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Covering the Bases: MILITARY BASES and training facilities are a big part of the Florida map-and many support exceptional fishing and hunting opportunities.

Along time ago, in a decade far, far away: My dad, a lieutenant colonel stationed at Homestead Air Force Base (HAFB) south of Miami, heard a tantalizing rumor from an Air Police officer on base. Manmade canals on the other side of the flight line held unworldly populations of fish. Bass, all types of panfish, snook and even small tarpon hungrily cavorted about. Unauthorized personnel dared not tread these closely guarded waters due to a well-rooted fear of being water-boarded some 90 miles south of there.

And guess what? As Providence would have it, Dad served as commander of security for HAFB, meaning he could access the canals simply by notifying the air tower and later displaying his military I.D.

Dad indeed called the tower, and we soon received the green light to cross the flight line in a golf cart with an Air Police escort. Those canals evolved into a goldmine of memories. On that and subsequent visits, each cast of our weedless worms resulted in a hookup, and my favorite lure at the time--a top-water Skipjack with front and back propellers--could hardly be twitched more than a few inches without a brutal assault.

Anyone else on base seeking permission to fish there going forward would have to obtain it directly from dad. Canals? What canals? As it turned out, HAFB closed after our departure in the late 1960s for many years, but has been rebirthed as the Homestead Air Reserve Base--with no public hunting or fishing allowed in those canals. I can only wonder what lucky DoD dude may now be enjoying that treasure.

While military-personnel-only fishing sites may still exist on some bases in Florida, many offer public access. Same for hunting at some of the installations. All such military properties cooperate with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) in terms of regulations. As in all areas of Florida, a state fishing or hunting license is required, except those exempted along. Additional fees or regulations are usually required at each military facility. Active duty and retired DoD personnel often enjoy lesser costs and greater access.

Here's an alphabetical roundup of some of the more popular Florida military properties for fishing and hunting. Permit fees and regulations were correct as of press time, but may change.

AVON PARK AIR FORCE RANGE Avon Park, 863-452-4254, www.avonparkafr.net

It used to be called the Avon Park Bombing Range, and yes, that still takes place. The Air Force trains pilots here for air-to-surface bombing runs, strafing, and firing ordnance at targets towed behind another plane. Much of the year, however, the 106,000 acres in Polk and Highland counties are open to activities including fishing and hunting.

You'll encounter lots of cows, birds and snakes, with plenty of deer, turkey and hog mixed in. The annual permit cost for hunting is $350, and a number of conditions exist such as age (at least 18), the issuance of a vehicle decal and proof of having completed an approved hunter safety course. Permit holders can bring a guest for $50, and other fees and endorsements cover such things as hunting hogs with dogs. Non-hunting activities such as fishing, hiking and kayaking are included in the $350.

Hunting seasons at the APAFR vary based on whether it's for archery, muzzleloading, general gun, spring turkey (including the elusive Osceola), quail, ducks and more. Spring hunts include quail and small game, youth spring turkey and regular turkey season.

MILITARY BASES

For non-hunting activities such as fishing, it's only $ 10 per day and includes the whole family. Small ponds and culverts produce nice action on panfish and bass, and the same with the Kissimmee River. Four of the ponds are stocked--1,2,3 and Tomlin Lake--and catch-and-release only from February 15 to June 15. If you're towing a rig, there's a boat launch specifically for APAFR anglers on the Kissimmee River.

Jacksonville's Darrell Belvins often fishes APAFR and favors Tomlin Lake. "It's big enough to allow lots of uninterrupted spawning beds, and I usually can release quite a few bass each day in the 3- to 5-pound class--my biggest so far is an 8-pounder that ate a plastic lizard," he said.

CAMPBLANDING Starke, 904-214-7533, myfwc.com

This is north-central Florida's National Guard training center situated on 73,000 acres. It's also a Wildlife Management Area of the FWC. Nine days following the general gun season, portions of Camp Blanding may be closed as well as unexpectedly at other times for military training--call the hotline at 904-214-7533 for updates.

