Jan 2, 2016 Fishing Report

For the first time, I caught big reds on back to back casts. I was letting the smaller one (a 27 incher) bleed out between the front hulls (a gift for a neighbor in payment for a Xmas tray of scones), when I hooked the second one. The second one matched my biggest in 10 years of fishing here. I got nothing the rest of the day, but I’m not complaining.





Threatened or Endangered

January 8, 2016.  The following article was published in the Citrus County Chronicle on this date.
Threatened or Endangered
Recognizing that the population of the “endangered” Florida Manatee has approximately doubled to about 6,000 over the last 20 years, and possibly prompted by a lawsuit filed against it by the Pacific Legal Foundation, on behalf of Save Crystal River, Inc., the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has announced its intention to consider proposing to reclassify this species to the less serious “threatened” status. Such a down-listing would no doubt be challenged by the manatee savior organizations, and might even be opposed by some boating advocacy groups who believe the manatee should be reclassified as “recovered”.
How such action will affect future proposals by the FWS to limit the number of swimmers in Three Sisters Springs (and in the manatee sanctuary areas of Kings Bay) will be interesting to follow.  At the very least, the action should help the economy by keeping lots of lawyers employed over the next few years.
Gary Rankel
Citrus Hills, Florida

Three Sisters Springs

December 3, 2015.  The following letter was published in the Citrus County Chronicle on this date.

To Swim or Not to Swim…..That is the Question.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposes to further reduce the number of people allowed in Three Sisters Springs during manatee season from the previously recommended 29 to 13, including only 8 visiting swimmers or snorkelers.  Furthermore, it would close most of the Springs area to swimmers, require them to wear wet suits without swim fins (thereby greatly restricting their ability to submerge, touch and chase manatees), require that 1 guide accompany every 4 swimmers (to ensure that proper manatee manners are observed, I assume), and restrict swimmer access to 6 hours daily.

Given these and other restrictions, how could 13, 29 or even more swimmers possibly harm this endangered species?

Clearly, the reduced number will harm the endangered tour boat operators.  Good luck to Crystal River City officials who now must choose which of the many boat operators will be lucky enough to continue making a living shuttling swimmers to the Springs.

Many locals believe that the reduced number of swimmers will lead to a decrease in tourism.  Some comments received by the FWS, however, appear to suggest that many, if not most, folks visiting Three Sisters Springs might prefer viewing manatees in a more natural, passive, swim-free setting.  Could curtailing or eliminating the swim-with program actually promote tourism and stimulate the economy?

Well funded animal rights groups throughout the country go to great lengths in their efforts to protect and restore listed species.  They wouldn’t hesitate to file a lawsuit to eliminate the swim-with program if they thought it jeopardized manatees.  Their comments, no doubt, prompted the latest swimmer reduction proposal.  As a former biologist, I ran into quite a few of these folks.  Some were so passionate that, if faced with the choice of rescuing a struggling listed species or their mother-in-law, they might very well choose the former.  Of course, they’re also among the most likely to visit Citrus County, hop on the new trolley and spend their tourism dollars.

Other folks I’ve dealt with, including several of our elected representatives, would like nothing more than to “take the teeth” out the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Marine Mammal Protection Act, and down-list many species in favor of increased development and economic expansion in their states and districts.  If one is elected President next year, we may very well end up with a “watered-down” definition of “harm” and ESA.  Some like-minded folks have already filed a lawsuit to down-list the manatee from endangered to threatened.

So, what number of swimmers in Three Sisters Springs would best protect the resource while maintaining a healthy level of tourism and a sound economy: 29,13, 0, 100?  Might additional swimmers be allowed in the Kings Bay sanctuaries where all public uses are prohibited?  Should the manatee be listed as threatened instead of endangered, in which case a larger swim-with program should be allowable?  Your guesses are as good as mine.

What we do know is that the “magic” number of swimmers allowed at Three Sisters will be determined by the FWS , not through a full-scale Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process, where answers to these questions are more achievable, but through an abbreviated, narrowly-focused Environmental Assessment (EA).  The fact that two consecutive EA’s addressing this issue have been prepared suggests that the FWS has found that its proposed swim-with program will cause “No Significant Impact”, and, therefore, should not require preparation of an EIS.

