Fishing in Tampa Bay – The Ultimate Guide
Apr 22, 2020 | 9 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 9 minutes

With over 200 species inhabiting its bait-laden waterways, Tampa Bay is rightly revered as the crown jewel among Florida anglers. Being the largest open-water estuary in all of the Sunshine State definitely comes with its perks. Not to much surprise, fishing in Tampa Bay is nothing short of superb.

An aerial view of the Tampa Bay with the Tampa skyline in the distance

Extending over 400 square miles and fed by the emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Tampa Bay’s massive ecosystem plays host to pretty much all of the state’s favorite bruisers.

Top Catches in Tampa Bay

If it swims in the shallows and lives in the Gulf, you can pretty much guarantee it’s in these waters. The Bay provides such a wide variety of aquatic life, it’s not uncommon to bag several species on any given outing. Most anglers are after the “Big 3” – Tarpon, Redfish, and Snook.

Other local species include Trout, Jack Crevalle, Grouper, Snapper, Cobia, Ladyfish, Mackerel, Flounder, and a variety of Sharks. All of these and many more call Tampa Bay their home throughout different parts of the year. So whatever you’d like to catch, chances are, you’ll find it here!

Make Way for His Majesty, Tarpon!

Move over, Boca Grande! In the previous decades, Tampa Bay has repeatedly proven its reputation as one of the richest Silver King battlegrounds along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Three anglers leaning from a boat, holding a beautiful Tarpon

The traditional Tarpon season spans from April–August, but you can find an excellent bite as early as March. On a particularly good year, the season can last up to 7–8 months, which is always a welcome advantage.

Still, the bay is famous for its strong summer Tarpon fishery. From late May until July, it’s a Tarpon extravaganza everywhere you go. Throughout the peak of their migration (May–July), most Tarpon range between 80 and 140 pounds. If you’re looking for the ultimate fishing experience, there are 200 lb beasts swimming around the bay in summer.

If you ever battled a Tarpon before, you know this is one durable trophy fish. Most fights last from 20 to 40 minutes, although you should try and end the struggle as soon as possible. In addition to ensuring the fish’s survival, this will also help you avoid tempting any Sharks nearby.

If you’re specifically booking a Tarpon charter, expect an average of 2–7 hookups per trip. It all depends on your own expertise and a lil’ bit of luck. All Tarpon fishing is catch and release, unless you’re in pursuit of an IGFA record (which requires a special tag). If you are – good luck!

Year-Round Redfish Party

Nobody does Redfishing quite like Florida.

Undoubtedly a skinny-water favorite, the resident Redfish is happy to chase down a plug any day of the year. With unparalleled stamina and a reel-smoking tenacity, Redfish is certainly the king of the Tampa Bay flats.

An angler holding a Redfish on a flats fishing boat in the Tampa Bay.

Most Reds caught in the Tampa Bay area measure around 15–35 inches (the legal size limit varies) and the season is open year-round.

Throughout most of the year, this species is caught in very shallow grass flats, up to 3 feet deep. Even though most fish go into deep hibernation during the winter months, the tailing Reds of Tampa Bay remain very active. That said, they usually migrate to deeper waters at this time, normally between 4 and 8 feet.

Redfish typically congregate in many of the same places as Trout and Snook. If you’re looking for monster Reds though, they usually gather a few miles off the beaches or near the various ship channels. Happy hunting!

Sneaking up to Snook

Another one of Florida’s staple game fish, this backcountry brawler thrives in virtually all parts of the Bay. The elusive Snook is caught anywhere from beaches to docks, mangroves, jetties, and seawalls. Safe to say, it is uniquely flexible in finding itself a nourishing habitat.

An angler holding a Snook in Tampa Bay, with a fly fishing rod resting over his shoulder and water and sky in the background

Although readily available year-round, spring, summer, and fall give anglers the best chance to limit out on Snook. While they’ll still blast your plug every now and again, winter is typically better spent pursuing other species.

