Fishing in Tampa – The Ultimate Guide
Jun 10, 2020 | 9 minute read
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Where do we even start with Tampa? This easy-going city is a fantastic angling destination, nestled right on the prolific Tampa Bay. It’s a known fact that inshore fishing in Tampa is easily some of the best you’ll find in the Sunshine State.

What makes “The Big Guava” an angling epicenter? Well, you can target and hook just about anything. Even if offshore action is more your speed, the endlessly abundant Gulf of Mexico awaits just beyond the bay. If you’re looking for a cream-of-the-crop fishing spot, you can’t do much better than gorgeous Tampa.

Top Catches in Tampa

While there are hundreds of species you could battle in Tampa, there are some fish that put the area on the map. Combine beautiful weather, a year-round fishing season, and a fabulous inshore bite into one and you’ve got the makings of a fishermen’s paradise. Let’s see what are some of the top catches you can find in these shallow waters.

Snook Makes the World Go Round!

In inshore fishing circles, the Common Snook is Tampa’s darling. People love going after Snook both because they’re a lot of fun to catch and are formidable opponents. Another thing that adds to their allure is the fact they’re available year-round. Still, April–October is the best time to fish for them.

A smiling fisherman holding a sizeable Snook with blue skies and water in the background

You can find 5–10-lb Snook pretty much anywhere, but that’s just to get you started. As the water warms up, slob Snook come out to play in the brackish waters, and you can hook a trophy weighing 30 pounds. What’s more, they’re strong strikers and smart fighters, so battling one will be a blast.

Snook like to spend their time in sheltered habitats, such as grass flats, oyster beds, and mangroves. They’re very easily spooked and run for cover at the first sign of trouble. It’s important to stay very quiet when targeting Snook or you’ll scare your prey away. If you prefer fishing in the nearshore waters, look for them around reefs and wrecks.

Fly fishermen love chasing Snook through the flats because of their size and excellent fighting abilities. While light tackle and spinning gear are the most common weapon of choice, you’ll see plenty of fly fishing lines swishing around. Lighter gear is perfect for a Snook hunt.

One of the most popular pastimes of Tampa fishermen is to go night fishing for slob Snook. Under the cover of darkness, these fellas hang around docks close to the surface, looking for food. A lot of local charters offer specialized night trips because they’re both fun and productive.

It Doesn’t Get Better Than Tarpon

If you’re in Tampa looking for the ultimate fishing experience, then Tarpon will be a worthy opponent! Thousands of fishermen come to Tampa over the summer to face off against the infamous Silver King that roams and rules the flats. No inshore fish is more majestic, more acrobatic, more combat-ready, or more sought after.

A photo of huge Tarpon in the water, with an angler standing in a boat, holding it by its mouth

The best time to go after Tarpon is from May–August. On a good warm year, you can find early-bird specimens at the beginning of March. They stick around as late as November. Some Tarpon in Tampa stay in the local waters year-round, while others migrate through the area in the summer. You’ll find them around beaches, artificial reefs in the bay, and in river systems.

The sheer size of Tarpon is one of the main reasons why this species is considered a prized catch. Fish around 50 pounds are the norm, but when the weight goes into three digits, it’s time to level up. These silvery giants can grow to be 200 pounds, and when you combine that with their aerial displays and headshakes, you better believe you’ll need plenty of skill and strength to reel in your prize.

Two anglers holding a massive Tarpon halfway out of the water

It’s important to have strong gear when going after these fish, and a variety of bait, because Tarpon’s food preferences change frequently. Fly fishing for Tarpon is the ultimate adrenaline rush and seasoned fly anglers love coming to Tampa for this reason.

Bear in mind that Tarpon is strictly a catch-and-release fish, so it’s crucial to handle it with care. When you get one on the line, you shouldn’t under any circumstances get it out of the water completely. You can lift it halfway to snap a quick photo, but half of its body should be submerged at all times.

