Everyone it seems is out and about in a kayak, some with rod and reel in hand. That includes families who want to spend some quality time on the water in Sarasota angling for everything from redfish to grouper to sheepshead.
And there's good reason: whether you're 8 or 86, kayaking is easy to master. It's as quiet as can be so you can "sneak up" on the fish, you can get into spots that other boats can't and it doesn't cost a lot to rent or buy a kayak. Family-friendly? You bet.
It's a Kodak-moment morning: on the shimmering waters in the Jim Neville Nature Preserve near Siesta Key's south end, a group of kayakers glide effortlessly along.
"It's teeming with fish here," says our guide, Josh Jones, from Siesta Sports Rentals, as he expertly paddles along. We crane
our necks to see scores of fish scurry about.
Does it get much better than this? Not according to my friend Heather, who frowns at the thought of leaving "paradise" tomorrow to head home to classes at the University of Boston.
Heather, her parents, Keith and Mary, and older Sister Debra are first-time kayakers. They're having a blast soaking up sun while wearing swimsuits and board shorts.
Add fishing to the equation and Doug Forde, the manager of CB's Saltwater Outfitters, suggests "looking for the oyster beds" near the mangroves on the small islands that dot the nature preserve. You're bound to see oodles of fish.
You'll also see folks reeling one in, such as a nearby 50-something fisherman in a lime green kayak who proudly shows off what looks like a redfish dangling from his line.
He's wearing a floppy, khaki-colored hat dotted with colorful artificial lures, and Forde said kayakers who use artificial lures might want to follow suit. It all has to do with downsizing your tackle box, so the hat serves two purposes: creating space for lures and keeping you covered from the sun.
Ask an angler what type of bait to use, and opinions abound. Forde prefers live shrimp and offers a novice - me - advice on how to keep the little guys alive to attract the fish. Hook the shrimp in the hollow "horn" just behind and below the head. He recommends a dozen or so live shrimp per person per hour as you fish, keeping them alive in a small bait bucket that drags in the water behind the kayak.
Make sure you keep sunscreen at hand because sunny skies are a Sarasota treat. Heather's father heeded that advice, slathering on sunscreen and grinning ear-to-ear. "I'm ready," he said as the next phase of the adventure kicked into gear.
It's quiet as can be as the kayaks enter a small mangrove-lined lagoon bordered by spectacular Casey Key on the south. Someone asks, "Where is Stephen King's house?" The mega-star author owns a winter home there, but that isn't our quest.
The shining star of this tale involves shark's teeth. And they're close by.
We pull up our kayaks on the lagoon's small, sandy beach and amble easily up a short, slight incline to encounter a breathtaking view. Mary, Heather's mother stares in awe at the Gulf of Mexico as the sunlight playfully casts shadows on the azure water that gently laps at the shore.
Scads of pinkish and creamy-white-hued shells await, and if you look close enough you'll also net a fossilized shark's tooth. Our friends comb the beaches, and dad scores the biggest haul. He happily shows off five glossy, black beauties (the size of quarters) arranged on his sandy palm.
No one went away empty-handed, but don't fret: Josh to the rescue if you come up sans shark tooth. He pulls out a half-dozen or so of the treasures from a pocket of his board shorts.
"Just in case someone doesn't find one," he said, ever the helpful guide. It's a rare occasion that someone doesn't.