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There’s so much to tell about the Florida outdoors

I will tell them about Florida.

I’ll tell them about the gators on the river, the dolphins that roll, the birds of the Gulf ringing in the morning like church bells.

And the fishing. Oh my goodness, the fishing. It’s everywhere. Tarpon the size of humans. Kingfish faster than an avalanche. Snook that don’t quit. All in a breathtaking amount of water that on an incoming tide pours from the Gulf of Mexico into the bays and river and creeks and inlets, filling every gap with fishing possibilities.

Wow it’s wild in Florida. Maybe not for the Floridians who have been here a while. They’ve seen the massive changes that have almost ruined what once was. And they’re right.

But for guys like me who have been here almost three years, you find there are areas in Florida that make you feel like you’re wielding a machete in the jungle.

I’ll tell them about it, trust me. The stories that outdoors people in Manatee County like to tell. Forget the fish that got away. I’ll tell them about hunting for hogs with dogs and what that’s all about. But not at dinner.

Speaking of which, serve me some crab cakes and key lime pie. Please.

But spaghetti plots with meatballs? No, thanks.

I’ll describe a sticky summer night on the Kissimmee River where the red eyes of the gator glow.

I’ll tell them about you, the Manatee County anglers, and how fanatic you are when it comes to fishing. It truly is a love affair. Just look at the shirts. Seems like every fifth shirt has the outline of a snook on it, if not some dolphin or redfish or tarpon. Same for all those bumper stickers: “I Kill Fish.”

Indeed, we do.

I’ll tell them about what comes next: Eating our kill. Some fried grouper with hush puppies and cheese grits and swamp cabbage, with baked beans and maybe a buttery role on the side. Southern eating is the best. They all know we fry much of it. But they have no idea what it tastes like after a day of fishing in 90-degree heat, plowing through a thunderstorm and 4-foot seas to get to the first spot.

I’ll tell them about how a spider bit me, a gator dove under my canoe, a blind paddle down the Upper Manatee River at night, a 180-pound tarpon, the Gulf saltwater that always found the corners of my mouth when swimming, falling when wind-surfing and losing my sunglasses, riding in an Indy car, how I pretended to be a fish in a swimming pool as anglers reeled me in, and hearing a bullet whizz by my head as I looked out on a local river.

I’ll be returning to Colorado, where I was born and raised, for the first time in almost three years Thursday for vacation. Be back to work July 13. I’ll make sure to tell them about all this, and especially you.

No doubt, they’ll ask.

Nick Walter, Herald outdoors writer, can be reached at 745-7013.