Redfish – The Bread and Butter of Tampa Anglers

When you’re fishing in Tampa, the go-to inshore species will always be Redfish. Available year-round, absolutely delicious, and a solid fighter, these feisty fish are always fun to target. Flats are their playground of choice, but you can easily find them around mangroves shorelines and close to underwater structures.

A father and two children sitting on a boat, holding a Redfish

The peak Redfish season is usually from March through October when they hang out in waters so shallow, you can see their tails cutting through the surface. If you like winter fishing, look for them in deeper waters, where they congregate to stay warm.

For the best bite, cast your line around sand holes during the incoming tide. Under the unyielding sun, Redfish will hide out in the shade of mangroves and docks. The best way to reach them is from a boat because sometimes the spots can be unreachable on foot.

A fisherman holding a nice Redfish and looking admiringly at his catch

The foolproof way to hook your catch is to find schools of mullet. Redfish follow their food, and usually, where you find one, you’ll find many. However, more than anything, Redfish love small crustaceans, so if you have any choice of bait, choose shrimp. The fish won’t be able to resist them.

Redfishing in Tampa means a good time for all ages and angler levels. You could go out with your kids one day and catch a few smaller fish for dinner, then come back the next day and fight an impressive-sized Bull. The bite is that good and that consistent throughout the year.

Spotted Seatrout – The Belle of The Flats

It doesn’t matter if you call it Spotted or Speckled, Seatrout in Tampa are as abundant as they’re voracious. Fishermen love this combo of attributes, so by default, they love going after Trout. If that’s not enough, they’re some of the tastiest fish around, so catching one is a win on all fronts.

A satisfied angler holding a big Spotted Seatrout with calm waters and blue skies in the background

This is another species available year-round, but the best time to target them is usually in spring and summer. If you’re out for big Trout, go fishing from April through July, as that’s the best time to hook a gator that can weigh up to 8 pounds. Usually, Trout are in the 2–5 lb range, and can be up to 30 inches long. It all depends on the time of the year.

Spotted Seatrout are shallow-water fish (1–6 feet), and grass flats are their preferred habitat, especially in the winter. They like to hide out in the sand holes and around oyster beds, waiting for their prey to unknowingly swim by.

Trout are often called “the lion of the grass beds,” because they’ll gulp down just about anything you throw their way. Live shrimp are their all-time favorite, but they’ll go for a variety of lures or flies. Most anglers target them on light tackle, though they’re always a welcome sight for fly fishermen.

And So Much More!

Fishing in Tampa is practically synonymous with an extraordinary inshore bite, but there’s more this city can offer to prospective anglers. As we mentioned before, Tampa is right on the Tampa Bay, which means nearshore fishing that will blow your mind.

A happy angler holding a big Cobia on a boat

Whether you’re in the mood for some bottom fishing, light tackle action, or trolling, you’ve come to the right place. Here, a wide array of Groupers and Snappers are always a prized catch, not to mention giant Cobia, Hogfish, Sheepshead, and Flounder.

Closer to the surface, you could stumble across King and Spanish Mackerel, Jack Crevalle, Permit, Pompano, as well as a dozen or so Shark species. Go further from the shore, into the realm of the “magic pelagics” and set your sights on anything from Mahi Mahi and Wahoo to Marlin and Tuna.

In Tampa, freshwater anglers won’t be disappointed either. There’s plenty of inland rivers and lakes to explore, and here, Largemouth Bass is the star of the show. They’re the most popular freshwater species and people love catching them for their size and taste. Add to that the chance to hook Black Crappie, Sunfish, Shellcracker, and Bluegill, and you’ve got an offer that’s hard to pass on.

Types of Fishing in Tampa

The main allure of Tampa is that it’s an incredibly diverse fishery, not only when it comes to fish species, but also because anyone can go fishing here and catch something. There’s plenty of access for shore fishing, and even more professional fishing guides ready to take you out. From light tackle to bottom fishing for Goliath Grouper, there’s something to everyone’s taste.