Good quota and regular season hunting prospects include hog, turkey, deer, upland birds, waterfowl, varmints, squirrels and more. Dog hunts for hog have been cancelled for 2018. A timetable can be viewed at FWC's website (myfwc.com/hunting/wma-brochures/nc/camp-blanding) for general gun, archery, muzzle-loading and supervised youth hunts. Camping is prohibited.

Fishing centers only on Magnolia and Lowery lakes on Sundays, Mondays and whenever hunt area 2 is open for hunting. Bass, bream and the usual suspects represent the prime target species. Access to the lakes is allowed only via Treat Road. For specifics on unannounced lake closures, call 904-682-3318.

On the Florida Sportsman Forums (forums.floridasportsman.com), Dorado-Dreamin' states that he's been hunting Camp Blanding for over 20 years. He reports that deer seem to know the no-hunting zone and often seek refuge there when the shooting starts. "They can shut the place down in a heartbeat if needed, so your hunting plans can change quickly," he said.

Kingsley Lake abuts Camp Blanding, and the circular, 2,000-acre lake consistently produces some of Florida's largest bass--many in the double-digit class.

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE Niceville, 850-882-4164, eglin.af.mil

This base property is massive, some 464,000 acres spread over Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties with 250,000 acres of it open for public use. A permit from the Eglin Natural Resources (ENR) office is required, and all must review an access map prior to entry so there's full compliance with any military operations--closures can occur quickly although there's generally a reliable three-day forecast and updated daily. When an immediate closure is necessary, barricades and gates are utilized and range personnel try to notify those present.

Many consider the deer, turkey and hog hunting at Eglin among the best in the state given the variety of natural features and resources. On the FS Forum, hilljackl3 says of the area: "I live at Eglin and hunt it. There are dog, bow-only and still-hunt areas. I bow hunt only at the moment so the area I go to is pretty much all to myself. The area is super thick and finding the right place to climb is tricky."

Whenever I'm in the Panhandle, I try to visit the Anderson Pond Recreation Area off Highway 85. It's three miles north of Niceville and open year-round. My wife and I enjoy bringing a picnic lunch and we leisurely cast for bass and dunk crickets for bream off the tidy fishing pier. You can also fish Hurlburt Lake (permit required and obtained at the ENR) and Santa Rosa Sound in the small 6,700-acre Air Force's Hurlburt Field installation in Okaloosa County that's adjacent to, and a portion of, Eglin. No hunting may take place in Hurlburt Field.

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE Tampa, 813-828-1110, macdill.af.mil

This ultra-strategic base lies at the bottom of the South Tampa peninsula. There's good wade fishing on the flats for redfish and trout along the base's south side, but many of the fishiest creeks are off limits and other prohibited areas exist. Of course the region around the runway on the west side is totally closed. That's what you'd expect, however, for a military installation that's the home of U.S. Central Command.

Outside the closed areas, excellent casting prospects involve expanses of grassflats and potholes. Weedless spoons get the job done as do jigs tipped with shrimp or Gulp!

To access the base itself, you need to be a verified contractor or guest of a military member.

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE Panama City, 850-283-4500, tyndall.isportsman.net

Just east of Panama City is Tyndall, covering over 9,200 acres. It's a base for the advanced F-22 fighter jets and drone testing. Consequently, visitors must undergo a background check at the visitor's center before obtaining a TAFB permit. No hunting is allowed on the West and Flight Line Units unless accompanied by a DoD hunter. If you see a red flag atop a pole in watery areas, stay out. Scheduling of military operations can be learned each day by calling 850-283-4640. All visitors need to be familiar with, and carry, a map of the recreation area that's provided when obtaining a permit.

You'll encounter very good hunting prospects for whitetail deer at Davis Beach, DuPont Bridge, Farmdale Bayou, Felix Lake, Marina Club, PQM 102, STP and Strange Bayou. Archery, muzzleloading and general gun seasons are provided for deer, hog, migratory birds, spring turkey (via a random drawing) and other species.

Some hunting areas only allow the taking of game on weekends while others include Fridays. You'll also need a Hunt Block pass issued at the check station (building 4027 at the Sabre Gate). Field dressing of game is prohibited; only slugs can be used with shotguns; no stalking is permitted; you cannot shoot fox squirrels, quail or bears; game cameras and feeding stations are prohibited. The facility provides skeet and archery ranges as well as camping (with a permit). The recreational permit fee is $10 with additional permit costs such as $60 for a hunting/fishing combo, $50 if just deer and small game hunting, $20 if only fishing ($5 for seven days), and discounts for seniors and disabled.

