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Pinellas County, Florida.
Tampa Bay ends in Saint Petersburg, Florida.
521597876.10 miles (839430672.01 sq kilometers)
About The Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay is the largest estuary in Florida, covering over 400 square miles (1,000 sq km), creating the shores of Hillsborough, Manatee, and Pinellas counties. It links to the Gulf of Mexico on the west-central coast of Florida and has multiple inflows comprised of hundreds of lesser tributaries. Although its inflows aren’t typically attributed to a single river as its main source, the Hillsborough River is considered the most dominant, followed by the Alafia, Manatee, and Little Manatee rivers. Due to these multiple sources, the bay spans an estimated 2,200 square miles (5,700 km2), touching five Florida counties. Tampa Bay is often a collective term that refers to Hillsborough Bay, McKay Bay, Old Tampa Bay, Middle Tampa Bay, and Lower Tampa Bay.
Underneath the surface, Tampa Bay is predominantly composed of silt and sand, with a shallow depth averaging only 12 feet (3.7 m). Its muddy, shallow waters allow seagrass and an abundance of mangrove wetlands to flourish, where over 200 different types of fish can be found along with multiple other forms of wildlife.
It’s hypothesized that Tampa Bay began as a large freshwater lake fed by natural springs in the area, which then transformed into a bay due to rising sea levels. A sinkhole in the vicinity of its mouth today helped transform a link between the gulf, turning it into an estuary around 6,000 years ago. What is known today as the Manasota culture was believed to inhabit the shores, relying on the bay for sustenance and survival.
Tampa Bay Fishing Description
The general consensus of local anglers is that any of the fish found in the Gulf can also be found in Tampa Bay. Its salt marshes and shallows are so rich that it’s nearly impossible not to reel in anything, even if you’re inexperienced. Most anglers that come here are often after tarpon, redfish, and snook, which has gained fame as the "Big 3". However, other popular catches include flounder, mackerel, ladyfish, cobia, snapper, grouper, snapper, crevalle jack, trout, and king mackerel. What makes this ecosystem so rich and plentiful is the abundance of game fish that essentially feed on each other, creating a system that, for lack of a better term, literally feeds on itself. However, a lot of the resident fish in Tampa Bay, especially those closer to shore and near the flats, also prefer to feed on minnows.
Seasoned anglers often ride out into Tampa Bay armed with a light tackle and come home with a heavy bag. Typically, a 7-foot medium to a medium-light rod with a 1500-3000 reel spooled with 10-20 lb. braided line and a 20-inch fluorocarbon leader of about 12-20 lb should do the trick. Most commonly, you’ll want to go out to the bay in a boat and anchor down near a reef or structure, so first-timers to the area will want to hire a charter. Alternatively, since Tampa Bay consists of shallow flats, fishing in a kayak is also common. It allows you to maneuver through mangroves to reach inshore fish like speckled trout and snook that dwell in skinny water. You can also fly fish from the various bridges, piers, and shorelines in the area, such as Sunshine Skyway Bridge, Bishop Harbor, and Clearwater Beach. Some general areas known to be hotspots include St. Petersburg, Hillsborough Bay, Clearwater, and Fort De Soto Park.
Tampa Bay Seasonal & Other Description
January and February bring the coldest water temperatures in Tampa Bay, so you’ll want to head to the shallow flats of around 4-8 feet of water. When the temperature reaches between 50-60° F, you’ll have your pick from snook, trout, redfish, black drum, sheepshead, trout, and flounder. If you’d prefer to stay on the beaches, you can fly fish and sight fish for false albacore, pompano, and permit using live bait and jigs.
When March comes around, you’ll notice the bites for these fish are more consistent as the water gets warmer, and when it hits 70°F, expect to see kingfish come in schools, a precursor to the official start of tarpon season. By April, the season is peaking, especially offshore, with kingfish, grouper, snapper, mackerel, false albacore, dorado, barracuda, amberjack, sharks, and goliath grouper all biting.
May and June, however, is the best season of tarpon, as they pass close by to the beaches, and as anglers hunt for the silver king, you can snag bull redfish and spawning snook in the shallow flats. Tunny, mackerel, barracuda, and snapper are all over the bay as well.
Minnows are plentiful in August through September, providing food for bull redfish, snook, and trout in the shallows, and as October comes around, the usual suspects of the Big 3 and kingfish are starting to migrate. Anchoring near a reef in offshore waters is best during this month, with the best weather of the entire year. You'll find your usual offshore game, and if you’re lucky, maybe even a sailfish. As the waters start to get colder towards the end of the year, expect the resident fish to retreat to backwaters, although both inshore and offshore fishing remains excellent.
Tampa Bay Fishing Charters & Fishing Guides