Tampa Fishing Calendar A Guide for what kind of fish is expected to be biting in the Tampa Bay and Sarasota area throughout the year.
January brings the coldest water temperatures of the year into Tampa Bay and Sarasota Bay. It can be a great month to fish. Captain Matt pays very close attention to the water temperature at this time of year, which makes or breaks a good charter captain during this month. The water temperature can vary greatly from 52 to 70 degrees this month. If it warms up into the mid 60s, the Captain’s charters are catching Snook and Trout on the shallow flats. If it goes to the low 60s and 50s, his charters are catching and targeting more Redfish, Black Drum, Sheepshead, Trout and Flounder on the end of the flats in 4 to 8 ft. of water. Believe it or not, those real cold days that people fear most make for some of the best fishing days of the year. The fish drop off deeper and they congregate in larger tighter schools. If you know where they go in these conditions, as the captain does, it is game on. This month is also a good month near shore for Bay Grouper fishing and Snapper fishing. The Amberjacks are biting good the lesser are in closer the greater Amberjacks are further out starting around 15 miles. The beach can make for some good fly fishing for False Albacore and Blue Fish in massive schools. The Pompano and smaller Permit can also be thick in the bay near the beaches this time of year. Although not consistent from year to year, when they are here, it can be great fun on live bait, jigs and flies.
February fishing can vary a lot from year to year depending on the winter. Sometimes a large part of the month can be spent fishing deeper for the Redfish, Black drum, Sheepshead which are peeking, or Trout and Flounder if the water is cooler. Some years the Captain’s flats charters spend the entire month hammering the Snook in ultra shallow water. As the month progresses and the water warms, generally I get into that shallow water Snook pattern. We get Trout and Reds mixed in with the Snook. February can be some of my best days of the year for shallow water sight fishing. The Snook will actually sun themselves in less than 2 ft. of water. The Captain showers the shallow flats with some fresh live chum and the fish go wild. Whether his fishing charters are using live bait or a fly, a lot of the fish can be seen grabbing the bait. Sometimes they bite as fast as you can get the bait out there. The explosion of fish hitting the chum, hitting the bait and hooked fish leaping in the air can be unbelievably exciting. It can also be a good month for some larger Snook in deeper water around structure. The Captain always puts a few bruisers in the boat this time of year. Offshore fishing is very similar with mostly bottom fishing for Grouper, Snapper, and Amberjacks.
This month is one of Captain Matt’s favorite charters fishing months for Snook in Tampa Bay. The Captain says it’s a pretty relaxing month for him because there is little guess work from day to day. At this time of the year his charter trips are chasing Snook, Redfish and Trout on the shallow flats. The water is warm enough for this pattern to be very consistent, and there is unlikely to be a cold front that is going to change things. This is a great month for regular catches of a large number of Snook. Captain Matt has had days of catching over 100 snook or more in March and routinely days of 50 or more. They make easy targets for the beginner or expert, whether it is on live bait or fly. The Redfish are mixing in thicker with the Snook. Some days are spent fighting as many Reds as Snook. Some larger Snook are also feeding heavily in the shallow water in March as well. Trout fishing is also great this time of year. Some real monsters can be caught that are mixed in with the rest of the fish. Drop off toward the edge of the flat in March, and Matt’s charters catch all the trout they want. Captain Matt admits though that he doesn’t target Trout as much just because the Snook and Redfish bite is so readily. As the month progresses so does the offshore fishing. Up until now it’s been mostly bottom fishing. When the Gulf’s core water temperatures start to hold above 70 degrees, the Kingfish start to move in it. A lot of time these early Kingfish are in schools made up of larger fish up to 40 plus pounds. Captain Matt’s best Kingfish charter landed a 50 pounder in March. Of course there are always some Grouper and Snapper hanging around the same area to make up a mixed bag. Amberjacks are also available. March also marks the start of Tarpon season. This is the month the Captain always put his first early season Tarpon in the boat. These are all resident fish running from 50 to 200 pound that are found around bay area bridges and structures. Though it is not prime Tarpon season, the Captain has hooked as many as 10 full grown Tarpon in a day in March. This time of year is a good time to spend early morning hours chasing Tarpon and then heading to flats for Snook and Redfish. As a bonus we always come across some large Cobia cruising the flats in search of crab or pinfish. So you never know when you are going to come home with a 20 to 40 pounder or maybe larger.
