By JAY BREWINGTON, the Flats Maniac
Psst! Want a few hot fishing spots where you don't need a boat? How about trying the piers around Tampa Bay. For non-stop fishing action that is usually reserved only for boaters, our piers are without peer. Pier fishing has a lot to offer to the non-boater. First and foremost is the easy access to some outstanding fishing waters around Tampa Bay and the Gulf.
No matter what you like to catch, there is a pier out there for you. We have piers from Clearwater to Manatee County and the variety is astonishing. I cannot think of a major species of fish that I haven't seen caught from one of the piers.
If you're looking for a place to take the kids fishing for the first time, this is probably the best method. Usually there is something to be caught, even if it's just pinfish and grunts. Children, especially young ones, don't care what they're catching as long as there is action. There is the added bonus that if the fishing is really bad that day, they can always run up and down the beach for a while. (Nothing like a small boat, two five year olds and no fish to catch.) In addition, piers offer all of the necessities that are needed when taking kids fishing (restrooms, snacks, and sodas).
We all have significant others in our lives. Many times they don't like to fish. Well you can kill two birds with one stone. Tell your special person you're taking them to the beach. Go to one of the beaches close to a pier. They can .sun and you can fish. Seriously, many of the piers around the Tampa area offer other activities that can make the trip a great family outing.
If you are new to fishing in Tampa, the piers are a great place to start. The operators of these places want you to succeed. (They'd like you to come back.) You can get plenty of excellent advice on techniques, baits, and rigs that are successful. Several of the piers even rent equipment. The people who fish these areas are more than happy to help you also. At the very least, just watch. You'll see who's catching fish and who isn't. Here is a hint: imitate the people who are catching fish.
I think it is important to mention that all of the piers I have fished in Tampa have good access for the physically impaired. I usually see at least one wheelchair when I go to a pier. On several occasions I have seen visually impaired fisherman. It's a great opportunity for people who might not normally be able to get out and enjoy what Florida has to offer.
While the wade fisherman can fish with one outfit, I think that someone working the piers needs two. I like the first rig to be a 6 1/2 to 7 foot rod with a light to medium reel (such as the Stradic 4000). I spool this with 8 or 10 pound test. This outfit can be good for Spanish mackerel, sheepshead, whiting, or pompano. Since you'll be working from some height it is good for the rod to have a little backbone.
I like the second rig to be a little heavier. A stout 6 or 6 1/2 foot rod and perhaps a Penn 4500. Rig this with 12 or 15 pound test. Big reds, cobia, snook, and black tip sharks are all quite common catches from our local piers. Remember that these piers can be havens for some big fish. You might even find this rig a little small sometimes.
There are four major pier systems in our area. In addition there are countless smaller piers in our county parks. Each of them offers a unique fishing opportunity.
Starting to the north in Clearwater Beach is the venerable Big 60 Pier. Don't let its location fool you. It's a great pier for mackerel. Price of admission about $5.00. You'll also have to pay for parking. They do have a three fishing rod limit. Rod rentals are also available.
Moving south to North Redington Beach is the Redington Long Pier. I have seen more different types of fish caught from this pier than any other. Admission to this pier is about $6.50. They do, however, have free parking. There is a two fishing rod limit at this pier.
Here's a little hint that can save you some money. Both the Redington and Big 60 only charge 50 cents for walking out on the pier. If you're not sure what the fishing is like, take a tour first. You can see what's happening. If the fishing is hot, go back get your gear and pay the full amount. If it doesn't look like much action, move on.
At the southern tip of St. Petersburg are my personal favorites, the two piers at Fort DeSoto Park. Except for the tolls to get to the park, these piers are free. In addition, the piers are open all night. The Bay pier offers some spectacular snook fishing in the summer. At night or just before sunrise the end of the pier is usually loaded with silver trout for some light tackle action.
The Gulf Side pier extends out a little further and can provide you with opportunity catch an occasional Kingfish. Don't overlook the rocks right next to the pier, either. There are quite a few snook hanging around them. Either pier is excellent for Spanish mackerel. Because of the facilities and other activities at the park, these piers are excellent for families.
The newest additions to our inventory of piers are the two longest. I am referring, of course, to the Skyway piers. Access to these piers is not cheap. The charge is $5.00 per vehicle plus a $1.50 per fisherman. Don't forget you'll also have to pay the $1.00 toll for the Skyway. I haven't had the opportunity to take advantage of either of these piers but I believe they have the potential to become the best of all the locations mentioned here.
The Skyway location is unique among the others for several reasons. First, you can drive your car right on to the piers. Another interesting feature of these piers is the artificial reefs they have constructed along the spans. These are sure to be great fish attractors. Not the least of the unique features is the way these piers jut into the mouth of Tampa Bay. Any fish moving into or out of the bay come right by these structures. I think either of these piers would offer an excellent chance for catching a tarpon.
While each of the locations above has something a little different to offer, they have several things in common. First, they all have excellent facilities. They are all clean and well kept. Another common factor is the ease of access. They are easy to find and get to. Last, but not least, they all can offer great fishing.
So give our piers a try. Just don't tell anybody you heard from me.