Deep Sea Fishing in Tampa: A Beginners Guide
Sep 20, 2021 | 7 minute read
Reading Time: 7 minutes

While almost the whole of Florida is great for deep sea fishing, some places are better than others. And even though fishing locations like Destin and Key West are probably the most famous, Tampa doesn’t need to hide behind them. Deep sea fishing in Tampa provides a great opportunity to get on the water and explore a wide variety of angling spots.

The skyline of Tampa, Florida

Tampa is only about 30 to 40 miles away from the deep waters. This means you can target almost any Florida fish you can think of on a full-day trip. We’ve put together a guide that covers all the basics – from fish species to fishing techniques, and where to go. So, what can you expect from a deep sea fishing trip in Tampa? Keep reading and find out!

Top Deep Sea Fish in Tampa

We’ll start with the main stars of your trip: the fish! As we mentioned before, you can find a wide variety of deep sea fish off the coast of Tampa. What you’ll target just depends on the amount of time you want to spend on the water. From big game classics to bottom fish, you’ll have trouble deciding which species to go after first. Here’s the list of common and popular catches.

Marlin

A Blue Marlin being released into the water by an angler

We’ll start with the most famous game fish: Marlin! Tampa’s waters are home to both White Marlin and Blue Marlin. This means you get to target two very similar but also different beasts. Blue Marlin will impress you with their sheer size (they can grow to sizes over 1,000 pounds). While White Marlin will take your breath away with the spectacular fight they put up. You should definitely be ready for a workout either way.

While you can catch these deep sea species on a day trip, hardcore Marlin anglers often prefer to spend at least one night on the open ocean. That way they can reach and fish along the 1000-fathom curve. Here, the continental shelf drops dramatically, forming ideal hunting grounds for Marlin. You can find them between April and October, with the high season running in summer from June to August.

Tuna

Two anglers holding a Blackfin Tuna on a fishing charter

Looking for more big game? Then you’ll be happy to hear that you can find several different Tuna species in Tampa. The most common Tuna is the Blackfin, but you may also hook Yellowfin or a Bluefin if you’re lucky. Blackfin Tuna can be caught in waters just 40 feet deeop, since they like to hunt around the structures. But for Yellowfin and Bluefin, you’ll have to go further out.

Even though getting to these fish might require a longer journey, they make up for it by being around all year. So no matter when you can make time for a longer fishing trip, you’ll have a good chance of finding them. If you want to maximize your chances, head out between March and May, or October and December and land these world-famous beasts.

Sharks

A Blacktip Shark on the end of a fishing line in the Ten Thousand Island's waters

While we’re on the topic of big and impressive fish, let’s have a look at another of the most infamous species: Sharks! The Gulf of Mexico is home to a great number of different Shark species. So if you’re going deep sea fishing in Tampa, you’re bound to encounter them. They’re probably the most common of the big fish you’ll see. So be prepared for a fight – and keep an eye out for them if you’re fishing for something else.

You’ll most likely find Spinner and Blacktip Sharks, along with Hammerheads and the occasional Bull Shark. If you want to go after Sharks specifically, summer between May and August is probably the best time to fish for them. Just keep in mind that many of these species are protected and will have to be handled carefully before being released again.

Mahi Mahi

A man holding a big Mahi Mahi on a boat

We’re continuing our list with an all-time favorite. As most of you probably already know, Mahi Mahi is a beautiful to look at. But both its fighting ability and delicious taste make it a great game fish, too. Not only do you get a great picture with a stunning fish, but also a great dinner and a workout. It’s a true allrounder! 

You’ll find female Mahis swimming in schools, while males tend to stay by themselves. But they both like to hunt around patches of floating seaweed, driftwood, and other debris. They’re in season from April to November, but June through August is when you’ll have the best chances of getting your hands on them.

And So Many More

A man holds a large Red Snapper up to the camera as he sits on a fishing boat with the Gulf behind him

These were just some of the most prominent and popular species you can target on a deep sea fishing trip in Tampa. The list of potential catches is endless. From Amberjack and Sailfish to Wahoo, Kingfish, and various Snappers and Groupers, you’re sure to find a prize fish to either bring home or take impressive photos with.

How to Go Deep Sea Fishing in Tampa

There are a few different popular fishing techniques for deep sea fishing. The one you choose depends on the type of fish you want to catch. If you don’t have a preference, see if your captain can customize your trip for you to try them all.