April leaves Tampa Bay charter captain Matt Ercoli with a lot of decisions including which direction to start, what to fish for, inshore or offshore, flats or Tarpon. Things are hot everywhere, and any kind of fish that can be caught in the area is available this time of year. The offshore fishing is smoking as fast as the flats fishing. Captain Matt’s charters are chumming up massive schools of Kingfish of all sizes. Mixed in the chum slick are Grouper, Snapper, Mackerel, False Albacore, Dorado, Barracuda, Amberjack, Sharks and Goliath Grouper. On some charters the captain spots a dead albacore or mackerel dropped down on 200 pound tackle, and the bait won’t even make it to the bottom before your setting the hook on a Goliath Grouper 200 to 500 pounds. Some of these same reefs can also have some superb Permit fishing with larger ones breaking 40 pounds. Captain Matt has even landed a few Sailfish this time of year. The offshore fishing can also be red hot, but just as good is the flats. Snook and Redfish are all over the flats this month in all sizes. There are monster Trout up to 30 inches mixed in with them. The resident Tarpon are feeding more as their metabolism heats up. Giant Cobia can still be found on the shallow bars along the flats. Fishing is generally excellent everywhere.
Tarpon fishing is the best way Captain Matt describes the month of May. May 1st traditionally marks the beginning of the migration of Tarpon in these parts. Thousands of Tarpon flood into the Bay, local passes and along bay area beaches. This is the time of year Captain Matt switches into Tarpon mode, his favorite time of year. Captain Matt changes his boat set-up for sight fishing massive schools of Tarpon, because this is what he will spend over 90 percent of his days doing for the next three months. An average day of Tarpon fishing is 5 to 10 hooked on the better days with more this month. They are all full grown Tarpon as large as 200 pounds. The captain likes May because the boat pressure is light making it much easier to set up on the fish properly. It’s also a good month for his fly fisherman for this reason. Although Tarpon are Matt’s main agenda he is not against taking advantage of all the other good opportunities. Snook are starting to spawn and it’s a good time for a big one, which are in generous numbers. There are plenty of Trout on the deeper grass edges. The Redfish can be found in large schools many times larger than 30 inches. Large Permit can be found on the beaches and offshore. Still, plenty of Grouper and Snapper in the bay and close in offshore. There is also some massive Cobia on the beaches at this time. Let’s not forget the Sharks either, they are out there thick by May, and there are some huge ones. The largest are the Hammerheads reaching over 17 ft long and 1200 pounds plus.
Tarpon fishing is again Captain Matt’s priority this month. At this point Tarpon are everywhere. There are Tarpon on the beaches, Tarpon in the passes, Tarpon in the Bay and sometimes some huge schools offshore. Captain Matt has been in full Tarpon status for over a month. When June arrives, he is already a couple of hundred Tarpon hookups deep into the season. Captain Matt uses all of his skills as a fisherman and stays totally concentrated to produce Tarpon each and every day. A few days out of the month he gets a break from all the Tarpon fever to run some charters targeting other species. With many anglers Tarpon fishing now it takes a lot of pressure off other species. June is a great month to hook up a monster spawning Snook. Is also a good time to sneak up on a large school of Bull Redfish in the shallows of Tampa and Sarasota Bays. All summer long there are lots of trout for fast action. Large Snapper are all over the bay. The Grouper are moving further off shore but are still readily available. Permit can also be found in the passes and offshore. There is all of the Tunny, Mackerel, and Shark in the Bay and offshore you want. Of course, you can’t forget the Goliath Grouper.
This month is Captain Matt’s last but certainty not least month of Tarpon fishing during the migration. The Tarpon schools can be massive this month. Sometimes every fish from one of our areas large passes are running together. The schools of fish are more spread out at times, but they are traveling together in literally acres. Sometime you can be right smack in the middle of a school and see them rolling in every direction for a couple hundred yards. Even the Captain gets excited. Sometimes it lasts until the end of the month, and sometimes only until the third week, and then “poof” the migration is gone. Captain Matt takes advantage of the Tarpon right up to the very end. Once the migration is gone; it is back to the Bay area resident fish. July is also a good month for spawning Snook. Redfish are still plentiful on the flats. Trout can be caught by the hundreds. Snapper are in the Bay thick. Mackerel are easy to catch. The Grouper and Red Snapper are biting, but quite a ways offshore. In closer, you can find plenty of Mackerel, Tunny, Permit, Barracuda and Shark.
