Area residents seek return of traditional fishing spots on U.S. Hwy. 331 causeway

One of the causeway areas local fishermen enjoy casting a line. Photo courtesy Steve Underwood

Freeport resident and avid fisherman Steve Underwood wants his old fishing spots back and he is not alone. Before the U.S. Hwy. 331 bridge construction, several popular fishing spots along the causeway north of the bridge offered a variety of locations to reel in a fish and launch a boat. Although happy about the new Thomas Pilcher Park on the southern end, it’s not a location where the fish are always biting according to Underwood.

“The fishermen in this area have gone from seven boat ramp locations and eight fishing spots to one single spot only accessible from the south requiring U-turns for access and exit to the north,” said Underwood.

Although some of the previous areas are still easily accessible and off the roadway, no parking signs have been positioned along the road by Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). In addition, warnings have been issued to violators.

Freeport resident Paul Hill has been asked to leave by the Walton County Sheriff’s Office three times while fishing from the causeway shorelines, even though there are no signs indicating fishing is not permitted.

Freeport fisherman Price Farmer prepares to sign petition at Copeland’s Gun and Tackle Shop while Steve Underwood looks on. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

“They said it was a safety issue, but I’ve never seen any issues,” said Hill.

Lifelong Freeport resident Price Farmer is particularly disappointed in the inability to reel in a fish as he relies on it for sustenance.

“I fish to eat,” Farmer said.

The FDOT public information office provided the following after an initial inquiry:

Per Florida Statute 316.1305 Fishing from state road bridges —

(1) The Department of Transportation is authorized to investigate and determine whether it is detrimental to traffic safety or dangerous to human life for any person to fish from a state road bridge. When the Department of Transportation, after due investigation, determines that it is dangerous for persons to fish from such a bridge, it shall post appropriate signs on the bridge stating that fishing from the bridge is prohibited.

(2) Fishing from a bridge upon which the Department of Transportation has posted signs as provided in subsection (1) is a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a pedestrian violation as provided in chapter 318.

(3) This section is cumulative and is not intended to repeal any special law making it unlawful to fish from any bridge.

Underwood has reached out to Tanya Branton, Public Information Specialist for FDOT hoping to get more answers and finding a resolve.

“Tanya Branton was very willing to listen and went on the Google maps website with me so that I could point out the exact areas we feel should still be open to fishing. She has agreed to go to the proper person/persons in the department to find out if any investigation was ever done concerning the safety of these areas. The statute she quoted stated that if an area was found to be unsafe it would be marked with no fishing signs. These areas are not. They are only marked with blank yellow reflectors,” said Underwood.

Underwood has started a petition in protest to the closed fishing areas, and has had a sizeable response from the fishing community. Hundreds of signatures have been obtained at several locations in the community.

Interested in signing the petition? The following businesses are collecting signatures: Copeland’s Gun and Tackle Shop 17290 U.S. Hwy. 331 S, Freeport, BJ’s Bait and Feed 19323 US Hwy 331 S Freeport, Franks Cash & Carry Freeport and Grayton Beach, Black Creek Cafe 25B McDaniel Fish Camp Road Freeport, The Outpost 4576 County Highway 3280 Freeport, and Freeport Café, 39 State Highway 20 E, Freeport.

You can download the petition here, sign and send to Steve Underwood at [email protected].

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Anglers can take advantage of more Gulf red snapper fishing starting June 16

Friday, June 16, begins the first weekend of an additional 39-day season for recreational red snapper fishing in Gulf federal waters and changes to the state season. The U.S. Department of Commerce announced these expanded fishing opportunities today, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) followed with an executive order setting the updated season in state waters.

The 39-day season is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from Friday, June 16, through Monday, Sept. 4. Also included are Monday and Tuesday, July 3 and 4, and Monday, Sept. 4.

“Recreational red snapper fishing is highly important to Florida’s Gulf coast communities,” said FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley. “We are thankful for the leadership of Gov. Rick Scott, U. S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Florida’s Congressional delegation as well as the partnership across all five Gulf states in providing more sustainable fishing opportunities and sound fisheries management.”

This is the longest Gulf federal red snapper season since 2013. State waters will be open the rest of this week and, beginning Monday, June 19, will close Mondays through Thursdays through Sept. 4, except July 3 and 4. The three-day weekend federal waters season opens Friday, June 16.

“Though we had to reduce state waters fishing days in the summer and fall, we are pleased to be able to offer more fishing access this summer to anglers across Florida,” Wiley said.

“This is great news, especially for anglers on the central and southwest Gulf coast, where red snapper are not commonly found in state waters,” said FWC Vice Chairman Liesa Priddy.

For more information about red snapper and other Florida fishing opportunities, visit MyFWC.com and click on “Gulf red snapper season news.”

 

 

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Rags to Riches Regatta at Grayton Beach July 1

Crews getting ready to launch. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

The 21st Annual Rags to Riches Regatta is set for Sat., July 1, 2017 along Grayton Beach in South Walton. The race brings together Hobie 16 sailing enthusiasts in honor of Independence Day in a time honored tradition. Registration opens at 8 a.m. and skipper’s meeting starts at 11 a.m. Entry fee is $45 per boat.

