Tampa Bay is one of the most versatile places I have ever fished and I have the pleasure of doing so day in and out. An average day inside the 25 mile long 14 mile wide bay can consist of Snook, Reds and Trout on in the miles of backcountry, Grouper, Mackerel, Cobia and Sharks in the bay, and plenty of Tarpon roaming the outer flats throughout the summer. But one species that really makes for some great summer fishing in one of the most over looked species. That would have to be Mangrove Snapper.
While Mangroves are more commonly known to be an offshore species, (like Grouper) most don’t know the vast schools of Snapper that exist in the bay. Mangrove Snapper move into the bay in the summer months and make for some great fishing. This could not be a better time to target Mangroves since some of our inshore species really slow down. The flats are just down right hot with water temperatures reach 95 degrees some days so fish are moving toward the deeper water and also just seem to slow a bit. This makes for a great time to make the transition to take advantage of our bay and the hundreds of artificial reefs and wrecks. Most of the flats guys out there are used to fishing shallow water and some might want to take the venture into the bay but just don’t know where to start. Well I’m going to give you a few tips that will help you get a start towards one of Tampa Bay’s hidden jewels.
Snapper fishing is somewhat like inshore fishing as far as tackle goes; you typically use the same inshore rods, leader and hooks. I like to go with 20 lb. Ohero Fluorocarbon leader matched with a Daiichi #1 circle hook and 2 #5 split shots to get the bait to the bottom. Some of the best times to target Snapper in Tampa Bay are around the full moon as they seem to be on a mission to eat. Mangroves are just about everywhere in the summer months of July and August; good places to start are Docks, bridges, wrecks, ledges, and ay of your other favorite Grouper spots. While all hold fish I tend to have the best of luck fishing ledges, wrecks and reefs in the bay. The deeper water spots seem to produce bigger fish. While Snapper are known as a smaller fish I have caught some inside of Tampa Bay in exceed of 26 inches. Did I mention they are one of the best fish to eat!
Finding Mangroves snapper used to be a bit more difficult back in the day as these fish are in deeper water so you have to depend on good sonar matched with a detailed chart. Technology has come a long way and most GPS/ Sonar combo units come with detailed charters that are loaded with hundreds of wrecks and artificial reefs in Tampa Bay. This gives you a great advantage to find spots easy and quick. My Lowrance HDS 12 sonar GPS mixed with the all new structure scan allows me not only to find the wreck but its Structure scan shows me a detailed view of what’s down there. Match this with the Rhodan GPS Anchor technology and you have just taken throwing the anchor out of the equation. It’s as easy as fishing the flats.
Last but not least is bait for Snapper. Just like flats fishing your primary bait will be Greenbacks. The nice thing about summer is there is bait EVERYWHERE on the flats. Most bait is very small in the summer so I opt for the 10 foot ¼ inch mesh net some bait doesn’t get stuck. A few good nets to look at are the Calusa and Lee fisher nets. Remember you don’t need to have a heavy net this time of year on the flats. Pick you up some M-80 chum to bring the bait to you and you will be all set.
Captain Jason Prieto is a native resident of Tampa and has fished Tampa Bay and its surrounding waters for the past 20 years. He is owner and operator of Steady Action Fishing Charters which is based out of Tampa Bay. To book a charter, you can reach him at 813-727-9890 or www.steadyactionfishingcharters.com.