Fishing Solo

A solo angler fishing the flats of Tampa, Florida

For some anglers, fishing is a solitary, peaceful activity, and they prefer casting their line away from all the everyday hubbub. If you found yourself nodding to this previous sentence, don’t worry, there are plenty of fishing spots for you in the Tampa area.

For a mix of superb inshore and nearshore species, head out to the Davis Island Dog Beach. You can also cast your line right next to the Tampa Riverwalk on the Garrison Channel for good Snook and Tarpon bite.

For a taste of pier fishing, you can take your pick, because there are many and most of them are open for fishing. Bay Pier and Cypress Point Park are some of the most popular ones in the city. Depending on what you’re targeting, be sure to bring appropriate fishing gear, as well as a necessary fishing license.

Fishing With a Charter

A charter boat on the inshore waters of Tampa, Florida

The whole Tampa area is like a huge treasure trove for anglers, but if you’re coming here for the first time, it can be overwhelming. There are so many different things you can do and so many hotspots to explore, which is why going out with a fishing charter is a great place to start.

Anything from fly fishing, to scalloping, to bowfishing, to Marlin hunting is in the cards here, as long as you know what you want. Local captains often have decades of experience on the water and they’ve helped hundreds of people find their catch.

Want to come out with your kids and get them into fishing while they’re young? No problem, scout for a family-friendly guide that offers shorter (4–6 hour) trips.

Want to hang out with your best fishing buddies and try something new? Try going bowfishing or night fishing, it will be an outing to remember.

Want to spend a day fly fishing for the biggest Tarpon out there? Captains with specialized Tarpon trips are at your disposal.

Whatever your fishing appetite, chances are, someone in Tampa will hook you up!

Top Fishing Spots in Tampa

A photo of Tampa Marina and boats docked there

Tampa is an ideal combo of bustling city life and productive fishing grounds in one neat package. There are plenty of spots where you can test your hand at catching bragworthy fish, be it from land or from a boat.

  • Ybor City. Right in the heart of Tampa, you’ll find Ybor, a historic neighborhood that offers beautiful sights and excellent fishing opportunities. This is one of the charter epicenters, and it’s a departure point to nearshore and inshore fishing grounds.
  • Davis Islands. Just a short ride from downtown Tampa, Davis Islands is like an oasis, perfect for relaxing, sightseeing, and fishing. Cast your line in the Hillsborough River, or set out from the islands for a nearshore jaunt to remember.
  • River Crest Park Fishing Piers. Here’s a place where the whole family can come to have fun. You can do some freshwater fishing on the Hillsborough River, enjoy the local park, or even go canoeing if you feel like it.
  • Harbour Island. In the mood for some first-class channel fishing? Then head out to the Harbour Island to catch your fill of Snook or find a fishing charter to show you a good time. Either way, you won’t be wrong.
  • West Gandy Boulevard. If you’re looking for a fishing charter that can take you to your next inshore/nearshore/offshore expedition, go to the West Gandy Boulevard. This is the address of some of the best and most popular guides in Tampa. Top-notch service is all but guaranteed.

Fishing Licenses and Regulations

A sign showing that fishing license is required

As always, before you go fishing in Tampa, familiarize yourself with regulations and any fishing licenses you need. If you book a trip with a charter, all the licenses are included in the price, so you just need to show up. Your captain will keep you in the loop about local regulations and daily limits.

Solo anglers should buy an appropriate fishing license before they hit the water and know all the regulations to avoid problems and fines.

Fishing in Tampa – Your Next Adventure

A picture of Bayshore Blvd, longest riverwalk in Tampa, Florida

Anyone who likes to fish in the morning and spend their evenings in a hip city center will love Tampa! The whole area seems like it was designed to be an anglers’ playground. The ample and varied fishing opportunities will make you fall in love with this jewel of West Florida that just keeps on giving.

Have you ever been fishing in Tampa? What are your experiences? Any tips and tricks you’d like to pass on to your fellow anglers? Share your stories in the comments.

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