For Snook enthusiasts that would rather avoid the summer heat, night fishing is a highly-productive alternative. Snook are nocturnal feeders and they’re very active under the cover of darkness. You’ll typically find them scouting for dinner underneath the dock lights.

To get the most out of Snook fishing in Tampa Bay, go to the beaches, residential docks, and mangrove shorelines for a successful day on the water.

Other Inshore Species

It’s no secret that the “Big 3” garner the most attention from visiting anglers eager to explore Tampa Bay’s inshore fisheries. Still, there are plenty of other line-melting game fish scavenging the Bay.

A fisherman on a boat holding a Speckled Seatout with a fly in its mouth

First up on the list, Spotted Seatrout is quite likely the most abundant sport fish in all of Tampa Bay. Not unlike Redfish, Trout is great to eat and can be found rummaging the shallow flats all throughout the year. They also like drifting to deeper waters (up to 15 feet) during the cooler months.

Sheepshead, another winter bruiser, is best targeted January through March. They can be found underneath the bridges, docks, and nearshore reefs. Ranging anywhere from 1–5 pounds, what they lack in size they more than make up for in being positively delicious.

Everyone’s favorite bycatch, Flounder provides a year-long fishing frenzy. This is one species where double-digit hookups are considered the norm on a good day. Flounder love colder water and you’ll have a great time getting them off the sea bottom. These fish usually grow up to 20 inches, though you can find bigger specimens.

Don’t Forget The Nearshore Superstars

The party doesn’t stop when you step outside the Bay. You’ll find a wide array of species in its nearshore waters, each more fun to catch than the last.

A very happy fisherman holding his catch, a massive King Mackerel

Each year, the bait-rich offshore waterways of the Gulf attract a wide roster of pelagics and other predatory fish. Surface feeders such as King Mackerel, Barracuda, Permit, and Mahi Mahi all prosper throughout the summer months.

Bottom fishermen have their hands full as well. These waters are home to Red Snapper, Gag Grouper, Cobia, Amberjack, Flounder, Goliath Grouper, and plenty of other rock dwellers.

Finally, we can’t talk about fishing in Tampa Bay without mentioning the spectacular Shark action. Bull, Hammerhead, Blacktip, Tiger, and several other Shark species dominate the local waterways.

Types of Fishing in Tampa Bay

There are many ways to catch fish in Tampa Bay, so just about any fishing technique will land you something. If you think this is an exaggeration, try it for yourself!

Although primarily a light tackle fishery, there are plenty of other fishing styles to explore in the Tampa Bay area. If you’re a first-timer, then consider hiring a pro to clue you in and reveal some of the best tricks and tips.

Fishing From Shore

A father and a son standing on a pier, fishing

If you prefer to fish from land, then you’ll have plenty to do in Tampa Bay. The area is full of bridges, piers, and beaches that are perfect for fishing. The waters of the bay are teeming with gorgeous fish and even if you don’t have a boat, you can have an amazing time. If you’re a solo fly angler, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the amount of incredible fly fishing opportunities in the bay.

One of the most popular spots for shore anglers must be the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which separates the bay from the Gulf. Here you can target just about anything – from Snook and Pompano to Grouper and King Mackerel. You can also cast a line in Bishop Harbor for a top-notch Redfish and Trout bite. If you’re into surf fishing, then head out to Clearwater Beach.

But it’s not all just about saltwater fishing in Tampa Bay. Spots like Lake Tarpon and Edward Medard Reservoir are known for their solid Bass fishery, especially in the summer.

Fishing With a Charter

This is by far the most convenient and comfortable option for anglers wanting to make the most of their time on the water. Whatever kind of trip, technique, and fish species you’re after, there will be someone in Tampa Bay to take you out.

Fishing is a way of life in these parts so there are plenty of professional guides ready to show you a good time. From half day excursions and full day adventures to exciting night fishing trips and bowfishing escapades, your only limit is your fishing imagination.

