Tampa Bay has some of the best places to fish in the state – even if you never set foot on a boat. Landlubbers can cast a line from dozens of beaches or bridges (watch for other fishermen and learn the best times and baits from them) as well as multiple piers where fishing is the top activity.
Our top choice is the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay, which became the world’s longest fishing pier after a 1980 disaster wiped out the center section of the bridge. Depending upon season and how far out you go, the bridge offers a chance to catch everything from snook, tarpon, grouper, black sea bass, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, cobia, sheepshead, red snapper and pompano.
It also may be the world’s most convenient fishing pier. Rather than parking and lugging tackle and coolers, you can drive to where you want to fish and just unload your car. It’s also lit at night, so you can fish during the cooler hours of the evening or early morning. Even in the middle of the day, though, ts location at the mouth of the bay means there’s almost always a breeze and it’s easy to put up a tent for shade.
Admission fees for 24-hour access are $4 per vehicle plus $4 per adult and $2 per child (6 to 12 years old)
Unlike the Skyway, which literally happened by accident, The Long Pier at Redington Shores was built in 1962 expressly to allow fishermen to catch more of the Gulf’s bounty than they could from shore. The 1,200-foot-long pier boasts a long history of significant catches, including tarpon, snook, redfish, kingfish, flounder, drum, trout, pompano, whiting and an occasional shark.
For people who would rather watch nature – or spectacular sunsets – you can count on seeing wildlife ranging from sea turtles and manatees to stingrays and dolphins.
You’ll need to park and carry your tackle, but the pier has shelters, a snack bar and bait shop as well as fish cleaning stations. Cost is $15 for adults to access the entire pier or $12 for children.
For diverse fishing opportunities, you can’t beat Fort DeSoto County Park. Start with the Gulf Pier stretching more than 1,000 feet into the Bay near the open waters of the Gulf. A strong tidal current attracts bait fish, which in turn bring in the big fish — everything from king mackerel to tarpon and sharks. (You’re also likely to see at least a couple of dolphin frolicking nearby.)
The Bay Pier, which runs 500 feet out in more protected water, is the perfect choice for fishermen with lighter tackle or those more concerned with bringing dinner home. Nearshore species like snook, redfish, trout, pompano and Spanish mackerel abound in these calmer waters.
As the weather gets warmer, sometimes it’s just more fun to wade fish. Grab a pair of sneakers and light fishing tackle, then cast into the channels that cut through lush seagrass beds. Be careful not to trample through seagrasses though – they’re critical habitat for almost nearly every fish in Tampa Bay.
The piers are closed through May 5 for renovation. When they reopen, there is no charge to fish from them, although there is a $5 per car entry fee into the park. They both have bait shops, concession stands and restrooms.
IMPORTANT NOTES: Our top three picks do not require that you have a Florida saltwater fishing license to drop your line, but you’ll need one almost everywhere else. (Learn more at http://myfwc.com/license/recreational/saltwater-fishing/) Some exemptions apply for children, senior citizens, disabled residents and people who have qualified for federal financial aid. A no-cost license is required for fishing from docks or piers unless the pier itself has purchased a license. Learn more at http://myfwc.com/license/recreational/do-i-need-a-license/
Additionally, the state offers free fishing days the first weekend in June, the first Saturday in September and the Saturday following Thanksgiving.
And if you’re lucky enough to catch fish, you need to be aware of seasonal, size and daily bag limits, detailed online at http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/.