Sea Cows and Shore Lunch

Sea Cows and Shore Lunch
If you're lucky, you might spot a mother manatee with a young calf traversing the river shallows. (David A. Brown photo)

Winter combines seasonal migrations with Old Florida ambiance

Most of the country laughs at Floridians when we mention our winter, but despite the sneering and eye-rolling, the Sunshine State does, indeed, see a distinct period of cold weather – at least the likelihood thereof.

Spoiled as we are, most Floridians typically dread December-February, as this is when we're most likely to see our lowest temperatures.

Upside? This is also when we, and all who visit us from icy northern latitudes, are most likely to see those lovable and ever-lethargic marine mammals we call manatees. With winter weather dropping water temperatures and blasting the coastal shallows with frequent bouts of strong wind, manatees seek refuge by packing themselves into rivers, creeks and canals.


Click image to see photos of Homosassa River
A perennial favorite, Monkey Island is a Homosassa must-see. (David A. Brown photo)



Basically, any coastal artery will provide shelter from the often brutal conditions that pummel the shallow grass flats where the gentle sea cows spend the warmer months. However, the spring-fed rivers of Florida's Nature Coast region offer particularly attractive environments, as the warm water percolating from the Florida aquifer keeps the scene toasty during the year's harshest months.


Crystal River gets most of the attention, as a cluster of springs sit within easy reach of tour boats and private vessels. Options include snorkeling for an up-close encounter with these gentle creatures, or just viewing from above through the clear water.


A few years ago, I contacted one of the area's most accomplished guides, Capt. William Toney, about chartering his boat for a private river cruise. Toney suggested we try the Homosassa River, whose spring-fed headwaters adjacent to the namesake state park attract loads of manatees, but considerably less traffic than Crystal River.

Toney's advice was right on target. Nothing against Crystal River – I've done that route, too, and had a fine time. However, my family and I have come to appreciate the Homosassa's less crowded scene, along with the 30-minute idle up river – a pleasantly relaxing trip that always offers a diversity of wildlife viewing options.

Complementing the morning's manatee cruise, Capt. Toney returns back downriver, past his launch at MacRae's Marina, and then continues a couple of miles farther to one of the private islands to which he has access. Here, we enjoy an unforgettable Homosassa tradition – a camp style shore lunch consisting of fried fish (usually locally-caught speckled trout), hush puppies with homemade guava jelly, baked beans and coleslaw.


Capt. Toney builds a driftwood fire to keep his guests cozy until the food's ready and he even plucks a few handfuls of oysters from the dock pilings to roast over the coals. Soon as the shells pop open, the tasty shellfish are ready to eat with a dab of hot sauce.

Well, my mouth is now watering so I'll stop here and just offer this advice: The colder it gets, the tighter the manatees will gather around the springs. Warmer days still offer plenty of sightings, but they'll be somewhat scattered.

For Homosassa manatee cruises, fishing trips and shore lunches, contact Capt. William Toney through www.homosassainshorefishing.com.


Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

Recommended for You

Crankbaits mimic exactly what they eat when hungry — other fish! Bass

Baitfish for Bass: Search, Suspend or Sink Crankbaits

Jason Houser - May 21, 2019

Crankbaits mimic exactly what they eat when hungry — other fish!

Perfect for competition or a day at the range. Other Hunting

New Gear: MidwayUSA Competition Range Bag

G&F Staff

Perfect for competition or a day at the range.

Memorial Day sale offers 15 percent off everything website-wide. Gear

Get Ready for Summer with Cordova Coolers

May 23, 2019

Memorial Day sale offers 15 percent off everything website-wide.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

BPT Points Champ Edwin Evers Talks New Berkley Baits

BPT Points Champ Edwin Evers Talks New Berkley Baits

After making the switch to Berkley products heading into the inaugural BPT season, Edwin Evers tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead why Berkley baits played such a key role in his recent angling success.

New Optimum and Optimum TS Downriggers from Canon

New Optimum and Optimum TS Downriggers from Canon

From rugged reliability to smooth integration of cutting edge technology across several different platforms, OSG's Lynn Burkhead learns that there's much to like about the new Optimum and Optimum TS downriggers from Canon.

Mustad

Mustad's Saltwater Jig Lineup

Russ Whisler shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead the innovative features and great color schemes in Mustad's voluminous lineup of saltwater jigs introduced at ICAST 2019.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

While wildly popular amongst anglers around the world, the IGFA World Record book shows the biggest pike come from Europe. Records

Top 10 Biggest Pike World Records of All Time

Jack Vitek - August 19, 2015

While wildly popular amongst anglers around the world, the IGFA World Record book shows the...

Experts agree record channel cat caught in 1949 was actually a blue catfish. Records

Upon Further Review: 70-Year-Old Catfish Record Voided

G&F Online Staff - May 22, 2019

Experts agree record channel cat caught in 1949 was actually a blue catfish.

 Veteran bass anglers often dismiss urban fishing opportunities as Bass

Bass Pond Fishing: Catch Lunkers at Small Lakes Near You

Dan Anderson - February 13, 2018

Veteran bass anglers often dismiss urban fishing opportunities as "kid's fishing ponds," but...

See More Stories

More News

We reviewed these new boats that stand out for value, reliability and made-for-fishing action. Boats

Great New Fishing Boats for Southern Comfort

G&F Editors - February 21, 2019

We reviewed these new boats that stand out for value, reliability and made-for-fishing action.

A pair of giant bass caught in shallow water on back-to-back days in early March is a great sign spring fishing has arrived. Bass

Back-to-Back East Texas Lunkers Prove Spring Is Near

Lynn Burkhead - March 18, 2019

A pair of giant bass caught in shallow water on back-to-back days in early March is a great...

‘Great Red Snapper Count' includes angler incentives to report tagged fish. News

Gulf Red Snapper Could Be Worth $500 Each

G&F Online Staff - June 05, 2019

‘Great Red Snapper Count' includes angler incentives to report tagged fish.

See More News

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

×