Even if you’re in the mood to go after offshore monsters, you can book a deep sea fishing trip and go hunting for your next trophy. If you’re going after a specific species, there are plenty of captains who run specialized trips. Basically, you’re covered on all bases.

Remember that some fish in the bay have very strict seasons, so it’s best to check-in with your guide and find out what you’re allowed to target during your trip. That way, you’ll know what to expect and prepare accordingly.

Kayak Fishing

Kayak fishing in Tampa Bay – An angler holding a big Snook sitting in a kayak

Kayak fishing in Tampa Bay is a big thing, and it’s easy to understand why. Here, you can find grassy flats, rich backwaters, and calm nearshore waters all in one place – what’s not to like?

Kayakers can squeeze through the mangrove thickets and breeze through the skinniest of waters in search of impressive fish. Inshore favorites like Speckled Trout, Snook, Redfish, Jack Crevalle, and even Tarpon are always in the cards.

If the weather serves you and you’re an experienced kayaker, you can venture further into the bay. There, you can cast your line for superstars like King Mackerel, Cobia, Snapper, and Grouper. Wherever there’s public access to the water, you’re welcome to drop your kayak and start paddling toward your next great catch.

Top Fishing Spots in Tampa Bay

An aerial view of a harbor in St. Petersburg, Florida

There’s no shortage of hotspots that stay productive well throughout the calendar year. Here, we’ll cover some of the area’s most popular fishing destinations to explore. We also might just give you a reason or two to put Tampa Bay fishing at the top of this year’s bucket list.

  • St. Petersburg. You can do just about anything in St. Petersburg. Go fishing from the east side of the city, and you’ll find anything from Redfish and Trout to Tarpon and Sharks. Go west, and the abundant Gulf of Mexico is on your doorstep.
  • Tampa. In Tampa, both freshwater and saltwater fisheries are a stone’s throw away. Saltwater aficionados will love the Sheepshead, Redfish, Black Drum, and Snook action. On the freshwater front, there are plenty of lakes and reservoirs full of Bass and Crappie.
  • Hillsborough Bay. This bay is directly connected to Tampa Bay and offers a wide array of saltwater inshore species like Bluefish, Flounder, Redfish, and Sheepshead. You could also stumble upon Snapper and Grouper species, Mackerel, and Sharks.
  • Clearwater. This is another city that serves as a direct line to both Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico’s fisheries. Target Redfish, Snook, and Tarpon in the bay or set off on an offshore adventure in search of Cobia, Mackerel, Grouper, and Tuna, to name a few.
  • Fort De Soto Park. If you’d like to go after the most popular species in the area – Snook, Redfish, Trout – then this is the place to be. This is a go-to spot for shore anglers, with plenty of wading spots, two piers, and good kayak fishing opportunities.

Fishing Licenses and Regulations

A sign showing that fishing license is required

Before you cast your line in the abundant Tampa Bay, it’s important to get familiar with the local fishing regulations. A lot of species have a specific seasonality (especially Red Snapper and Tarpon), so make sure you’re informed and organize your trip accordingly.

It’s also important to know what kind of fishing license you’ll need. If you’re going fishing with a saltwater guide, licenses are usually included in the price of the trip. Solo anglers need to buy an appropriate fishing license before they head out. If you’re fishing from a pier or a park, check if there’s an additional fee you need to pay to fish legally on the grounds.

For more info on Florida fishing licenses, check out this post on Florida fishing licenses.

The Sky’s the Limit

A gorgeous view of pier and beach in Tampa Bay at sunset

When it comes to fishing in Tampa Bay, if you can dream it, you can catch it. This is the ultimate playground for many sought-after fish species, as well as the anglers eager to catch them.

Top that off with some of the most magnificent sunrises and sunsets anywhere on Florida’s west coast, and you’ve got yourself a one-of-a-kind fishing experience, bar none.

