Though most people who love white sand and “fun in the sun” are familiar with the St. Petersburg/Clearwater beaches of Pinellas County, few know about the great fishing possibilities. To the west, the Gulf of Mexico washes up on 35 miles of white, sandy beaches from Anclote Key at the top to Mullet Key at the bottom. The eastern side is framed by Tampa Bay. Despite all of this visible beauty, what is not seen by most visitors may be the real treasure of these clear waters.
Tampa Bay contains Florida’s largest open-water estuary covering almost 400 square miles at high tide. In these fertile waters, seven out of ten of all fish and shellfish found in this part of the United States spend time in the bay and in nearshore Gulf waters. Therefore, shallow water anglers using light tackle can easily wade while targeting gamefish such as tarpon, snook, redfish, permit, cobia, sharks, pompano, speckled trout (spotted weakfish), sheepshead, Spanish mackerel, bonita, shark, and flounder. The Pinellas County flats and beaches probably provide more accessible, productive fishing places for wading anglers than anywhere else in Florida.
The grass flats of this area are sea nurseries where many of the saltwater fishes of the Gulf of Mexico are born and raised. Also, the sea grass flats provide food and shelter for many small marine organisms including minnows, crabs, scallops, conchs, and shrimp that feed the predator fish. Since the roots filter water, mangroves are equally important to the health of this estuary. The branches and leaves provide habitat for hundreds of species of aquatic creatures, birds, and insects.
One of the unique aspects of fishing in Pinellas County is that anglers can use the same kind of lightweight spinning and casting gear that are utilized in freshwater. In fact, many of the same lures like stick baits, floater-diver plugs, vibrating crankbaits, jerk baits, jigs, and plastic worms are quite productive. Live bait anglers can use shrimp or minnows on free-lines or under a float.
Wading Near the BridgeThe Tampa Bay area usually has two high tides and two low tides each day and the water generally rises and falls between 2 and 3 feet with each tidal change. Game fish are more likely to feed when the current is moving. They will typically face into the current so they can prey on smaller fishes and minnows struggling in the moving tide.
On low tide, especially with a north wind, many shallow flats lose their water and become exposed. Wading birds love it when that happens because that provides more places to feed. They feed on oysters and worms, small crabs, and unfortunate minnows that get trapped in little potholes on the falling tide, but when the tide comes back in, the gamefish are also anxious to feed on the same grubs, minnows, and shellfish not eaten by the wading birds.
In addition to the great fishing and beautiful scenery, Tampa Bay provides habitat for the West Indian Manatee, Florida’s official State Aquatic Mammal. About 60 manatees spend the summer near the Bay and more than 350 manatees find their way here during the colder months. That’s about 10 percent of the total manatee population. Therefore, if one notices a slow-moving, dark spot in the water about the size of a small car, its probably a manatee. Also, Tampa Bay is home to about 400 bottlenose dolphins.
The Tampa Bay, Clearwater, St. Petersburg area has plenty of other attractions, great restaurants, and diverse lodging possibilities. So, for more information, contact the Convention and Visitors Bureau toll-free at 1-800-822-6461 or go to their web site at: www.FloridasBeach.com.