Greg Lang, President-Elect of the Friends of the Lower Suwannee & Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuges has been fishing, hunting, and taking great photos for us again. Here is his story of a recent, great day on the Lower Suwannee Refuge!
If you could imagine about a million acres of protected seagrass flats fed by countless streams and hundreds of springs and one of America's largest and most beautiful rivers with miles and miles of protected and undeveloped shoreline and all of it with some of the finest backcountry and flats fishing to be found anywhere, then throw in many thousands of acres of state and federal refuge and wildlife management areas with great deer, hog and turkey hunting opportunities….. you would imagine Florida’s Big Bend region from St. Marks NWR , south to Chassahowitzka NWR, anchored by the great Suwanee River and the Cedar Keys and Lower Suwanee NWR’s. There simply isn't any place like it.
Now imagine a beautiful blue skies November day where you can backcountry fish and hunt all in the same day and all within minutes of one another. That's what happened a couple weeks ago thanks to an invitation to go fishing with Friends President, Bob Hudson. Myself and Friends member Dr. Douglas aka Hoginator and loaded our gear on Bob's airboat as the tide was still falling under perfect early morning weather conditions. As Bob's house and the Cedar Keys disappeared from sight the wilderness shoreline of the Lower Suwanee Refuge opened up. The Big Bend at low tide in the backcountry is sensory overload. There's just too much of interest to look at. The oyster bars, mud flats, creeks, islands, birds, sky is overwhelming. I snapped a few photos on our way to our fishing grounds, however none of them seem to do justice to the experience.
When Bob brought the airboat to rest perfectly on a sandbar in a creek no wider than 20 feet across we baited our hooks with cut mullet or mud minnows and cast to the rock formations that are found in many of the creeks. Within a very short time we had each caught our limit of legal sized redfish with a couple of them pushing towards the upper size limit. Throughout the morning and into the early afternoon Bob expertly piloted the airboat into creeks where we continued to catch many redfish. In those few hours we caught and released over 50 fish, bringing home the legal limit of two each.
By midafternoon we had our fish cleaned boat washed and the Hoginator and I were on our way to spend the last few hours before sunset hunting. After a quick switch from fishing to hunting gear we set off into one of our favorite swamp and hammock areas. We each went separate ways and set up approximately a quarter mile from each other. I chose a palm tree to climb and after checking my climbing harness and gear I was comfortably sitting 30 feet or so looking down into a fairly thick swamp with a view of the edge of a hammock.
Less than an hour after I was set up I heard that familiar rustling of palmettos that a hog will make when he's looking for acorns or tubers. In a minute or two a large black boar hog came into view about 40 yards away. With the density of trees and brush I was only afforded temporary and narrow shot windows. As soon as the hog entered one of those windows and turned broadside I squeezed the trigger of my rifle. The shot was well placed and the hog fell over in place. When I fired, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a buck running away from the sound about 50 yards further than the hog. Perhaps the buck had come in to the sound of my grunt call but hung up about 70 or 80 yards away as the younger bucks will often do? I don't know how long he'd been there but he stopped his run at just the right moment and just the right place to give me a narrow window of opportunity. I put the crosshairs on his vitals and squeezed the trigger. That shot found its place and the buck fell over in his tracks. The bullet gone through his heart, an instant kill.
Now with the sun setting and a good distance off trail from our truck I prepared the hog for the long drag out of the swamp. When Dr. Hoginator arrived at my location the fun began. Two hours and a good workout later the game and gear were loaded into the truck and off we went to a friend’s farm to process. Although it was after 11 pm when we had the butchering complete and deer and hog on ice we agreed it was a great way to spend an 18 hour day in the woods and on the water.
On Sunday and Monday, November 2 and 3, members of the Friends of the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuges participated in Science Camp hosted by the Seahorse Key Marine Lab.
Although the temperature was chilly, campers warmed up to all the hands on activities with marine organisms led UF’s Dr. Gustav Paulay and graduate student Patrick Norby.
Seahorse Key Marine Laboratory Associate Director, Dr. Coleman Sheehy shared the uniqueness of the Big Bend area and his research into the snake and bird insular mutualism at Seahorse Key.
Most Friends spent the night in the lighthouse and enjoyed fish stew cooked by Friends Secretary John McPherson and the delicious coconut cake made by Donna Bushnell, of the Friends Education Team.
Between classes, participants had time to explore the beach, take photographs, and drink in the view from the light station.
Launched in 2013, the two-day adult camp provides for an in-depth learning experience of the research and resources at Seahorse Key and in the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge. Friends members got to be “students” again for a couple of days, while helping to support the Seahorse Key Marine Laboratory’s ongoing operations.
November 1 was the first of the two river cleanup events that the Friends of the Lower Suwannee & Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuges will participate in this fall. Held in the Town of Suwannee, it was very productive.
Despite howling wind and biting cold, 18 hardy volunteers came out to help Richard Herman and Debbie Meeks cleanup the tail end of the Suwannee river by boat, including the Refuge. They collected 130 lbs and were rewarded with an outstanding smoked chicken lunch provided by Jerry Everett of the Waterfront Market.
This cleanup was part of Current Problems Great Suwannee River Cleanup. As part of the same effort, the Friends are cleaning up on December 6 from Fowlers Bluff.
Please come out and join us, it's a lot of fun.
Fire: More than 2,000 acres, mostly in Levy County, have been treated with prescribed burning since January.
Forests: On the Dixie County side, where weather has not been as good for prescribed burning, with the help of the Refuge's new Cat more than 70,000 legacy trees have been planted.
Need information: Refuge Manager Andrew Gude can be reached by text or phone at 703.622.3896.
The Refuge is open daily from dawn to dusk.
Visitors are welcome to walk or bicycle around yellow Refuge gates.
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