Redfish (Sciaenops ocellatus) are one of the most popular and frequently sought after game fish in not just Florida but all along the gulf coast. In Tampa Bay, redfish are most commonly targeted along the shallow grass flats, mangroves and oyster bars that riddle the bay. Their primary forage includes small bait fish (scaled sardines, pinfish, chubs, mullet, etc) and various crustaceans. The average size redfish in Tampa Bay is roughly 4-5 pounds or about 24″ long. In the Tampa Bay area, the legal slot size for these fish is between 18 and 27″, anglers are limited to keeping one redfish, per person, per day. Once these fish reach lengths of 27″ or greater they become part of large schools of breeder fish that spend most of their lives offshore, coming inshore briefly during the spring through fall. Redfish can be targeted year round, with each season offering a variety of unique opportunities to target them.
Redfish can be very spooky at times, and are often found in very shallow water. This makes targeting them from a kayak ideal, because of the stealth kayaks provides. Sight fishing for redfish is one of the most exhilarating things a fishermen can do in Tampa Bay. Being in a kayak will provide anglers with ample opportunity to do this, whether it be sneaking up on a tailing fish or chasing a school of several hundred fish. Being in a kayak will also allow anglers to target redfish in areas others simply cannot. Low tides, especially those in the winter, will leave Tampa Bay grass flats bare and dry. Redfish, amongst other species, will become trapped in potholes that are unreachable unless in a kayak. No matter the season, you can expect to find consistent redfish action from kayaks in Tampa Bay!
Snook (Centropomus undecimalis) is another one of Florida’s most sought after game fish. Snook are a tropical cies of fish found all along the gulf coast, but in their greatest numbers in South Florida and even further south into the Caribbean. In Tampa Bay snook are targeted a number of ways depending on the time of year. Because snook are a tropical species of fish, their habitat is greatly influenced bythe time of year (temperature). During cooler months you can expect to find snook hunkered down to avoid the cold in deep rivers, marinas, warm water out flows, etc. Likewise during warmer months you will likely find snook all along the Inter Coastal Water (ICW), grass flats, major passes and beaches. In the spring, snook will emerge from the winter haunts and migrate out to beaches and passes where they will take up residence until the end of summer. It is during these months (June-August) that snook will spawn, until the first signs of the next coming winter when they will again migrate back into the more protected, warmer waters they need for survival. Snook feed heavily on baitfish including sardines, herrings, pinfish, grunts, mullet, chubs, etc but can also be taken on crustaceans like shrimp and small crabs. Snook in Tampa Bay can grow to be as long as 4 feet or better, but the average size fish is usually 22-26″ or 3-5 pounds with the slot size being 28-33″, although snook season is indefinitely closed along the west coast of Florida, which includes the Tampa Bay area. Like redfish, snook can be targeted year round. However, snook fishing is less productive in the winter time when these fish become very lethargic and go into a form of hibernation. Snook fishing can be very productive during the spring-fall, providing consistent catch and release action.
Speckled sea trout (Cynoscion nebulosus) is the most abundant and easily target species of the “inshore three” (snook, redfish, and trout). But what don’t let that fool you, there is a great amount of skill involved with successfully targeting speckled trout, particular larger “gator” trout (see picture below). Fall-Spring is the best time of year to target large trout. The cooler water temperatures bring large fish up onto the grass flats where kayak anglers can easily target them. Using large topwater and subsurface plugs in shallow water is a good bet to hook into a gator trout. Soft plastics will work well, but if you want to catch the larger sized fish, you will need to use a larger sized bait. Trout are a schooling species, and often can be caught in tremendous numbers when a school is located. During warmer months when the average sized fish is smaller, water in the 3-6 ft range is where you can be sure to find the best action. When artificials are not producing, live shrimp under a popping cork are hard for a trout to turn down. Sea trout can be targeted all through Tampa Bay, in a number of different scenarios including docks, beaches and grass flats. These fish’s great abundance and wide range make them a very popular species to target. Sea trout also make for great table fare with regulations allowing for anglers to keep four fish per day between 15″-20″ with one fish over 20″ allowed to be harvested. There is however a closed season for speckled sea trout in the SW region of Florida between the months of November and December.