Fishing Artificial Reefs
When I think about fishing Tampa Bay, I think about the miles of backcountry, shallow water flats, oyster bars, creeks, and all other feeding and nursing grounds for Snook, Redfish, Trout and Tarpon. But there are many other species in the deeper part of the bay such as: Grouper, Cobia, Mangrove Snapper, Flounder, Mackerel, and many other species that are fun to catch and a great table fair as well. Most of these fish live around structure areas. These areas are easy to locate with a local chart or GPS with an upgraded chart or chip. Some are marked throughout the bay with yellow buoys, others are not.
Fishing deeper areas that hold structure require a few basic tools that will help locate the ledges and drop offs where the fish live. One on the tools that is the most expensive is a sonar or depth machine. This is very crucial when fishing deeper water; it is your eyes under the water! Combo units range in price from $500 up to $3000 depending on what gadgets and options you want to add. This is something that you don’t want to buy the cheapest unit but you don’t need to go overboard to get a good unit. Search the internet and read reviews before purchasing a unit, this will help you find a unit that will fit your needs and budget.
Once you find structure with your bottom machine it is hard to guess where you will end up once you drop the anchor and judge the wind and tide. This is where a floating marker or jug will come in handy. As you drift or idle over your desired drop off or ledge, throw a jug or marker with a heavy weight and the desired length of line to mark the ledge or spot. This will give you a reference point when trying to get your set in the right position. There are some products on the market that make this easy, one of the products I use are called Jugg It.
Once you have your boat anchored over the ledge or drop off, the next step I like to do is to get a nice chum slick around the boat. You can do this several different ways depending on what you are fishing for. You can hang a chum bag over the side, throw crippled live baits around the boat or cut a bunch of live bait up and throw it around the boat. I like to use Threadfins or Scaled Sardines. This will help bring the targeted fish out of their holes and get them in a feeding frenzy.
Once you have them chummed up and ready to be caught, you have to have the proper rods and rigs. This can vary depending on the size of fish you are catching. I like to use the same rod for bay fishing that I do for flats fishing. I do like to use heavier leader since you are fishing structure and can be broken off. 30lb to 40lb leader will do the job most of the time. When fishing around these areas it is always a good idea to drop a big rod down with heavy leader (60 to 80lb) and you will be ready for the trophy fish. When choosing your hook size, match it to your bait size. I use an Eagle Claw 1/0 circle hook on my smaller rods and on my bigger rods a 6/0 circle hook depending on the size of the bait. If you catching Mackerel switching to a long shank 2/0 hook will reduce your break offs.
Using the basic techniques above is proven ways to fish the reefs and wrecks in Tampa Bay. By spending a little time and finding the right tides that produce fish will make you have great days on the water and dinner on the table.
Captain Jason Prieto is a USCG licensed captain and an active member of the Florida Guides Association and The National Association of Charter Boat Operators.