spend the night at the 40-room Liar's Lodge Motel. This time out, I feel a little more sure of myself, but far from competent. Under the tutelage of the camp's guide, I fish Lake Hatchineha, part of the Kissimmee River Chain. Like Jim, the guide knows what he's doing. He finds a spot where the bass are plentiful. We want to keep the lakes full. I toss all the bass we catch back into the lake. I would have preferred to do this, even if the guides hadn't insisted upon it. Bass are sport fish – not great for eating. And I've never been a fan of killing an animal just to hang it on one's wall. I'd toss the fish back the same way I sort glass and plastics on Sunday night – when I think of it. I'm an armchair environmentalist, no better than that. My guides walk the walk far better than I can hope to. Part of their commitment arises from enlightened self-interest: If Polk County lakes are fished out, their businesses face a grim future. More than that, though, these Coast Guard-trained guides embrace a genuine commitment to conservation. "When I was growing up, I was as guilty as anybody," Jim says. "I kept every fish I caught. We didn't know about conservation. Now, I want to keep this lake so my grandchildren can fish it." (From Jim, this is no idle talk. At the time of this writing, he had 9 grandchildren, and a 10th on the way.) I am assured by both guides that hooking a fish does no long-term damage to the animal. It's the ichthyologic equivalent of getting one's ear pierced.

I catch seven bass in the few hours between 7a.m. and the threat of a thunderstorm. Of course I've forgotten the catches and remember The One That Got Away. I feel this monster bite my line two, maybe three times, but my jerk is too weak to truly hook him. At some point, I start to yell "C'mon buddy, C'mon, buddy." My frustration grows to Moby Dick-like proportions. Don swears the bass is an eight pounder. I say more. Ten pounds, maybe 12. And I was thisss close to catching him. Thissssss close, but then... I may still need to hone my fishing skills, but I seem to have perfected this lying thing.

Freshwater Fishing

Along the highways and byways of Florida lie canals, lakes, ponds and rivers teeming with a huge variety of freshwater bait-busters. Largemouth bass take the stage as the biggest star, but anyone who's jousted with a feisty bluegill, a tenacious crappie or a scrappy peacock bass knows the challenge and fun of these light-tackle showdowns. And would you believe there are sturgeons in Florida? Yep, the Suwannee River boasts a surprisingly large number of them. It would be a virtual sin to start any discussion about Florida's freshwater fishing scene other than with Lake Okeechobee. Lake O comprises a 730-square-mile area and is the second-largest body of fresh water in the U.S., holding more than a trillion gallons of water. Most fishing takes place along the south, west and north portions of the lake within a mile of the shoreline. Look for hyacinths, hydrillas and other water plants where big bass ambush shiners, bluegills and other scaled groceries. They also pounce on frogs, crickets, worms, grasshoppers and pretty much any fish smaller than itself. Plastic imitations of those baits work well. While a number of bass subspecies abound, the most interesting newcomer is the peacock bass. Peacocks are beautiful, with golden bodies and "peacock" markings toward the tail. They prefer the warmer waters of South Florida. While at times tough to fool on artificial baits, peacocks are awesome fighters. Bluegill and other members of the bream family are thin, round fish that easily fit into a pan - hence, the nickname "panfish." Seldom exceeding a pound, bluegill will nonetheless strike a lure even longer than itself with total malice, causing one to believe a fish twice its actual size is hooked up. While it's fun catching them on crickets and worms, watching a bluegill track and attack a top-water lure is great entertainment. Crappie are also a panfish and, though catchable on most any small lure or bait, represent a favorite target of fly fishers. They rise to take a pattern resembling a bug and on light fly gear will thrash and fight very well. Here's a review of lakes, rivers and canals in addition to Lake Okeechobee that are worthy of a visit: Tamiami Canal: Paralleling the Tamiami Trail (US 41) starting just west of Miami to Naples, this canal has been the scene of hand-to-fin combat for three generations. Cane poles, fly rods and spin gear can reach across most areas of the canal - just watch out for alligators and water moccasins. Canals in South Florida: The canals built for hurricane control in Miami hold good quantities of bass, as do many residential ponds. Lake Trafford: Near Immokalee and SR 29, this lake is consistent for good catches. Lake Istokpoga: Off US Hwy. 27 south of Sebring lays a virtual honey hole for freshwater anglers. Try "flipping," which involves dropping your bait within the length of your rod where you see the water or foliage moving in hopes it's a bass lying there waiting to slurp up your plastic worm. Lake Alfred: It's not far from Auburndale and close to I-4, but of late it's produced some of the biggest bass in the state, with many 10-pound-plus lunkers reaching boat side. Disney World: Yes, you read that right. Disney's two big lakes contain a huge population of bass that have learned to live with boat noise and crowds. You can't go on your own but two-hour excursions aboard pontoon boats with a guide are available - and it's all catch and release. Lake Talquin: Just west of Tallahassee, this stump-strewn lake is the perfect environs for healthy bass. Go with heavier line than usual to deter the abrasion. Rivers are fish-filled and so beautiful you almost don't care what you catch. Examples include the Peace River, Withlacoochee River, Suwannee River, Steinhatchee River, Fenholloway River, Choclawhatchee River and many others. Whether your choice of weapon is the ancient cane pole or a modern graphite fly rod, enjoy the best freshwater fishing resources in the nation in Florida, the "Fishing Capital of the World."

