There’s nothing like crawling out of your tent at 5 a.m., where a flood of cold air hits you like an ice pack to the face.
Then you cut through that chill with a camp fire, some bacon, eggs and a big bowl of grits.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the time of year for camping. The mosquitoes aren’t overwhelming, the air is cold to mild, and on Friday, campers can burn their marshmallows, carve wooden knives and tell gator stories under a full moon.
The moon, by the way, will only help the fish bite.
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One of the best places in Manatee County to camp is Lake Manatee State Park (741-3028). The 548-acre recreation area offers picnic and swimming areas, a large campground, boat ramp and fishing dock. Although boat motors are restricted to 20 horsepower or less, anglers can fish from the docks for a possible mess of panfish or catfish. Some anglers like to simply drop a worm for some panfish, or use a variety of baits — chunks of Ivory soap, shrimp (which you can let rot for a couple days first), chicken liver (again, nice and rotted), chunks of cheese or dough balls. Or put some sort of chum in the water during the day and come back and fish at night, assuming the fish have moved in.
Anglers also can shine a Coleman lantern over the water, which will attract minnows and grass shrimp. And of course, these bait fish will attract fish such as speckled perch.
Then, have a fire-side fry.
Of course, you can’t forget the swamp cabbage. Cabbage palms can only be caught down with a land owner’s permission, and not on a recreation area. Or, you can purchase the heart of a cabbage palm at a store.
When making your campfire, consider that 12- to 14-inch shafts of palm frond can make for some of the best non-smoking, odorless fires. A little Spanish moss set on top of the fire can go a long way in keeping mosquitoes away. Or, stuff some of the Spanish moss in a small can, and put it over the fire for a smoke pot.
If you find mosquitoes have raided your tent, climb inside with some insect repellent and leave a flap of the tent open. Begin spraying the repellent so that it does not get on your tent. Watch as the mosquitoes flee out the opening.
Other camping options include Rays Canoe Hideaway on the Upper Manatee River (747-3909), which offers kayaking, canoeing and camping and has ample picnic areas. Redfish, snook, black drum and sheepshead are moving up the river, and mangrove snapper reportedly can be caught as far east as Christian retreat.
Myakka River State Park offers group, family and primitive camping, as well as cabin rentals. Camping fees are $22 a night and include water and electric.
Reservations are especially advised for holiday camping. There are six primitive campgrounds, two family campgrounds, five log cabins built in the 1930s and a large tenting area for organized groups of six or more people, with a maximum of 20 per site. Call 361-6511 for reservations.