The race will start and finish on the beach behind Red Bar in Grayton Beach, Florida, located just off Scenic Hwy 30-A in Walton County.

The 10-mile course is raced in the Gulf of Mexico, beginning with a Lemans-style beach launch and finishing with a beach landing back at the start point. Transport of boats to and from the race area will be available at the beach entry point for those without a Walton County Beach Permit at 7 a.m. Entry is for Hobie 16’s with captain and crew. Prizes will be awarded.

Established in 1981, Rags to Riches Regatta has long been a family-oriented event welcoming Hobie 16 sailors of all skill levels. For more information email [email protected].

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A colorful journey awaits you on Econfina Creek

One of the many springs on Econfina Creek. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Spring fed creek a natural wonder

Part of Florida’s Greenways and Trails, the Econfina Creek in Bay and Washington counties is many a paddlers’ favorite journey in the Florida Panhandle.

Pack a lunch and bring your snorkel, for you are about the enjoy the paddle of a lifetime as you explore the creek and its many crystal clear springs along the popular seven-mile trip down the creek. Cabbage palms drape over the water’s edge along with blooming wildflowers scattering the banks with color during your journey in the spring and summer months. Steep, fern-covered limestone walls prevail along the second half of the paddle, where the creek slices into the ancient limestone of the Floridan Aquifer.

Bring your snorkel mask and explore under the water on Econfina Creek. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

On a hot and humid summer’s day the creek takes on an ethereal feel as a fog layer hangs suspended in the air when the cool water meets the hot air.

The northern portions of the creek are difficult with many logjams and shallow water. Most paddlers opt to put in at the Econfina Livery as the livery offers the option of pick up and return at the take out at SR 388 bridge. They also have kayaks and canoes available for rent.

The Econfina Creek is largely preserved and managed by the Northwest Florida Water Management District, and part of the much larger 41,000 acre Econfina Creek Water Management Recreation Area. The Recreation Area offers camping, hiking along the Florida Scenic Trail, boating, fishing and equestrian trails along with campsites and recreational parks.

Clear spring water along the creek. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

The District has identified 11 springs or spring groups comprised of 39 individual vents, most of them within a mile of State Road 20.

Click here for PDF of entire recreation area

Click here for a list of springs

There are several places to launch a canoe or kayak:
• Scott’s Bridge – From US 231 four miles north of Fountain, take Scott’s Road west four miles to bridge. (This section of the creek is for skilled paddlers only as there are many portages due to log jams)
• Walsingham Bridge – From SR 20 turn north on Strickland Road which becomes Porter Pond Road. There is a fence line on the right side of the road. Follow the fence line and make the two right turns where the fence turns. Take Washington Bridge Road to the bridge. (This section of the creek is for skilled paddlers only as there are many portages due to log jams)
Econfina Canoe Livery – One mile north of SR 20 on Strickland Road. Eight miles east of Hwy. 77, offers both canoes and kayaks for rent along with a shuttle back to your vehicle after your paddle. Call 850-722-9032 for more information.  Click here for map

Got your own vessels? Shuttle your vehicles from the put in at SR 20 to SR 388 bridge. Northwest Florida Water Management District offers a parking lot, boardwalk, and launch to the creek. Click here for map.
• SR 20 Bridge to SR 388 Bridge – (6 miles)

Interested in exploring a spring on Econfina you can drive to? Explore Williford Spring and Pitt and Sylvan Springs just off of SR 20.

Posted in Birding, Eco adventure, Kayak/Canoe, Nature, Outdoor Family Fun, Parks, Trails/Hiking | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Walton County fishing report for June 8

Fishing is good

Bay: Still great reports of big trout. Shrimp getting harder to find, however fish are biting on frozen shrimp and squid.

River: Catfish and a few bass being caught.

Gulf: Great fishing. Folks reeling in all kinds of fish, red snapper, mingos.

Click here for fishing forecast

Bay and river report brought to you by Copeland’s. “Where the locals shop and the tourists are welcome.”

Click here to find out more about Copeland’s.
Copeland’s Gun and Tackle Shop
17290 U.S. Hwy. 331 S
Freeport, Florida 32439
(850) 835-4277
Store hours:
Mon. – Fri.: 6 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Sat.: 6 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Sun.: Closed

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Guided sunrise paddle tour at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park June 23

Date/time: Friday, June 23, 5 – 8 a.m.

Join Topsail Hill Preserve State Park for a sunrise paddle on June 23, 2017 from 5 – 8 a.m.  Experience Campbell Lake on a ninety-minute ranger guided paddling tour.  Participants must be experienced canoers/kayakers over 12 yrs. old.

For those that can’t attend this Sunrise Paddle maybe a future date will work better for them.  In 2017 Sunrise Paddles will be on the fourth Friday of the month June through October.

Program is $40 per person.  Space is limited.  Advanced online registration is required and can be done at www.topsailparkfriends.org. Program fee includes watercraft rental, PFD, paddle, park admission fee, glow sticks, tram ride to Campbell Lake, juice/water and a donation to the Friends of Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. Program is weather dependent.

Topsail Hill Preserve State Park is located at 7525 W. Scenic Highway 30A, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida 32459. For more information, call (850) 267-8330 ::MAP::

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