It’s the time of year when cold fronts are starting to hit the area every week. How does that bode for fishing?
It means almost all inshore species spread out along the entire flats of South Shore area waters tend to migrate to the river mouths that feed into Tampa Bay. If you’re a guy or gal who fishes South Shore on a regular basis and likes to catch snook, reds and trout, the bite doesn’t get any better than this time of year.
The area we call South Shore in Tampa Bay is basically the eastern side of the bay from downtown Tampa all the way south to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. It’s full of mangroves, flats and backcountry fishing areas.
It’s also host to three major rivers that feed into Tampa Bay: the Palm, Alafia and Little Manatee. All play a huge part in our inshore fishery as they are home to many of the game fish we target during the winter. Along with the TECO warm-water power plant, these waters give fish a place to make it through the cold winter.
One species that’s especially dependent on these rivers and the warm-water discharge is snook. Snook are tropical fishes that can’t survive in extreme cold temperatures. In fact they’re one of the most sought-after species in Tampa Bay. They’re not caught much further north due to extreme cold conditions. But here the water temperatures in the rivers stay warm throughout winter. Warmer waters and the fact that this species can survive in fresh water make it possible for us to have a great snook fishery.
These same areas play host to just about every other species, since most are born around them. It’s not uncommon to see juvenile tarpon breaching the surface at sunrise, hundreds of snook hugging the bottom where it’s warmer or redfish running through the hundreds of feeder creeks that line each of these extraordinary fishing grounds. These areas are truly amazing to fish or just stroll in the boat.
One last note to the novice boaters and fisherman out there. If you’re new to South Shore and want to check out these waters, I urge you to go with someone who knows the area. These rivers are very tricky to navigate and some don’t even have channel markers because the Coast Guard has labeled them non-navigable.
This doesn’t mean you can’t go into the area. It just means you need to know what your boat drafts and where to go at what part of the tides. Booking a guide is a good idea – not just for catching fish but to learn the do’s and don’ts of these waters. It will also probably save you a lower unit or two.
Jason Prieto is one of three Ruskin-based fishing guides and charter captains who share this column. He can be reached at (813) 727-9890 or [email protected]