Have you ever been fishing in Tampa Bay? What are your top experiences? Do you have any advice your fellow anglers should know? Let us know in the comments below!

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Comments (36)
  • Gabriel

    Jan 27, 2016

    Thanks for the lesson 🙂

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      Xavier

      Feb 2, 2016

      Thanks for reading!

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  • Allen Osborne

    Jul 1, 2017

    Enjoyed all the information in this article. Our trip will be in February 2018. I normally fish fresh water lakes in several states for bass and specs and have enjoyed many years of fishing Lake Erie for walleye, perch and small and large mouth bass. Looking forward to learning the different spices in and around the bay. God bless and happy fishing Al Osborne.

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      Cat

      Jul 4, 2017

      Thanks for your comment, I’m glad you found the article useful!

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    • Reply icon

      Phil Barrows

      Dec 1, 2019

      I’m going 12/25/19
      How was your trip
      Last year

      Any must do recommendations for a newbie to the area

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      Albert

      Dec 2, 2019

      Hi Phil,

      If you need any help choosing or organizing a charter, feel free to contact our customer service team.

      Either way, I hope you have a great time. Be sure to let us know how you get on.

      Tight lines!

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  • Courtney

    Aug 1, 2017

    I really enjoyed reading this article! Great photos! I had no idea that Tampa offered such great fishing. I have been to Tampa hundreds of times, but I haven’t fished there once. I will definitely put it on my list of things to do for next time I visit.

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  • Randy Scott uni

    Apr 1, 2018

    Like your reading

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  • Gary Brady

    Aug 11, 2018

    Moving to Ruskin area – where are local areas I can flyfish? Is Apollo Beach open for fishing? Your blog is very helpful.

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      Stefan

      Aug 29, 2018

      Hi, Gary,

      Thanks for reading. I’m glad you found the blog useful!

      Ruskin is a great place for fly fishing. You will find shallow waters, mangrove estuaries, grass beds, flats, and backcountry waters. All these spots work great. You can find a consistent Snook, Redfish, and Trout bite.

      You can sure fish the waters around Apollo Beach. There are a couple of power plants with piers, and surf and wade fishing won’t let you down either. You can get Pompano, Jacks, Flounder.

      Locals also fish the EG Simmons Park, the entrance feed used to be about $2. With little bit of luck, you could find monster Reds there.

      Hope this helps.
      If you have any more questions, feel free to reach out.

      Tight lines,
      Stefan

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      TGCarlson

      May 16, 2019

      Around Apollo Beach, I assume the fishing is restricted around the power plant. How accessible is the shoreline. Best flys for pompano and jacks? Also is it worthwhile trolling across the bay to St. Petes. What kind of plugs…
      Nice article, thanks.

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      Sean

      May 17, 2019

      Hello Carlson,

      Thanks for reading, I’m glad you like the article.

      Yes, there is a restricted area around the power plant. The most accessible area around the plant (and the most pleasing to the eye) is the Apollo Beach Preserve.

      For Pompano and Jacks, I would recommend going with weighted flies that imitate jigs that were proven to work, like the Nylure.

      Trolling in the Bay will give you a great chance to catch some Spanish Mackerel. Plugs like Gotcha should work great on them.

      I hope you’ll find this helpful.

      Tight lines!

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  • Ricardo Carmouche'

    Mar 21, 2019

    Can you recommend any great fishing spots where snakes and alligators would not be a concern with kids. Will be vacationing in the Tampa/Land O’ Lakes area in early July 2019. Would prefer fresh water over salt water. Thank you

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      Sean

      Mar 22, 2019

      Hello Ricardo,

      Thank you for reading the blog.

      There are a number of great freshwater fishing spots in the area. If you would like to avoid snakes and alligators, I would recommend going for a bigger lake with a good boat ramp.

      For example, Lake Tarpon is just half an hour away, and is one of the best Bass fishing lakes in Florida. You’ll also have a good chance of landing Bluegill and Crappie.

