Florida Python Challenge registration open

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY—Registration for the 2024 Florida Python Challenge is now open, according to the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC.)

Online training is required to compete in the 10-day competition that is scheduled for Aug. 9 -18 and more than $25,000 in prizes will be awarded for removing invasive Burmese pythons from the wild. Prizes will be awarded in the professional, novice and military categories, courtesy of sponsors and the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida. In 2023, 209 Burmese pythons were removed from the Everglades, FWC said.

In addition to python removal opportunities on 32 commission-managed lands which are available year-round, pythons can be humanely killed on private lands at any time with landowner permission — no permit or hunting license required — and the FWC encourages people to remove and humanely kill pythons from private lands whenever possible.

For more information, and to register, visit https://flpythonchallenge.org/

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FWC: License-free freshwater fishing this weekend

FLORIDA—The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is hosting a license-free freshwater fishing weekend Saturday and Sunday

Florida residents and visitors of all ages and skill levels are encouraged to try recreational fishing this weekend and FWC has helpful resources for new anglers to get started.

Largemouth bass are Florida’s most popular freshwater fish and if you catch one 8 pounds or heavier, submit it to TrophyCatch. There is a special promotion this season where pink-tagged bass are swimming and worth extra prizes in five waterbodies across the state. Try your luck and you could even win sunglasses just for fishing in these five waters!

All other rules, such as seasons, bag and size limits apply during license-free fishing weekend.

Keep the fun going all year and buy a recreational freshwater fishing license, to renew or purchase a fishing license, visit GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.

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National Safe Boating Week kicks off Saturday

LITTLE LAKE HARRIS, Fla.—The unofficial start to summer is upon us and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is reminding boaters to stay safe during National Safe Boating Week that begins Saturday.

Inside Lake had the opportunity to speak with FWC’s Kristen Turner and Chad Weber, along with Hunter Bland of the National Safe Boating Council Friday about staying safe on the waterways. Florida is the “Boating Capital of the World,” with more than 1 million vessels registered in the state, according to FWC.

Florida does have some requirements for boating but common sense and taking simple precautions can prevent a tragedy. A boating safety course is required for anyone born after Jan. 1, 1988; classes are available in classroom setting and also online, FWC-approved courses can be found here.

All vessels are required to have personal flotation device (PFD) for each person onboard and FWC encourages everyone to wear it at all times. In an emergency situation, people often won’t have time to put on a PFD. This reporter and Inside Lake Photographer Bonnie Whicher were required to wear a PFD during a ride-along Friday. The weather cut the ride-along short, but Weber used that opportunity to educate the Inside Lake staff on how to handle changing weather conditions.

FWC Officer Chad Weber PHOTO: Bonnie Whicher/Inside Lake

“You need to know where you are at. (Bad weather) is one of the hidden dangers (people) overlook,” Weber said. “The best thing to do is get out of the water.”

Bland said often homeowners will let a vessel stay at their dock to ride out a storm and he’s even known people to invite boaters in their home to ride it out.

“There are good people out there,” Bland said.

Filing a “float plan can also save your life, Turner told Inside Lake. Though not required, a float plan is letting someone know where you are going and what time you expect to be back. The United States Coast Guard provides a fillable PDF float plan and suggests you provide it to a reliable person, along with a photo of the vessel. While the information would be extremely helpful in an emergency, Bland stressed that something as simple as a text message letting someone know your plans, would suffice.

FWC Northeast Region Public Information Director Kristen Turner PHOTO: Bonnie Whicher/Inside Lake

Weber also suggested other things to have onboard, such as rain jackets, a cooler with water and a first aid kit; tools and extra fuses can also come in handy, Bland added.

For more boating information from FWC, visit https://myfwc.com/boating/

National Safe Boating Council Program Director Hunter Bland PHOTO: Bonnie Whicher/Inside Lake

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Applications for alligator harvest permits open today, including new Alligator Super Hunt

FLORIDA- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) offers two alligator harvest opportunities: the Statewide Alligator Harvest Program and the new Alligator Super Hunt. Applications for both opportunities open Friday at 10 a.m. and may be submitted at any county tax collector’s office, license agent or online at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com. Random drawings are held to distribute all available alligator harvest permits. Those awarded a permit will be automatically charged for an alligator trapping license and two hide validation tags, but those possessing an alligator trapping license that is valid through Dec. 31, 2024, will not be automatically charged for a license. A hunting license is not required to participate in either the Alligator Super Hunt or the Statewide Alligator Harvest Program.

