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Understanding Redfish in Tampa Bay

Redfishing is a popular activity in Tampa Bay, largely due to the redfish’s impressive strength and resistance when caught. Their unique bronze appearance when near the surface makes them easily distinguishable, ideal for sight fishing. Often, these fish gather in large numbers on the flats, offering an exciting shallow water fishing experience. Among the inshore fish in Tampa Bay, Redfish hold a special place, making them a top choice for anglers. Tampa Bay, a vast estuary stretching 25 miles, boasts extensive healthy flats, creating an ideal habitat for Redfish. The presence of abundant Mangrove trees, oyster bars, and grass flats provides ample food sources, making it an angler’s dream, especially with the contrasting backdrop of downtown Tampa’s skyscrapers.

While Redfish are active throughout the year in Tampa Bay, the months from August to October are particularly rewarding. During this period, the larger redfish gather and spawn, making it a favorite time for many. Weather plays a role in fishing, with factors like wind, barometric pressure shifts, water temperature, and tides influencing the catch. However, redfish seem to be more resilient to weather changes compared to other inshore species. Their adaptability is evident as they can be caught even on cooler days, especially around deeper canals and residential docks.

Essential Gear and Tackle

In Tampa Bay, redfish are renowned fighters, especially when fished in the shallows. For optimal results, we use light tackle spinning gear, specifically a StCroix 7’6″ Medium action rod paired with a Daiwa 3000 BG MQ reel. Our recommended line is a 15 to 20 lb braided one, complemented by a 30 lb fluorocarbon leader. This setup, ideal for our charters, effectively handles any redfish on the flats and suits general fishing in the bay. For hooks, we match the size to the bait, typically ranging from 1/0 to 3/0. While live bait is our standard, we often use the 4 horsemen floats to both attract fish and prevent baits from sinking into the grass. A 20 lb strength braid offers a balance between casting distance and strength, especially near bushes or docks. The StCroix Mojo Rod, ranging from 7’6″ to 8 feet, combined with the Daiwa BG spinning reel, completes our preferred gear.

 Bait and Lures for Redfish:

On most of our fishing charters in Tampa Bay, we primarily use live bait. However, occasionally, depending on the season and weather, we opt for artificial lures. Some of our preferred live baits include cutbait, shrimp, greenbacks, and dead threadfins. When it comes to artificial baits, I’m fond of soft plastics such as paddle tails, minnow baits, and jerkbaits. A key tip for using artificial lures is to “match the hatch,” meaning one should observe the local baitfish and choose lures that resemble them. By doing so, you ensure that the presentation of the lure you are throwing is similar to that of the bait those fish are actively eating!

Techniques for Catching Redfish:

Redfish, like many schooling fish, are selective feeders and tend to move frequently. To increase your chances of success, it’s crucial to recognize their patterns, both in movement and feeding habits. When you locate them, take note of the moon phase, tides, water temperature, and season, as these factors can help predict their behavior in the future. It’s also wise to have a mix of both live and artificial baits on hand, as fish preferences can shift daily. If you come across a school of redfish, approach quietly using trolling motors or a push pole to avoid startling them and to get within casting range. Most importantly, attune yourself to the fish’s behavior and respond swiftly. Adopting a fish’s perspective will undoubtedly enhance your catch rate.

Prime Fishing Locations Inside Tampa Bay:

During the spawning months, particularly around the new and full moon king tides, it’s not uncommon to find redfish gathered in large schools on the flats, sometimes numbering in the hundreds. While these conditions are favorable, the true determinant of a successful catch is the habitat. Healthy grass flats and an abundant food supply are essential.

Redfish, like many inshore species, adjust their locations based on seasonal changes and weather conditions. In the winter, targeting residential docks, canals, and the four major rivers flowing into Tampa Bay can yield good results. Come spring and fall, the flats lining Tampa Bay become active with roaming redfish. During the summer, while the outer flats remain populated, the optimal fishing times are either early in the morning or right at sunset.

According to recent study released by the university of Mississippi, we have an amazing lively population of RedFish inside of Tampa Bay. The top locations they have found are as follows:

  1. Mcdill Air Force Base – Unfortunately this area is going to be un-fishable due to the security zone area surrounding the base, but areas around here outside of the security zone may also hold decent quantities of redfish.
  2. Alafia River – One of the best places to catch Redfish is at the mouth and grass flats around the Alafia river. The study showed MANY large concentrations and schools of Redfish in this location.
  3.  Little Manatee River – Another great location is the mouth of the little Manatee River. Another spot for fresh water to dump into the bay, little Manatee river and the surrounding flats regularly hold Redfish of all sizes, especially during the cooler months along that muddy shoreline.
  4. Ft Desoto – Finally the grass flats surrounding Ft Desoto, Boca Ciega bay, and the shallow waters at the mouth of the Bay entrance offer amazing early morning Redfish fishing.

Tampa Bay Redfish Regulations and Ethics:

Currently, redfish are open for fishing with a size limit ranging from 18 to 27 inches per individual. Emphasizing catch and release plays a pivotal role in ensuring the sustainability of our fishery. Proper handling and prompt release of the fish are crucial, and using a dehooking tool can significantly improve the survival rate of smaller fish. The popularity of fishing has surged, leading to increased boat traffic and anglers every weekend. While this growth is commendable, it’s vital to fish responsibly and avoid depleting our beloved resource. I encourage enthusiasts to contribute to the sport and support organizations that advocate for our fishing rights. One such organization I’m proud to be affiliated with is the Florida Guides Association. They, among others, champion our fishing rights and ensure we can continue enjoying our passion. Learn more and consider joining at


About the Author, Captain Jason Prieto

A pinnacle moment in my career was clinching victory at the IFA Redfish tour tournament and subsequently being recognized as Team of the Year. Achieving this was a childhood dream, and realizing it has undoubtedly been a significant career milestone. The daily quest to locate fish schools presents its own set of challenges. However, for those truly passionate about Redfish, dedicating time to understand their patterns and habitats is crucial. While it demands considerable effort, the satisfaction derived from the results makes it all worthwhile.

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