Anglers Welcome

Say "Florida" to the average vacationers and images of roller coasters and cartoon characters may pop immediately to mind... unless their idea of a perfect vacation includes waking up before sunrise and taking to the water with a keen eye and a fishing reel in hand. A break like that calls for a Florida destination decidedly to the north. Sport fishing rivals the theme parks as a draw for tourists, families and sports enthusiasts coming to Florida. And the abundance of lakes, rivers and wilderness preserves in the Tallahassee area makes it an ideal destination for both the optimistic fisher and vacationing eco-tourist. Located at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, newcomers will find a longer, cooler fishing season in the Tallahassee area than what they might expect in the Sunshine State – along with some of the premier bass fishing in the country. In fact, there are so many top lake and river fishing locations in the Tallahassee area that it's almost impossible to list them all, but even the highlights are hard to resist. • Catch bream, shellcracker and speckled perch on Lake Talquin, formed in 1927 by the construction of the Jackson Bluff Dam on the Ochlockonee River. The lake is touched by the 17,000-acre Lake Talquin State Forest and the 400-acre Lake Talquin State Park. There are plentiful opportunities for boating and hiking. Many believe that Lake Talquin is the state's best lake for catching striped bass – winter, spring or summer. In the spring, largemouth bass move into the shallow waters of the lake. Summer months find an increase in floating plants such as water lily pads, which make a perfect home for small inhabitants like sunfish and bluegill. And where there are bait fish, there are bass. Camping and RV services can be found at Coe's Landing, and picnicking and dock fishing can be found at Lake Talquin State Park adjacent to Jack Vause boat landing – all accessible from State Road 20. • Fisher-folk can find pickerel and sunfish while enjoying the 4,000-acre wood surrounding Lake Iamonia, north of Tallahassee. Named after an Indian town, Iamonia itself is spread over 5,700-plus acres. As a prairie lake, it is very shallow averaging just five feet deep, with abundant vegetation and a constantly flowing sink hole. Kayaks or canoes are great ways to get around, fish and observe wildlife. May is the time when large, record-sized bluegills arrive among the lily pads lining the boat channels, but Lake Iamonia is known for great fishing year-round. On Lake Iamonia, it isn't unheard of to catch a largemouth bass in the heat of summer. • Troll for striped and Suwannee bass in the Ochlockonee River. Running across Leon County north to south, the Ochlockonee is resplendent with natural beauty and tea-colored waters as it winds its way towards the Gulf. The Upper River is home to a redbreast sunfish fishery, where the spunky, blue-accented Suwannee bass makes its Florida home, spawning from February to June. In May, while the bellowing of courting alligators can be heard resounding from the swamplands, redbreasted sunfish and spotted sunfish begin spawning in rivers. August and September mornings bring freshwater shad swimming up the Lower River to spawn. Too bony to be an eating fish, some anglers catch them for sport - but schooling bass consider them a delicacy, so take the opportunity to snag a few during their feeding. The Lower River runs through Ochlockonee River State Park, 42 miles south of Tallahassee, with camping and canoe rentals. At the park, you might catch a fresh water large mouth bass on one catch and then a nice fat redfish on the next. With the diversity of both salt and fresh water species that can be caught within the park's waterways, this area does not take a back seat to anywhere in Florida. Fishing in Florida provides great recreational opportunities. To help sustain the resource and provide fishing access, most anglers will need a fishing license. Visit for details and to purchase a license, or call 1-888-FISH-FLOrida (888-347-4356). In general, if you are under 16 years of age or a resident age 65 or older, you are exempt. In addition, if you fish on a licensed saltwater charter boat or fishing pier, their license covers your fishing fun. You can also find licenses and regulations at many tackle shops, fish camps, hardware or sporting goods stores and tax collector offices. If you want to explore the Tallahassee area's waterways without your fishing pole, consider a boating expedition that brings you eye-to-eye with the area's flora and fauna. The Wilderness Way offers guided kayak tours on many of North Florida's lazy rivers and tidal creeks. Come aboard and you may get a glimpse of wildlife such as manatees, eagles, 'gators, warblers and wading birds. There's much to hook your interest here, on land and under water.

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