Looking to Catch Fish in Tampa Bay?
Here are insights from an experienced local Captain
One of the best benefits of owning a boat in the Tampa Bay area is being able to head out on the waters in search of a perfect day of fishing. Whether you are located at a marina or local boat ramp the search for the ideal location takes experience and expertise that sometimes takes years to cultivate. Over the last few years the weather patterns and more windy conditions have caused many fishing trips to be cancelled so the need to adjust our fishing techniques has become even more important.
Raised in Tampa, Captain Sergio Atanes has over 45 years of experience fishing the local waters of West Central Florida. Operating as a full-time captain since 1980, his depth of knowledge, patience, and sense of humor makes a day on the water enjoyable for everyone from novice to expert. We caught up with “Captain Sergio” as he is known by all in the fishing and boating community to gather some of his expert advice on how to have a successful fishing trip in and around Tampa Bay during the Fall and Winter months.
When are the best times to fish?
Captain Sergio: “My experience for the best time to fish has been from sunrise to 10 am, depending on cloud cover. On cloudy days you can stretch it a couple of extra hours and on bright sunny days, maybe less. Once the sun’s rays start to warm the water, the fish tend to move towards the outer edges of the channel and even into deeper flats to feed and return at sunset.
Things to take into consideration are water temperature and tides. The lower the water temperature, the better the bite. Combined with low tides you have the perfect ingredients for a successful fishing trip.”
“The low winter tides, due to high pressure systems, force fish into deeper, warmer waters for self-preservation. This will then give the angler the advantage!”
What are some tips on where and how to increase your chances of catching fish in windy conditions?
Captain Sergio: “Here are few good areas to explore during windy conditions.”
“Docks make the perfect spot to hide from the wind and catch fish. Here is what we have structure, depth, and warmer water. The docks take in the sun’s rays and act as a radiant heater. This increases the water temperature to as much as 3 to 4 degrees higher than the surrounding water.”
“Concrete Sea Walls act as a heater with the help of the sun. Ever notice how many fish you see swimming along many seawalls during the winter months? It is simple. The water temperature tends to be 2 to 4-degrees warmer, thanks to the rays from the sun heating the concrete and creating a highway of warn water for them to travel through.”
“Find the cuts or small channels used by boaters with grass or rocky edges. As the tide drips with winter negative tide, the fish need to find refuge in warmer water.”
“Look for man made or natural Dredge Holes or Bomb Holes caused by natural water movement. Fort DeSoto still has many bomb holes from the early 50’s when the area was used as a bombing range. Weedon Island also has several nice deep holes if you take the time to look for them.”
“Rivers and Creeks are all good sources of warm water during the fall and winter months. The decaying leaves and dark muddy bottom help to increase water temperatures.”
What are some techniques fishing around Power Plants?
Captain Sergio: “I have two methods for fishing the power plants. The first method is where I work my way as far up as I can towards the hot water runoff and start a slow drift using a light jig head with live medium shrimp hooked from the tail. Slowly bounce the jig head along the bottom for flounder and sheepshead. The good thing about doing this, is that if you see a manatee, there is a good chance a cobia could be hanging around it. Be careful not to cast too close to it. Let the cobia come to you and in most cases they will.”
“The second method is to find a spot where the water tends to swirl and try to anchor. If you are lucky enough to own a trolling motor with a spot lock, use it to keep you stationary. I like to use a #4 split shot about six inches from the hook. A 2/0 circle hook works great. Cut the tail off the shrimp and thread the hook from the bottom up through the back part of the tail. Make sure the shrimp are of medium size. There are some places that tend to have smaller size medium shrimp. In this case, I recommend moving up to a large shrimp.”
What are some productive fishing areas around Tampa Bay during the Fall and Winter Months?
North Part of Tampa Bay:
- Double Branch
- Channel A
- Rocky Creek
- Allen’s Creek
- Big Island
Gandy Bridge South:
- Radio Tower north St. Pete side of Gandy Bridge
- Rocks on south side of St. Pete Side of Gandy Bridge
- Under Gandy Bridge look for ruble from the construction of the new bridge years ago
- Getaway Channel (water is always a several degrees warmer due to Power Plant out flow)
- Riviera Bay
- Rocks off Albert Whitted Airport
- Mouth of Hillsborough River
- Docks and rocks along Harbor Island
- 22nd Street bridge McKay Bay
- Apollo Power Plant
- Little Manatee River
- Cockroach Bay
- Bishops Harbor
“Believe it or not, some of the big Snook have been caught during the winter months while fishing for Sheepshead and Trout using live shrimp. Three best reefs are Port Tampa, St. Pete in front of the old Million Dollar Pier, Apollo Beach and Port Manatee reefs.”
What is the best bait to use in the Fall and Winter?
Captain Sergio: “I have found that live shrimp is the over-all best bait for late fall and winter fishing. I would say December through early March.
Fiddler crabs are second on my list. During the winter months, not only are they a favorite of sheepshead but redfish as well. Some of the best winter fishing is trout, sheepshead and redfish which have no problem chumping down on a free lined live shrimp.”
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More about Captain Sergio
Raised in Tampa, Capt. Sergio Atanes holds a 100 Ton USCG Master Captain’s license and has over 45 years of experience fishing the local waters of West Central Florida. Capt. Sergio started a fishing school in 1992 that has graduated over 5,000 students. He has also been on ESPN radio offering helpful fishing insights for over 18 years and has an Hispanic television show on America TV and Mega TV covering all the major markets in the USA and South America.