Trolling

Trolling rods and reels set up for big game fishing

Let’s start with the most obvious one. Trolling is a tried and true method to getting your hands on some truly spectacular catches. If you’re looking for Marlin or Tuna especially, you’ll be very familiar with this technique. Sailfish and Mahi Mahi, among others, are also going to chase after your bait.

Trolling allows you to search wide stretches of the ocean for your prey with several lines in the water at the same time. Usually dealing with multiple fishing lines requires a crew of several people, so your captain will most likely have at least one first mate on board with you. They can help you out with their experience and knowledge of the area, so you can concentrate on reeling in your catch.

Bottom Fishing

A Grouper and bait fish underwater

If you don’t want to head out too far, you can enjoy a deep sea fishing trip by bottom fishing. Plenty of exciting fish live close to the bottom of the ocean. And since many of them are fierce fighters, reeling them all the way up to the surface is an achievement you can be proud of. You’ll most commonly find different Groupers like Gag, Red, and Black Grouper, as well as Red and Mutton Snapper.

Are you looking for an extra special adventure? Then you can try your luck deep dropping for Swordfish. Far out on the ocean, you’ll fish in waters over 1,000 feet deep to try and lure these very special fish in to take your bait. Fishing for Swordfish usually happens at night, when they come closer to the surface to hunt. But if you have the means to get your hook that far down, why stay up late?

Where to Go Deep Sea Fishing in Tampa

Now that you know which fish you can find and how to catch them, let’s move on to where you need to go. Fishing charters starting in Tampa all generally head out west, but there are a few special spots that deep sea anglers should know about.

Two fishermen standing on the bow of a charter boat, one reeling in fish, other taking a video of it
  • The Pride: The Mexican Pride is a shipwreck, located about 35 miles offshore at a depth of 130 feet. This wreck is a great place if you’re looking for Goliath Grouper. Quite a few of them have made the stern of the wreck their home. You’ll also find plenty of Amberjack and Cobia here, among many others. Keep in mind that the wreck is also a recreational diving site, so be careful not to reel in the wrong fish.
  • The Steps: The Steps are a section of the drop-off, located roughly 120 miles southwest of Tampa Bay. As the name indicates, this is a structure where the ocean floor drops down in a series of steps. The area is popular with anglers on the hunt for Blue and White Marlin, Tuna, Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, and even Swordfish!
  • Treasure Island II Reef: Just under 27 miles away from solid land, the Treasure Island II Reef is part of the Pinellas County artificial reef program. It was built using the remains of two ships and is now a fishing and diving haven. The reefs of this program were designed for a large number of species like Snapper, Grouper, Cobia, Barracuda, and Amberjack, as well as plenty others.
  • Limestone: The patches of limestone on the ocean floor deserve a special mention here. These spots are plentiful and offer great fishing opportunities. The limestone is usually overgrown with vegetation and corals, offering the perfect hunting ground for bigger fish. Bottom feeders like Red, Gag, and Black Grouper, as well as Mutton and Red Snapper, inhabit these areas just waiting for your bait. And the good news is that there are plenty of those limestone spots to go around. Just ask your captain to take you there.

Anything Else You Need to Know

An infographic on blue background with the flag of Florida and white text that says Tampa fishing regulations – What you need to know.

You’ll need a fishing license to go deep sea fishing in Tampa. If you’re planning on fishing with a charter, your license will be included in the price. But you should always get in touch with your captain to make sure. If you need to purchase your own, you can find all the information you need about getting your Florida fishing license in our handy guide.

Size and bag limits, as well as fishing seasons, are publicly available on the website of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.

Deep Sea Fishing in Tampa: A High Seas Adventure

A view across Tampa Bay, FL at dusk. In the foreground, a cormorant dries its wings on a short pole sticking out of the water and a seagull stands on a taller pole on the right. There is a buoy on the left and the sail of a ship on the horizon

No matter what Florida deep sea fish you’re after, Tampa has got you covered. Start off your adventure with a hunt for Marlin, or spend the day bottom fishing for a large Grouper. And if you’re done with casting in the deep sea, Tampa has great fisheries closer to shore as well, so you’ll never get bored.

Have you been deep sea fishing in Tampa? How did it go? Do you have any fishing spots to recommend? We’re looking forward to your comments and questions below!

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