      Curve Lake and King Lake offer a more serene experience, but it would be worth checking for any recent snake reports once you get there.

      I hope you’ll find this helpful.

      Tight lines!

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      Ricardo Carmouche

      Apr 4, 2019

      Thank you – are you suggesting fishing in close proximity to the boat ramps?

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      Sean

      Apr 8, 2019

      Hello Ricardo,

      Thank you for your reply.

      Not necessarily, you’ll be avoiding snakes and alligators if you venture further out, plus you’ll be able to catch Largemouth Bass during the summer months. You’ll either find them hunting shad in open water, or lurking near structure on the bottom.

      I hope this helps.

      Tight lines!

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  • Leon

    Apr 10, 2019

    This is great information, I use my Tampa Bay fishing chart (https://waterproofcharts.com/product/tampa-bay-area-inshore-fishing-chart-22f/) as a starting point for reference when I head out for some snook or redfish but I will definitely take into account some of your advice next time I head to Tampa for fishing.

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      Sean

      Apr 12, 2019

      Hey Leon,

      Thanks for reading, I’m glad you found it useful.

      That’s a great chart. You can also check this one out, from the myfwc website.

      Tight lines!

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  • Walter

    Aug 1, 2019

    Hi sean i will spent my holiday this year in august in cape coral. I looking for tarpon spots where i can try to catch some one from the beach with my fly rod. Any tips for me ? Thks in advance for your help rgds walter

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      Albert

      Aug 2, 2019

      Hi Walter,

      When will you be visiting?

      The main summer Tarpon season runs May-July, and most of the migratory Tarpon will be leaving over the next few weeks. However, there are always some “hold-over” Tarpon wintering in the area.

      If you’re set on fishing from the beach, you may want to head over to Sanibel – spots like Lighthouse Beach and Knapp’s Point normally produce good fish.

      However, you’ll have a tough time catching Tarpon from shore. The fish are big, spooky, and a challenge to hook at the best of times, so getting close before you make a cast is key.

      On top of that, It’s illegal to remove large Tarpon from the water, so de-hooking a big one can be difficult and dangerous without a boat.

      If you need more information, we’ve got pages on Tarpon fishing in Fort Myers and Sanibel, although they’re more focused on fishing from a boat.

      I hope that helps!

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      Walter

      Aug 2, 2019

      Hi Albert. Thks very much for you support. We will arrive on the 15 th of aug. And leaving 2 weeks later. Of course we will not remove tarpons . So i have already experience to de hook big tarpons from my several trips to tobago. What you mean ” to have pages….” ( sorry for my bad english… Rgds walter

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      Albert

      Aug 5, 2019

      Hi Walter,

      Always happy to help!

      By “pages” I meant that we have guides to fishing in the area, which I linked in my previous comment in case you wanted some more information.

      I’m sure that you’ll have a great time if you have experience handling big Tarpon while wading. The Fort Myers/Cape Coral area is about the best place to catch them in the state!

      Tight lines!

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  • Aura Shafer

    Aug 3, 2019

    I am wanting to learn to fish and looking to see if there are classes for beginners. I live in the area and have tried to go out on my own but with no success. Is there a group i can join or suggestion you can alert?

    Newbie looking to fish!

    Thank you

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      Sean

      Aug 5, 2019

      Hi Aura,

      Thanks for reading.

      The best way to get started is to go out with an experienced fishing guide. Luckily, there’s no shortage of expert captains in the Tampa Bay area.

      Another thing you can do is join a local fishing club.

      I would also recommend reading some of our other blog posts for beginners. This article will have a bunch of useful information for a first time angler.

      I hope you’ll find this helpful.

      Have a good one!

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      Poorfisherman

      Jan 12, 2020

      I’ve been doing a lot of reading. And this really is a great read for fisherman. I know you keep referring to guides that are experienced, but not everyone can afford to pay $300-$600 for a guide. Too bad the people that cant afford it will basically not do too well. Money helps a lot, too bad in dont have any. So ill be just looking for random spots with not much luck. New to the area and with limited time to scout. Seems the good fishing is for yhe wealthy

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      Sean

      Jan 13, 2020

      Hi there!