Gary Rankel

Wavewalk 500 Fishing Kayak Review


The Wavewalk W500 twin-hull kayak is not your traditional sit-inside or SOT kayak, but, rather, what I like to call my SOTI (sit-on-top-inside) yak.  It combines the spaciousness, large storage area, comfort, high seating and freedom to move about like canoes and jon boats, while maintaining the stability, maneuverability and versatility of traditional kayaks.

None of the several fishing kayaks I tried before buying could compare with the W500 for comfort, stability, storage, roominess and stealthiness.  Its twin-hull design allows for stand-up paddling and improved site fishing.  All stored gear is within easy reach.  Most importantly, for a 75 year old guy with a few discs beginning to bulge out in all the wrong places, it allows me to sit in comfort, stand up, lay down, stretch, move around and return to shore pain-free and able to emerge in a full upright position after a full day of fishing.  If I occasionally lose my balance while looking for feeding redfish in a standing position, I simply sit back down on the high saddle for a second before resuming my search.

Applying self-adhesive pads on the W500 saddle provides a bit of cushioning for my behind and a soundproof surface in front on me for changing lures and keeping other items handy. The foam noodles rigged around the cockpit rim allow for repeated casting and paddling in total silence, allowing me to sneak up on feeding redfish in a foot or less of water.  With the help of a magic marker, these noodles also can be used to measure fish at the side of the yak while they’re still in the water

The twin hull design tracks well with no need for a rudder, and I can keep up with most mono-hull fishing yaks.  Anchoring is a breeze.  Unlike mono-hull yaks, in windy conditions, I can move fore and aft along the 6-foot long saddle, thereby raising either the front or rear hulls, and allowing the wind to catch the raised section to turn me in the direction I want to go.  When pushing off from shore, especially in cold weather, I can enter from between the hull tips, often staying dry or with just one slightly wet foot.  Beaching the W500 while sitting toward the rear of the cockpit will elevate the bow, often allowing for a dry exit between the forward hull tips.  The higher saddle and enclosed cockpit provide good protection against wakes and water spray.  I can wear comfortable, warm clothing with little fear of getting wet

The W500 is fairly light (60 pounds) and easy to carry or drag around with comfortable handles on each hull tip.  Each hull tip also serves as a large, easily reachable storage compartment.  Additional storage can be arranged on top of and between the hull tips, which I use to mount my anchor, compass and other items to free up more room in the cockpit and help keep it dry.  I also taped a fish ruler between the hull tips allowing for measurements and pictures without having to bring the fish into the cockpit.  Flush rod holders can be added to the hull tips and clamp-on holders are easily attached along the cockpit rim.

I recommend the longer (9-foot), sturdier paddle available from Wavewalk to maximize paddling performance.   While a bit heavier than others, it is super sturdy, and can double as a push pole.

The W500 is relatively easy to motorize with a transom motor mount available from the company.  It has a load capacity of 360 pounds and, with its 6-foot long cockpit, can accommodate two adults. I’ve even had a couple of grandkids on board with me.

There is little not to like about the W500.  It is a bit pricey.  If you live near a Wavewalk dealership (list available on its website), you can inspect and test drive one before deciding to buy.  Otherwise, you will have to order directly from the company.  Wavewalk does not accept credit cards or PayPal, so you need to understand and feel comfortable with its Product and Service Policy before ordering.

Rain will fall into the large open cockpit and accumulate on the bottom of the hulls, however, a plastic tarp covering can be positioned over the opening to minimize the accumulation.  I simply place a couple of large sponges in the hull tips and keep a plastic container on board to bail if need be.  Cameras, and other gear stored under cover in the four spacious hull tip compartments will stay dry.

It’s higher profile makes it more difficult to paddle in windy conditions, however, sitting a foot or so higher than a traditional SOT facilitates fly fishing, for those so inclined.

While it’s possible to tip the Wavewalk on its side if you try to by leaning over far enough, foam noodles attached to the sides or around the cockpit rim keep it from tipping upside down and filling with water.  Re-entering from the water is easy, even for an old guy like me; you simply swim between the hull tips, raise one foot onto each, and then use your arms and legs to lift and push yourself up and into the cockpit.

Detailed specs, articles, an informative blog, videos and other information are available on the Wavewalk website (www.wavewalk.com). I have found the Wavewalk folks to be very prompt and helpful in answering any questions I’ve had over the years.


