One of the cool things about living in Central Florida is that we are equidistant from either coast. Wanna go to the beach? It’s an hour or so to the east or west. Lately, we’ve been taking full advantage of our geographical position to take fishing day trips.
Recently, we visted Skyway Pier Park on the west coast of Florida near St. Petersburg. The park was created when the new Sunshine Skyway bridge was built and the old bridge was partially dismantled, leaving the north and south ends as perfect perches for fisherman. We enjoyed sharing the pier with pelicans, herons, and Floridians of every color and ethnicity, which is another thing I love about our state – its bio-diversity. Bridge fishing was new to us, but we caught a mixed bag of a small snapper, grunts, a shark, and a Spanish mackerel. It may have been first-timer’s luck, but we seemed to be the only ones pulling up fish during our 4-8:30 p.m. visit.
Skyway Pier Park tips: Bring food, a cooler of drinks, and shade umbrellas. The sun is pretty intense coming off the concrete. The bridge is about 15 feet above the water, so gear up accordingly. Daddy Rooster suggests using heavier test line and weights to get your lines down to the sea bottom, especially during incoming and outgoing tides. A bridge net also comes in handy for bigger fish. Live bait can be bought at the Skyway Pier Bait Shops or caught from the pier using a cast net. A 24-hour fishing pass costs $4 per adult ($2 per child) and can be used at either end of the park.
Hope springs eternal in my fishing family, so looming storm clouds did not deter us the next weekend from driving to Lighthouse Point Park on Florida’s east coast. Poised at the convergence of the Halifax River with the Atlantic Ocean, the park is an ideal spot for redfish, tarpon, and sheepshead. But rock jetties jut out into the inlet and oyster beds line the salt marshes, making fishing a bit tricky.
Daddy Rooster always scouts new locations before unloading all his gear and readying the kids’ lines. This time he determined that only the older girls and he would be able to navigate the sharp rocks and choppy waves. While the younger children scampered among the rocks collecting sea urchins, shells, and snails, I set up my beach chair and enjoyed a homemade margarita from the cooler. Sure enough, Daddy Rooster cast one time, got snagged on submerged rocks, and barely untangled before a thunder storm hit. But the spot is hot, the big girls caught a snapper nearly every time they cast.
Lighthouse Point Park tips: Get bait near the A1A Causeway. There aren’t any shops near the park. The rocks, salt marshes, and fast tidal changes make for great fishing, but moderate skill is needed. Wear good wading shoes to avoid nasty cuts. Bring your own food and drinks. Nothing but vending machines in the park. Parking is $5 cash. For a great side trip, Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is right around the corner.
This week, we headed east again, but this time to Jetty Park, near Cape Canaveral on a tip from one of Daddy Rooster’s colleagues. Family-friendly fishing, he’d said, and it was! The park has a 1,200-foot fishing pier and a great beach. Fishing off the bottom with squid, Jo-Jo caught her first snook, a gorgeous 20-inch juvenile she released after Daddy Rooster took photos of the once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Snook are never caught on such lousy bait. Daddy Rooster joked that the fish was obviously a teenager, willing to eat any junk food that was dangled in front of its face.
The snook was our only catch of the day, but fishing at Jetty Park revived Daddy Rooster’s soul after being stuck indoors for a three-day meeting. The closeness of the park to some of his stores (less than an hour) filled his fisherman’s heart with all sorts of plans. “Some mornings I could load up my gear, take the truck to work, and head straight here at the end of the day,” he planned out loud. I’m already thinking about how we can join him after school. Plus, there’s a great dinner spot I wouldn’t mind hitting again – Fishlips Waterfront.
Jetty Park tips: Plan your fishing trip during a tidal change. When the water’s not moving, the fish won’t bite. But, there’s plenty to keep the kids entertained. Mine watched sea turtles swim by, waved to cruise ships leaving the Port, and body surfed at the beach. Live bait can be purchased at various Port Canaveral shops on the way to the park, such as Fisherman’s World, where Daddy Rooster snagged some pin fish, but just missed out on live shrimp. Frozen bait is available at the park’s concession stand. Park entrance is $10 per car.
Summer fishing is great, but we’re looking forward to the cooler days ahead. That’s when Florida fishing really heats up – on both sides of the state!