What's hot: Time for a change? Try going after our tastiest inshore fish: flounder, sheepshead and mangrove snapper. These three are abundant in Tampa Bay and can be found wherever rocks and sand meet. Find oysters encrusted on docks, jetties and seawalls, and you will have a chance to have some fun with the less-popular inshore fish. Mangrove snapper's legal length to keep is 10 inches. Flounder and sheepshead need to be 12 inches. Some of the best places to catch these fish are near docks in the Fort De Soto area, the rocks at the entrances (both north and south) of the Sunshine Skyway bridge and most of the intracoastal bridges.
Techniques: For all of these species, use a small No. 1 or No. 1/0 hook (circle hook for snapper as it is considered a reef fish) and a rod and reel heavy enough to handle a 15- to 20-pound line. Use a split-shot sinker large enough to hold your bait near the oysters or rocks and 20- to 25-pound fluorocarbon leader. The bait of choice at this time of year would be shrimp or oyster meat.
Tips: Oysters and green mussels are abundant at all bridges. Scrape them into a bucket from the pilings using a shovel. Crush them with a hammer. Use the meat for bait and the leftovers as chum (shells and all). Wear protective gloves to avoid cuts, and remember do not scrape from private property, including residential docks.
Jackie Otto can be reached at Betts Fishing Center at (727) 518-7637 and firstname.lastname@example.org.