November 10, 2015.  The following article (with pictures not included) appeared in the November / December issue of the Southern Kayak Fishing Magazine, located on the www.sokayakfishing.com website.

Located about 80 miles north of Tampa along what is commonly referred to as Florida’s Nature Coast, Citrus County offers outstanding, but often overlooked, kayak fishing for both fresh and saltwater species.  On its north and east sides, the Withlacoochee River and Tsala Apopka Chain of Lakes frequently yield largemouth bass in the 10+ pound class.  Yakers simply need to keep an eye out for those pesky gators as they paddle through the lily pads in pursuit of them.

On the county’s salty west side, gators are few and far between.  There is no need to fear our manatee unless, of course, one decides to surface from under your yak, which happened to me one time, providing me with an opportunity to experience what rodeo bull riders must go through.  Or, unless, you happen to paddle between a female and her calf, which also happened to me once, resulting in momma giving me her best imitation of Shamu, leaving me soaked.  Almost always, however, these docile creatures simply nose up to my yak, occasionally allowing me to pat them on the head, and then swim off looking for a bit of sea grass to eat.  On occasion, one follows me around for 20 – 30 minutes; I’m not sure if they’re looking for a handout or think my yak may be a member of the opposite sex.

Since publication of an excellent article on our endangered manatee in the April 2013 issue of National Geographic Magazine, the towns of Crystal River and Homosassa have attracted thousands of tourists annually from all over the world to observe them, and, also, to get in the water and swim with them (the only place they’re allowed to do so).  Many visitors to the Orlando amusement parks now plan day trips to Citrus County to broaden their Florida experience.  Few choose to stay and explore the kayak fishing opportunities available in the nearby flats, bays, rivers and backcountry, leaving lots of room for us locals.

State parks, aquatic preserves and wildlife refuges bordering the Gulf of Mexico within and adjacent to the county create a 60-mile contiguous stretch of near-pristine salt marsh, offering extraordinary fish and wildlife habitat.  Countless miles of mangrove shorelines, numerous acres of sea grass beds and extensive oyster bars and hard bottom substrates provide nursery areas for a wide variety of fish and other marine life.  Excellent fishing is available within short paddles of several launch sites.  Spotting tailing redfish or snook in inches of water, placing perfect casts just beyond them, “walking the dog” past their locations, and watching them rush to inhale a topwater lure is an awesome experience.  Frequent encounters with dolphins, sea turtles, rays a host of shorebirds and other marine life, often with no other human in site, makes for quality outings even on slow fishing days.  Other more popular kayak angling destinations may offer larger fish and more frequent hook-ups, but few provide the remote solitude, beauty and uncrowded “Old Florida” feel of the Nature Coast.

I’ve enjoyed many years of kayak fishing since retiring here, and was looking for a way to give something back to the community I’ve come to call home.  It seemed natural, therefore, to develop a mechanism for broadening communications among kayak anglers in the area (Nature Coast Kayak Fishers; http://fishingkayaks.us), and share the Nature Coast experience with visitors and new residents alike, thereby helping to promote and diversify the eco-tourism experience in the area.  As a retired biologist, I also wanted an avenue to advocate on behalf of watershed protection and restoration in the area, so that future generations might enjoy the same quality experience on our waters that I do.

The Nature Coast Kayak Fishers website provides a comprehensive listing of available launch sites, including detailed descriptions, Google Earth views and photos of each, along with suggested fishing routes (not including my secret ones, of course), to help paddlers get started.  Numerous photos depicting the coastal environment and fishery are included.  Suggestions are offered for enhancing the kayak fishing experience in the county through the creation of new and improvement of existing launch sites, the creation of a no-motor zone and other measures for attracting the fast growing segment of society pursuing this activity.  The usual links to weather reports, fishing reports, tidal conditions, etc. are included along with some time tested tips for having a safe and productive time on the water.  An email address is provided to obtain further information.

So if y’all are planning to c’mon down to swim with manatees, snorkel for scallops, take an airboat ride through the backcountry, arrange an inshore or offshore trip with one of our many fishing guides, do some birding or just relax, you might want to bring your yak along and experience some extraordinary fishing along our Nature Coast.

Gary Rankel


Kayak, Fishing, Nature Coast, Club, Florida