On The Salt of Tampa Bay
On the wind was a tangy salty smell as we prepared to launch our yaks. There was a westerly breeze about 4 knots gusting to about 8-10 knots per hour carrying the smell of the bay with it. Dawn’s pink light was fast brightening into full daylight as we set out for some oyster bars to try our luck for red fish, sea trout, snook and anything else that wanted to be caught.
We paddled steadily for about 30 minutes until we got situated among several oyster bars and along some mangrove-lined channels. I had some live shrimp in a small bait bucket that I wanted to try first. I baited up, made a cast of about 40 feet to the lee end of a mangrove channel into about 4 feet of water. I let the bait settle then began to twitch the rod tip erratically. Suddenly there was heavy tug on the line. I waited until I felt a second tug then set the hook! The battle had begun!
I played this fish using my rod and the experience of many years as my weapons. It was not long before I saw a nice size red fish breaking the surface close to the yak as I hauled it in. It was a keeper at 21 ½”! After unhooking the fish I placed it into my cooler bag on ice then I re-baited, cast gain into the same area and proceeded to fish again. It was a long 8-10 minutes before I felt any action on the bait. I again played the game and was rewarded with yet another red fish slightly smaller than the first one. This one I released to grow larger.
I paddled over near a point where 2 oyster bars almost met. There was a gap between them of about4-5 feet in width with a channel about 3 feet deep leading out to some grass flats. I baited up with yet another live shrimp, removed the sinker form the line and cast out into the tidal flow. The flow carried my shrimp out over the grass flat. It did not take long before I felt a tug and knew that something was interested. I felt the line tighten and set the hook. It did not take long to reel in my first speckled sea trout! Yes indeed, it was a great day to be alive and on the water!
My buddy, Pat, paddled over and he too began to fish the flat. He reeled in a nice flounder after a short scrap. He was using his live shrimp as well. He pointed out a disturbance on the surface near the far edge of the flat where a deep channel cut through leading over to a boat ramp some 500 yards away. We watched the spot and decided that it was a school of pompano feeding on the grass shrimp. We baited up paddled over Ito that vicinity and began to fish in earnest for some of these tasty battlers. I caught 3 pompano within a 10 minute period and Pat caught some of these tasty fish as well. We then decided to head over to the warm water outflow from the power plant across the inlet.
As we paddled up to the breakwater on the west side of the outflow we saw several large shapes lurking along the edge of the channel. I switched baits to a top water plug, a 4” Rappala gold minnow. I cast this and began to play it along the edge of the breakwater. After my 5th cast I saw a lurking shadow make a run at the plug. It was a snook! It hit the plug then battle was on once again! It took me some time to horse this fish in into reach of my net. Using ultra-light spin cast equipment calls for more skill and finesse than using regular sized tackle. Once I had the snook in the net I released it since they are not in season now. We fished the outflow for about an hour. During that time I caught & released several red fish and another small snook.
We paddled away from the outflow and went out to a channel marker where the water is about 30 feet deep. There we switched over to frozen squid and began to bottom fish hoping find some gag grouper. We fished for about 20 minutes with no success so we paddled over under the causeway bridge and tried more bottom fishing. After releasing several sail cat fish I decided to go back to the grass flats.
Back on the flats the tide starting go out. I fished the flats with the remaining live shrimp and caught several more sea trout, some large whiting and a flounder. By then it was getting hot. The thermometer I keep in my tackle bag showed 98 degrees. Time to head in, get cool, clean the catch and head for some breakfast! As always being on the salt, in my yak, with fish on the ice made for a great time and some good exercise!
Copyright © 2009 Donald R Houston, PhD. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.