Fish & Fishing – Fishing the Sunshine Skyway Bridge

One of the many places in Florida that offer a wide variety of fishing experience is near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa Bay. Officially known as the Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the structure is almost 22,000 feet long and can be a little unnerving for vehicle passengers going on I-275 between St. Petersburg and Terra Ceia in Manatee County. More than 50,000 vehicles travel over it every day.

Built in 1987 to replace an older bridge that was partly destroyed in a ship collision in 1980, the new bridge rises 180 feet over the water. After the U.S. Coast Guard cutter “Blackthorn” collided with a freighter, “Capricorn,” in 1980, 23 Coast Guardsmen lost their lives. One can see a memorial to the “Blackthorn” in a park at the northern end of the bridge. After the cutter was raised, officials decided they could not use the ship again and allowed it to be taken out into the Gulf to be scuttled, after which it became an artificial reef for recreational diving and fishing.

Today, one can find fishermen using the western fishing piers at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, although large trucks, recreational vehicles, and trailers are not allowed. The piers are open 24 hours a day. One can buy fishing supplies, bait and drinks on the piers, as well as free copies of the latest fishing regulations. No alcoholic beverages or pets are allowed on the piers. Promoters of fishing there claim that the approaches to the old bridge are the longest fishing pier in the world, and therefore one can find dozens of anglers there on any given day.

Among the fish species found near the piers are black sea bass, cobia, grouper, king mackerel, pompano, red snapper, sheepshead, snook, Spanish mackerel and tarpon. The usual fee for each car on the piers is $4, plus $4 for each adult. As evidenced in the photo here, one can also find kayakers fishing near the piers as well as boaters in different-sized fishing boats.

The piers may be too high for some fishermen, and so there are many legal spots for those who want to fish from shore. One can find deep channels near those spots, and snook have been known to congregate there. The warmer times of the year are popular for migrating fish.

Because several million people are within driving distance of the piers, those places are popular for many anglers. One can also see fishermen wading along the flats in search of some keepers. When I’ve been there, I have looked up at the vehicles speeding along the bridge high above the water and wondered how many of the passengers look down with envy at the fishermen enjoying a day on, at, or in the water trying their luck to catch some good fighting fish.

Kevin McCarthy, the award-winning author of “South Florida Waterways” (2013 – available at amazon.com for $7), can be reached at ceyhankevin@gmail.com.

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