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Tampa Bay As I Knew It - Part I

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On: Tue, Aug 6, 2013 at 10:07AM | By: Captain Sergio Atanes

Growing up in Tampa Bay in the 50s and 60s had so much to offer when it came to fishing. When we were not going to Boca Grande for the weekends, we spent a lot of time exploring for new spots and there were plenty of places to find. At that time the mindset was to fish offshore; very little attention was given to the inshore areas. While many of our friends concentrated on Grouper and Snapper, my family preferred to fish the inshore waters of Tampa Bay. One of the things that we learned from fishing the area was that we could catch almost all the species that were available in the Gulf of Mexico, except for Snapper and Amberjack.

Taking into consideration that in the 50s and 60s we didn't have the high-speed fishing boats that we have today, it took a lot longer to get to the Grouper spots. Although Grouper could be caught within sight of land and in shallow waters, the advantage of fishing Tampa Bay was the abundance of species of fish that was available within 10 minutes of the shoreline and easily reachable in a small vessel. I remember well the boat my uncle had, which was an old wooden 16-foot hull with a 9.9 Wizard (had no neutral, started in forward gear) outboard motor. Although not as seaworthy as modern boats of today, it did the job for us.

McKay Bay/Hillsborough Bay
The 22nd Street Bridge offered a lot, including Redfish, Speckled Trout, and Sheepshead from the bridge, down the shoreline leading to the old Seabreeze restaurant which had a boat ramp next door, so it made it convenient to fish the area.

The Hillsborough River produced some nice quantities of Snook and Tarpon. I can remember catching Tarpon from the Columbus Drive Bridge shoreline and large Snook under the Hillsborough Avenue Bridge at night, something I wouldn't do today. The Platt Street Bridge was one of the best fishing spots for large Snook and Speckled Trout fishing in the winter, (TECO had a power plant next to the bridge on the river) as the hot water runoff attracted the big fish during cold spells.

Old Tampa Bay
Old Tampa Bay area also had much to offer. Above Courtney Campbell Causeway was the Lopez hole, an area of a big dredge hole that held large Trout all winter long (over the years silt has filled it in). The last little bridge on the Clearwater side of the Courtney Campbell Causeway was a hotspot for Speckled Trout and Redfish for waders during the winter months.

Where the Howard Franklin Fourth Street exit is today there used to be an old crabbers shack and next to it a deep dredge hole that held large Trout all winter long, and to this day is still considered a hotspot for fishing.

Although the hole is not as deep as it used to be, Trout can still be found during the winter months when high pressure systems move in and the tides drop below normal levels. Big Island sits in the same area and to this day holds a fair share of Snook and Redfish all year long.

Gandy Bridge was the main fishing bridge for the Tampa natives, and I remember catching large Speckled Trout, Black Drum, and Redfish at night. We would hang a Coleman lantern close to the water, attracting shrimp and with them plenty of fish. When we were not fishing Boca Grande on any given weekend, Gandy Bridge was our second choice from shore. Boaters would fish the bar (a shallow water strip that extends south between the center span and the St. Pete side of the bridge) well known for the Speckled Trout and Cobia action and is still to this day a hotspot, although not fished much by this generation of anglers.

Yes, Weedon Island did exist in the 50s and 60s, although very few anglers fished the area. You must remember that Snook was considered a soap fish, and not a very edible species. Redfish was also considered trash fish in that era; Trout was the mainstay of Tampa Bay. Port Tampa was also a well-known spot; Grouper could be caught off the rocks, along with common guests such as Seabass, big Key West Grunts, large Redfish, and even Tarpon. Anglers could average at least one Goliath grouper a month in the channel leading into Port Tampa, and I remember fishing from that little 16-foot wooden boat using 3/8-inch anchor line with a large hook, an old sash window weight, putting on one large mullet for bait, tying the anchor line to the stern of the boat, and fishing for Redfish and Grouper while we waited for the Goliath to bite.

Tampa Bay has over 26 wrecks that are listed on the old charts, and some of these wrecks were actually exposed along the shoreline and produced large quantities of Redfish, Snook, Sheepshead, Speckled Trout and Mangrove Snapper. The shallow water wrecks have been covered over the years with silt and sand from the storms, but the deep water wrecks are still there. I fish them for Gag Grouper, Mangrove Snapper, and Grunts during summer months. These wrecks are also home during the winter months for big Sheepshead, Flounder, and Speckled Trout.

Next month I will cover the south end of Tampa Bay with some stories and information most residents and even the locals don't know about.


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