      You’re right, most fishing guides in the Tampa area charge from $300 upwards.

      I’m sorry to hear that this doesn’t fit your budget, but perhaps you’ll consider this: you can go out on a shared fishing trip.

      This way, you’ll be able to reach all the best fishing spots in the area, but for the fraction of the cost. You’ll probably be able to find a captain charging around $125-150 per person.

      Alternatively, you can try fishing from the shore. Compared to fishing charter, you might be a little limited location-wise, but hey, you won’t be spending a dime.

      I hope this helps.

      Tight lines!

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  • Kris Morris

    Sep 17, 2019

    Hi I’m staying in davenport in April next year
    I would like to do some fishing for grouper jack crevalle etc
    Is there a service where I can get picked up and taken to tampa for my fishing trip

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      Albert

      Sep 18, 2019

      Hi Kris,

      Good question!

      Do you mean a charter service that will pick you up? There are definitely a few that pick clients up in Orlando to fish the east coast, so there may be something similar based out of Tampa.

      I’d recommend getting in touch with our Customer Support team. They can hopefully hook you up with a captain that offers pickup.

      Tight lines!

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  • Lee FIFIELD

    Sep 23, 2019

    Your article was great. I’m moving back to St.Pete after Christmas. I have been gone for 4 years and am so excited to get back fishing my beloved Tampa bay..I lived in St.Pete for 35 years and have caught excellent fish in the bay..great article..thanks

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      Albert

      Sep 24, 2019

      HI Lee,

      Thanks for the kind words, I’m really glad you liked it!

      Congratulations on the move. I bet you can’t wait to get out on the water.

      Tight lines!

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  • Moon baik

    Nov 26, 2019

    Great info~
    We are in orlando and will definitely try out fishing in tampa~

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      Sean

      Nov 27, 2019

      Hi Moon,

      Thanks for reading!

      If you need any help with finding a fishing charter in Tampa, please feel free to reach out to our Customer Service team.

      Tight lines!

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  • Katie

    Mar 17, 2020

    For fishing in the bay off of a dock or kayak, what kind of pole should I use? And what kind of bait?

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      Albert

      Mar 17, 2020

      Hi Katie,

      If you just want one rod for both, I’d go with a 7′ medium-light spinning rod. This will be a good all-rounder wherever you’re fishing, although it will lack the power to bring in bigger fish like Tarpon and Sharks.

      In terms of bait, it again varies by species. However, you can’t go wrong with live shrimp.

      I hope that helps!

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  • ayden franz

    Apr 27, 2020

    Me and my mother are going near tampa by clear water. When i go we rented a house on a canal that leads to the ocean. What are good fish that are in these type of canals and what rod and bait should I use?

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      Andriana

      Apr 27, 2020

      Hey Ayden,

      Thanks for reading and for a great question! Fishing the residential canals is a great way to get your fill of action while staying safe right now.

      There’s a lot of cool fish swimming around canals in Clearwater, including Snook, Redfish, Spotted Seatrout, Saltwater Catfish, maybe even Tarpon, depending on where exactly you are. Still, the most popular catch here are Snook, and they come in various sizes. For this effort, a lot of anglers choose spinning tackle because it’s versatile and easy to use.

      We would recommend using a 7′ spinning rod with fast action paired with a 20 lb braided line. Use a strong 30 lb fluorocarbon leader, to avoid the line being cut off on underwater structures and Snook’s sharp gills. When it comes to bait/lures, live shrimp, scaled sardines, threadfin herring, and pinfish can all be very productive. If you’re using live bait, remember to match the size of the hook to the size of the bait. If you prefer artificial lures, soft plastic baits, plugs, and jigs are a good way to go.

      Have an awesome day on the water and stay safe!

      Tight lines!

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