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Best Of 2004

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Best Of :: Sports & Recreation

BEST PLACE FOR FIVE-YEAR-OLDS TO FISH

Dad always beat the sun up, even on weekends when he didn't have to hustle down to the factory, the office, that mysterious place where he spent the day while you went to school or day care or maybe stayed home with Mom. Even on weekends he was up early, to fix the car or take the dog to the vet or mow the lawn. Except on certain days, a Saturday usually. Then Dad would shake you awake an hour before dawn, eggs and home fries and (for him at least) coffee already prepared: "Eat up, boy, and let's get going." Sound a bit sexist or old-fashioned? If you have young children, rest assured this experience, regardless of specifics, will live in memory for at least 40 years. A simple cane pole with six-pound-test line, a bobber, and a tiny hook, the last baited with little pieces of balled-up bread, works just fine. About five miles past Krome, on the north side of the Tamiami Trail, is a sufficient pond, marked by cement picnic tables. But go a few more miles and, on the south, you'll begin to notice pond after pond, some nearly dry but others flourishing with water plants, turtles, snakes, and plenty of fish. The ponds aren't as lively as they were four decades ago, but that's hardly the point here. Select one with plenty of water and as little foliage as possible. You'll be alone because these are not the best fishing holes in the River of Grass. But the little ones should still be able to catch a bream or tilapia: the bobber twitching, then dropping fast, pull on the rod, drag in the fish. You'll never forget these mornings. Nor should you. This is when a five-year-old begins to realize that a parent is the most important teacher in life. And you can even eat the bream.

BEST FISHING HOLE

More a jumping-off point to any number of fishing holes, Flamingo, at the south end of Everglades National Park, provides access to hundreds of catching spots. Rent a canoe and paddle through the webs of mangroves while looking to hook a snook, outsmart a mutton or mangrove snapper and, bam, dinner's almost ready. Rent a "real" boat and glide into Florida Bay for spotted seatrout, redfish, or the fierce, inedible fighters called tarpon, which usually flash by near Flamingo's marina. Drive or boat a few miles to the north and put out a line for bass or tilapia in the freshwater rivers and bays. The park provides a beautiful verdant and teal setting for all that angling. And the sunset over Florida Bay is no more tangible but endlessly more pleasurable than the lunker that got away.

BEST FISHING HOLE

More a jumping-off point to any number of fishing holes, Flamingo, at the south end of Everglades National Park, provides access to hundreds of catching spots. Rent a canoe and paddle through the webs of mangroves while looking to hook a snook, outsmart a mutton or mangrove snapper and, bam, dinner's almost ready. Rent a "real" boat and glide into Florida Bay for spotted seatrout, redfish, or the fierce, inedible fighters called tarpon, which usually flash by near Flamingo's marina. Drive or boat a few miles to the north and put out a line for bass or tilapia in the freshwater rivers and bays. The park provides a beautiful verdant and teal setting for all that angling. And the sunset over Florida Bay is no more tangible but endlessly more pleasurable than the lunker that got away.

BEST BAIT SHOP

Homestead is equal parts agricultural business headquarters, quaint tourist town, and Old South country village. Any guesses which category a shop called A-OK Fish 'n' Bait falls into? You can purchase most any kind of bait here: spinners and shiners, grubs and topwaters, even live shrimp. But the real treasure is the conversation. Homestead anglers get their goods here (not from the Orvis Website), and they're known to tell a tale or two. Stick around, and you might learn something about fishing in South Florida. Some of what you learn might even be true.

BEST BAIT SHOP

Homestead is equal parts agricultural business headquarters, quaint tourist town, and Old South country village. Any guesses which category a shop called A-OK Fish 'n' Bait falls into? You can purchase most any kind of bait here: spinners and shiners, grubs and topwaters, even live shrimp. But the real treasure is the conversation. Homestead anglers get their goods here (not from the Orvis Website), and they're known to tell a tale or two. Stick around, and you might learn something about fishing in South Florida. Some of what you learn might even be true.

BEST CHEAP THRILL FOR KIDS

Experienced anglers know to check them for live baits, but the public is generally unaware that in clumps of yellow-brown seaweed exist miniature aquariums waiting to be unveiled. Sargassum floats (thanks to spherical growths full of carbon dioxide) on the ocean currents. Early summer, when the water is calm and the sargassum gently drifts in, is the perfect time to show youngsters the marvelous bounty of the sea. Grab a clump of weed off the surface (sunken or dark brown weed is too old) and shake it over a bucket of ocean water. Like jewels from a pouch, out spills a variety of tiny creatures: juvenile versions of bigger fish that use the weed as a nursery. Crabs, shrimp, sea horses, nudibranch (called sea slugs), and other adult creatures also inhabit the weed. The most interesting resident is the sargassumfish, which looks exactly like a piece of weed until it flops away as you draw near. Sargassum's many wonders should keep the children occupied until their skin turns red and they volunteer to call it a day.

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BEST PLACE FOR FIVE-YEAR-OLDS TO FISH: The ponds of Tamiami Trail

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