Alligator Super Hunt

New this year, the Alligator Super Hunt offers a flexible alternative to the traditional statewide hunt. Each permit allows the harvest of two alligators from most alligator management units and private property (with owner permission) from Aug. 15 – Dec. 31. Hunters pay a nonrefundable $5 fee for each application and may apply as many times as they want between 10 a.m. ET May 3 through 11:59 p.m. June 3. Applying multiple times will increase the chance of being drawn. This year, 100 permits will be awarded.

Applications for alligator harvest permits open today, including new Alligator Super Hunt Read More »

FWC Launches Online Reporting Tool to Help Combat Deadly Turtle Virus

LAKE COUNTY, Fla.—The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has launched a public reporting tool to help in its research on a virus that is killing Florida freshwater turtles.

FWC has been studying turtle fraservirus (TFV1) since 2018 and is now asking the public to report any sick or dead turtles to help them combat and understand this deadly virus. TFV1 has been found in Lake County, in addition to several other counties in Central Florida, but it could be present throughout the state, FWC warns; it has been identified in softshells, cooters, sliders and snapping turtles.

Signs a turtle could be infected:

  • Appears sluggish, unresponsive or reluctant to flee.
  • Stays in shallow water or beached on banks for prolonged periods of time.
  • Head and neck outstretched flat along the ground.
  • Sunken, swollen crusty and/or cloudy eyes.
  • Reddened skin on head, neck, limbs or bottom of shell.
  • Swims irregularly (sideways, in circles or is unable to submerge)
  • Sick sofshell turtles are slow and lethargic. PHOTO: FWC

In 2021, FWC enacted an executive order prohibiting unpermitted taking and transporting of softshell turtles and yellow-bellied sliders to reduce the spread of TFV1, Turtles should not be captured and transported to a new location even if they seem healthy.

To report a dead or sick turtle, click here.

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Gopher Tortoise in 5-Gallon Bucket Lands Eustis Man in Jail

EUSTIS, Florida—A Eustis man was arrested by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Saturday morning for possessing a gopher tortoise—a threatened wildlife species— he was keeping in a five-gallon bucket, according to an arrest affidavit.

FWC received a call that a person on McDonald Street in Eustis was in possession of a possible gopher tortoise. An FWC officer responded to the apartment and Edrick L. Acres, 53, admitted he had the tortoise and showed the officer a five-gallon bucket that contained the tortoise, the affidavit states.

FWC took possession of the tortoise to return it to the wild and told Acres stay seated in a chair he was sitting in while the officer finished his paperwork in his truck. When the officer returned, Acres was gone. His mother said he went to a nearby store and FWC, with the assistance of Eustis Police Department, apprehended Acres about a block away on Clifford Avenue.

Acres was taken into custody, searched and found with a small bag of marijuana. He was arrested for possession of marijuana, possession of a gopher tortoise and resisting arrest. He was transported to the Lake County Jail, where he was released on $2,500 bond.

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FWC Releases Name of Man Found in Lake Griffin Tuesday

LEESBURG, Florida— The man found in Lake Griffin Tuesday has been identified, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC.)

Around 4:45 p.m. Tuesday, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office reported finding an empty boat on Lake Griffin near Herlong Park in Leesburg, FWC Public Information Officer Chad Weber told Inside Lake.

FWC responded to the scene and the body of an adult male was found in the water nearby where the empty boat was found, and Leesburg Fire Rescue recovered the body of Thomas G. Eichelberger, 80. Eichelberger was brought to the boat ramp, where he was pronounced deceased and then turned over to the medical examiner.

“This is an active investigation and there is no further information at this time,” Weber said. “Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with the friends and family of Mr. Eichelberger.”

FWC Releases Name of Man Found in Lake Griffin Tuesday Read More »

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