By CAPT. MEL BERMAN, Coastal Angler Magazine
It is not uncommon for a complete stranger to approach, lobbying me to “never mention St. Joseph Sound on the radio or in any article.” Why are those who fish there jealously working to keep it as a closely guarded secret? It’s not that they are greedy or want the fish all to themselves. It’s just that the more people who fish there, the greater the pressure on the indigenous fish populations.
There’s no doubt that St. Joseph Sound is indeed one of the most productive Florida Suncoast fishing locations. Situated along the North Pinellas coast, it’s a huge estuarine area stretching from Dunedin Causeway to Anclote Key that provides an ideal habitat for just about every kind of popular inshore gamefish.
There are deeper flats of up to 8 feet that make the sound quite fishable even for boats with somewhat deeper drafts.
Toward the Gulf, the barrier islands of Anclote Key and Honeymoon Island are mangrove lined fish havens with intricate cuts and channels that attract several popular shallow water species.
Along the Intracoastal Waterway are a series of very productive spoil islands, created from the ruble dredged out to make the channel. Those spoils are literally giant fish magnets that attract several seasonal species throughout the year.
In the cooler months, massive schools of larger “gator trout” show up to spawn around these spoils. This attracts not only local anglers, but a legion of fishing guides from all over the region eager to put their clients on the abundance of larger winter trout.
Also in the winter months, the deeper flats hold huge schools of frisky silver trout, feeding on the morsels of bait dribbling out of the stone crab traps. Then, as soon as the traps are removed at the end of the stone crab season, the silvers go bye-bye,
This time of year, as waters warm, trout depart and great numbers of redfish and snook will be just coming out of their winter haunts in residential canals and back bay bayous to set up shop around the many pristine locations in the open sound. Most will be found foraging around barrier islands or cruising the passes of Honeymoon Island and Anclote Key.
The mangrove lined islands and lush grasses are not the only element that draw these legions of fish to St. Joseph Sound. According to top kayak guide Neil Taylor, it’s the constant tidal flow. “Thanks to Hurricane Pass just on the other side of the sound, another flushing area up north of Honeymoon Island, as well as the swash channels at Anclote key, anglers enjoys constant water flow. Just look at the tide charts and you’ll find that tidal movement in the sound is invariably better than many other Tampa Bay locations.”
Another important attribute is the almost endless grasses which provide the ideal habitat for all kinds of forage species, such as small baitfish, crabs and shrimp that constantly move in and out from the Gulf of Mexico. And of course, where there’s food, there will be hungry gamefish.
These acres of deep grasses hold lots of fish. But it’s those shallower locations around the many islands where we find the most action. In the winter months, it’s trout catching time. When the weather warms, snook and redfish, along with flounder, pompano, bluefish, sharks and other gamefish move in to make St. Joseph Sound up a virtual year ‘round cornucopia of great fishing action.
In spring, it’s not uncommon to catch some frisky Spanish mackerel and even the occasional kingfish right in the flats. “If the baitfish are big enough and you have light winds out of the east for a period of time, you could very well hook a hefty kingfish inside the Honeymoon Island-Anclote Key triangle,” said Taylor.
Giant tarpon are another warm water visitor there. They can be found cruising the deeper flats, feeding on the abundant baitfish and small trout.
But according to Neil Taylor, it’s the massive schools of redfish that are still the biggest draw on a year ‘round basis. They stack up along the endless mangrove and oyster-lined edges around the islands.
“Three Rooker Bar is another great snooking location and a bit more remote so you’re out of range of most kayak anglers,” advised Taylor. “But a shallow water boat can go into Three Rooker and target the many schools of snook that are in.” Yet there are plenty a reachable and fishy location for the paddler crowd. Along the eastern shores of the sound are miles of docks and inlets that hold a great variety of species.
Up toward the northern reaches of St. Joseph Sound is Fred Howard Park, providing an excellent and productive land based location for wadefishers. The park is also surrounded by acres of lush grasses which can be very productive for drift fishing.
Is it any wonder then that those who have discovered the joys of fishing St. Joseph Sound would like to keep it their little secret? Certainly, when you have such a great and abundant venue, there’s no way of preventing the word from getting out. Instead, we can do our part to help maintain good levels of fish there. As the saying goes –”keep only what you need for dinner and put the rest back.” Also, safely release the big breeders. Crimp down barbs on all your hooks and try to get your catch back in the water without touching them.
The whole idea here or anywhere else would be to treat fish with the respect and safety they deserve. This way we can assure that future generations of these magnificent creatures will be there for us, our kids and their kids to enjoy.