When you live on a peninsula, the fishing is always good somewhere, sometime. The St. Petersburg/Clearwater area has many of those faithful fishing spots.
With Tampa Bay to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the west, anglers here are usually assured of a sheltered place to cast a line. Here's a rundown of what you can expect.
Wading along the grass flats of Weedon Island, towing my kayak behind me, I watch as shadows scatter before me. The tide has emptied the shallows of water, and now the redfish are looking for cover between the mangrove shoreline and the sandbar.
I'm not alone on this warm winter afternoon. A half-dozen kayak fishermen have come to this Pinellas County preserve for the same reason as me – to catch one of Florida's most popular sportfish.
A topwater plug flies through the air 50 feet to my right and lands with a splash. The angler twitches it once, twice and then the water boils as a bronze body strikes out and grabs the plastic baitfish. "Fish on!" the angler yells, as he fights the red from his kayak.
Minutes later, another fisherman hollers. The feeding frenzy has begun. When it comes to catchin', it doesn't get any better than this.
But we Floridian anglers are used to such spectacles. When you live on a peninsula, the fishing is always good somewhere, sometime. The St. Petersburg/Clearwater area – on a peninsula of its own – has many of those faithful freshwater fishing spots.
With Tampa Bay to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the west, anglers fishing in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area are usually assured of a sheltered place to cast a line, regardless of weather. The following is a rundown of what you can expect here:
Offshore Fishing in St. Petersburg
Tarpon Springs, Clearwater Beach and Madeira Beach all have party boats that will take you offshore in pursuit of grouper and snapper. Trips include half-day and full-day excursions as well as overnighters at certain times of the year. You can bring your own gear or rent equipment on board. Spring and fall are peak months, but the longer summer trips can be quite an adventure if you're willing to invest the time and money.
Private fishing boats are also available for hire. While more expensive than the party boats, these "six-pack" charters (so named because the captains are limited to six passengers) offer more flexibility in terms of scheduling and target species.
During the spring and fall, many of the best fishing guides are hired by sportsmen looking to land a tournament-winning fish during the semi-annual king mackerel runs. These big-money tournaments draw entrants from all over the state, and the competition is fierce. It's not uncommon for several 45-pound fish to be weighed in the same day.
Inshore Fishing in St. Petersburg
From Anclote Key to Fort De Soto Park on the Gulf side, and Pinellas Point to Safety Harbor on the bay, shallow water or "flats" fishermen chase the coveted inshore grand slam of sportfishing. The mangrove shorelines, oyster bars and rich sea grass beds are home to snook, redfish and spotted sea trout.
Numerous creeks and bays offer sheltered areas when it's windy. If it's blowing out of the west, flats fishermen work the bay. If it's blowing out of the east, they fish the barrier islands along the Intracoastal Waterway.
With ample boat ramps and well-marked waterways, anglers can fish out of their own shallow-draft boats or hire one of the flats guides who specialize in these inshore species. Many of the top guides are booked well in advance during the summer months when record hunters line up to catch tarpon, the silver king of gamefish.
The Bridge and Pier Scene
Living around so much water, you don't need a boat to catch fish. Pinellas County has a dedicated bridge fishing crowd that frequents closed spans of the old Sunshine Skyway bridges.
During certain times of the year, bridge fishermen sometimes out-fish their boating brethren, especially when it comes to species such as Spanish mackerel. Another option is to hit one of the public or private fishing piers. Clearwater's Big Pier 60 has a dedicated following. Pinellas County's Gulf and Bay piers at Fort De Soto Park are two of the finest freshwater fishing piers in the state. And the North Span of the Sunshine Skyway is known worldwide for its big catches. Most are open 24 hours a day, though hours can vary based on the day of the week or time of year.
Fishing here can be as complicated or as casual as you like. The waters around Fort De Soto and the Pinellas Bayway (which links the park to the mainland) are the favorite haunt of wade fishermen. All you need is a bucket of shrimp and an old spinning rod to get started.
Or, slip a sea kayak into the water just about anywhere and catch your share of redfish. The top north county spots include Anclote Key and Caladesi and Honeymoon islands. Down south, fish Fort De Soto. In the bay, paddle anywhere and you're sure to find fish.
For more information on planning your own St. Petersburg/Clearwater area freshwater fishing trip, call Visit St. Pete/Clearwater at 877-352-3224 or go to www.VisitStPeteClearwater.