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On the Rocks, Please! How to Catch Fish on Tampa Bay's Rocky Bottom

Bait Fish in Tampa BayWe are so lucky to live in an area that is one of the largest estuaries in the state.  I like to say that I live in a nursery.  In the spring there are a lot of “baby fish” out there, but that’s not what I’m targeting…well, not exactly. When baby fish are present, that means big, breeder females and predators are close by. Now, those are what I’m targeting!
The reason we have so many baby fish is that Tampa Bay area has a lot of rocky habitat – the perfect habitat for small fish. This “bait magnet” is an attractant for baitfish which include scaled sardines, threadfin herring, Spanish sardines, and glass minnows.  And since we have so many baitfish, in come the predators such as spotted seatrout, black sea bass, redfish, snook, flounder, grouper, cobia, tarpon, mangrove snappers, sheepshead, bluefish, Spanish and king mackerel, permit and pompano. All of these predators stop by the rocky area for a tasty baitfish snack and this is where we come in. Play the rocks right and those predators can be yours. Here are some of the secrets that I’ve learned from years of fishing Tampa Bay’s rocky bottom.

Use a Jig

I like using artificial lures and because the jig is so versatile, produces so well, and can attract a huge variety of fish, these are my “go-to” lures.  They can be fished to imitate a crustacean that crawls on the bottom or cranked through the water and twitched to imitate a small baitfish.

Troll the Surface

Perhaps the easiest type of fishing for fish breaking on the surface is trolling.  While planers and downriggers will allow fishing in other parts of the water column, they can be a hassle, so I stick to flat lines most of the time.  Most areas of rocky, hard bottom in lower Tampa Bay are in depths ranging from 6 to 20-feet deep.  The upper third of the water column is where I’ll troll flat lines.  Flat lines are those with little to no weight that are pulled on the surface in the wake of your vessel at three to five miles per hour.  Spoons like the Clark Spoon Squid in a size matching the baitfish that are present work very well, as do soft plastic jigs like the CAL Shad.  Shallow running crank baits like Bombers, Rapala X-Raps, and MirrOlures are fine producing lures when fish are on top, but a slower trolling speed is usually necessary for crank baits.

Fish Subsurface and the Bottom

When it comes to fishing subsurface, where baitfish that suspend in the mid-portion of the water column, lures like the MirrOlure Catch 2000, MirrOdine, Rapala Twitch N’ Rap, and DOA Deadly Combo effectively attract fish in the 3-to 6-foot depth range.
At times when baitfish hold on or near the bottom, I go to sinking lures like the TTR MirrOlure, DOA Shrimp, or CAL Jig with a Shad tail, particularly when I’m looking at fishing 6-feet and deeper.  Jigs are probably the most versatile and can be reeled at varied speeds to control depth.  Using a jig head with more or less weight will also allow the lure to sink either more slowly or quickly to get to the depth range you’re looking to fish.
While fishing rocky bottoms, you’ll experience some snags that will cost you some lures, but with all the fish you’ll be catching, a few lost lures will be well worth it.
So if you want to find some productive fishing in lower Tampa Bay, you need to look no further than the bottom to find some of the best spring fishing this area has to offer.