August is a hot month for fishing in Tampa Bay. The bait has spawned out and there are millions of tiny minnows all over the area’s flats; the fish are gorging on. August is one of the very best months for catching Bull Redfish in shallow water. Matt and his charters stalk large schools made up of hundreds of Redfish as they wake across the flats. Most of these Reds are over 30 inches, sometimes as large as 40inches. They make awesome targets for light tackle and fly fishermen. When the Captain chums them into range, the action can be as fast as you can hook them. Snook are also all over the place feeding on the spawning bait and are very easy to catch. Trout are on the deepest grass flats and can literally be caught by the hundreds. Snapper are in the Bay along with plenty of Mackerel and Tunny. There are also plenty of sharks to catch in the bay, and they are feeding quite readily. The offshore action is 20 miles out and beyond, but the action can be great for Grouper, large Snapper and Dorado. There is also some good sight fishing for Tarpon in the backwaters of the bay and around area bridges can be quite good as well.
September is much the same as August. We are still in the hot summer patterns. Snook comes to season on the first so you can keep some if you like. There are Lots of large Redfish and plenty of good size eating Trout on the flats. Tarpon fishing is can still be good around the bridges. By the end of the month you may see some large schools of Tarpon heading down the beach, which can be some fast action. Mackerel are everywhere as well as Snapper. The offshore bottom fishing is good for grouper and snapper 15 to 30 miles with schools of dorado nearby as well. The Amberjack fishing is starting to really heat up out there in the deep. September is a nice time to be on the water; there is light fishing pressure and great fishing.
October is one of Captain Matt’s favorite months of the year. The weather is perfect, the fishing is great and the boat pressure in light. This is a transition month; the water is cooling, and patterns are altered as fall begins. October is much like the month of April; water temps are similar and fish are heading to the same areas. It’s one of those months where there is so much good action it is tough to decide which direction to head. Inshore the Snook are feeding great; there are lots of Redfish all over the place, and the larger Trout are getting easy to catch. The Grouper are moving in closer offshore, and the Snapper are mixed up with them. October is also the beginning of the Kingfish migration. Large schools of Kingfish are moving down the coast from up north. The action is fast and this is one of Captain Matt’s favorite fish to target. When anchored on a reef offshore in October, you are liable to catch Kingfish, Tunny, Mackerel, Grouper, Flounder, Snapper, Amberjack, Permit, Sharks, Dorado, and maybe even a Sailfish all in the same spot. It’s a great time to be offshore. Tarpon also have their months this time of year. Although not as consistent as the summer migration, there is a south bound migration on the beach that lasts for a few weeks in the fall. Many times they are mixed with large schools of bait feeding along side of Mackerel, Tunny and Bluefish. The tarpon are on the bite when the captain finds them like this and the fishing can be very good.
November is another great month to be fishing in Tampa Bay and the Sarasota area. November is much like October for the first part of the month. The fish on the flats are starting to get further up in the backwater preparing for winter. It’s a good month for Snook and Redfish on the flats with some nice large Trout mixed right in with them. This is another month where in spots on the flats, you are liable to catch a large Snook, Redfish, Trout, Jack, some Ladyfish and Flounder. There can also be some good eating Pompano around the edges of the grass flats. The offshore fishing is also good close in. Most of the best fishing is within 10 miles. Kingfish, False Albacore, and Mackerel are close offshore and in the Bay. The Grouper fishing is really good this month, and many times it’s better in the bay than it is offshore. There are plenty of Snapper to catch as well mixed in with the Grouper offshore. The Amberjack fishing can also be great this month if you run a little further out to the spring holes. Much like October the Captain likes November charters for the great weather, great fishing and the lack of boats on the water. It’s just a very relaxing month to be on the water.
Well, just because winter is in the air it doesn’t mean this isn’t a great time to be on the water in Florida. Captain Matt loves Tampa Bay fishing in these conditions. One day high air temperature might be 80 the next could be 60. Nonetheless the fish are still biting, and it feels so refreshing on the water. While everyone is rushing around buying Christmas presents the Captain and his fishing charters are out slaying the fish in their quiet backwater retreats. The Red fishing can be exception this month especially for good size keepers. Also mixed in with Redfish are nice eating size Black Drum, Sheepshead and Flounder. There is also plenty of Snook biting on the warmer days. Pompano make for great action especially if you like fly fishing. Offshore the Grouper and Snapper action is hot. Much like November you don’t have to go out far for great offshore action. Many times Captain Matt’s Tampa Bay fishing charters can catch a limit of grouper no further than 10 minutes from the dock. Head a little further offshore and there is plenty or action on the lesser and greater amberjacks to catch. There can also be some great days on the beaches for False Albacore and Bluefish crashing the glass minnows. Sometimes the Pompano and Permit are riding the surf as well. The fly fishermen really appreciate the beach action this time of year. December is a great month inshore and offshore. So get your Christmas shopping done quick so you can get out on the water and enjoy it. Don’t forget the Captain offers gift certificates as well for your favorite fishing pals.