Saltwater fishing is allowed with the TAFB permit from shore in the West Unit; you don't need a permit for the East Unit or at the DuPont Bridge Boat Launch area. Freshwater fishing also requires a TAFB permit. PQM 102 and Felix lakes are limited to electric motors on boats; other lakes only allow carry-in types such as canoes and kayaks.

The above sounds pretty tedious, but it's not, in actual practice. Once you stop to get a permit, await your background check and pay the fees, off you go. Perhaps the thought of the required steps--not to mention fees--scares off many people. I've fished the West Unit shoreline with no one around and caught reds on sand fleas in the trough just off the beach.

Some of the other military installations that allow fishing but not hunting are worthy of a visit (permits required):

* Cape Canaveral Air Force Station/ Kennedy Space Center: The famed 10,600acre Banana River No-Motor Zone, part of Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, is basically encapsulated by the Security Zone of Canaveral Air Force Base and Kennedy Space Center.

Thus, while technically you aren't fishing on a military installation, your access and activities are certainly tempered by military presence. No combustion engines or electric engines permitted. Launch only at KARS Park ($5, and the shortest route to the best fishing) on east end of Hall Rd., off Courtney Parkway (SR3), or off 401 Cswy. north of cruise terminal at Port Canaveral. Much of the eastern sector permanently closed 10,000 feet out into the water. You must possess a current, signed Merritt Island Refuge Sport Fishing Permit at all times while fishing here. It's free and may be printed at www.fws.gov/refuge/ Merritt_Island/

* Jacksonville Naval Air Station, 904-542-3260, cnic.navy.mil. Fishing is permitted on the north side of Casa Linda Lake (catch and release only) and in the St. Johns River. Fishing is not permitted from the piers at Mulberry Cove Marina. Often targeted hereabouts are big reds and flounder.

* Boca Chica Marina at the Key West Naval Station is a good jumping-off point for flats, inshore and offshore fishing. There's plenty of room for short--or long--term mooring or boat slips, and you can grab a shower, do laundry, rent a kayak or chill on the beach.

Pay a visit to a Florida military property this year. You might not become the boogie woogie bugle boy of Company B, but you'll win plenty of enjoyable rod and rifle victories.

Military M.O.

Fishing or hunting on military property requires extra preparation and more caution than normal. I once found an empty casing for a 105-millimeter shell at Avon Park and figured it would be a cool home decoration. Wrong. I took it to a checkout station for permission to remove it, and it was immediately confiscated with pointed instructions not to touch any munitions whether in part or whole. Such discoveries occur more than occasionally, particularly at Avon Park, Camp Blanding and Eglin, so definitely don't touch anything unusual and leave metal detectors at home.

Other suggestions:

(1) Make sure you have the required ID before arriving at any military installation. It varies from one base to another. If you don't bring what's necessary, you'll be turned away until you get it no matter the circumstances or how far you've traveled.

(2) Trespassing-whether accidental or not-can be dangerous. Respect all signs, fences, gates and perimeters, and if told to stay on tram roads when moving, say, from a campsite to a hunting area, do not stray.

(3) Unless you enjoy staring down the barrel of an M-16 or an armed drone, do not practice-fire weapons anywhere near military property unless at an authorized shooting range.

(4) Print all regulations and maps relating to hunting or fishing on the military property in question. Keep them on your person at all times as you do a state fishing or hunting license.

(5) Military properties are usually patrolled more closely than non-military areas, especially during hunting seasons. Approaches by security personnel with requests to "show me your papers" should be met with respect.

Caption: Spence Johnson, 13, took this nice buck during a youth hunt on Egiin AFB property.

Caption: Bass grow big at Kingsley Lake, adjacent to Camp Blanding National Guard center. Below: Angler fishing with Capt. Justin Leake sight-fished this red not far from Tyndall AFB.
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Author:Kelly, Doug
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Jul 1, 2018
Words:2354
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