Fishing on the cheap just became, well, a little less cheap.
Since its 1989 inception, Florida's saltwater fishing license requirement has excluded state residents fishing from shore or a structure affixed to shore. Starting today, these resident anglers will need a $9 shoreline fishing license.
A regular resident saltwater fishing license ($17) covers boat and land-bound fishing, so if you do both, the full license option is the way to go. Both options are available at most bait and tackle shops, along with many sporting goods stores.
By creating the shoreline fishing license, the Florida Legislature avoided a more expensive federal angler registration requirement that will take effect in 2011.
A regular nonresident saltwater fishing license is still required for nonresidents fishing from shore or boat.
Where to go
For public fishing pier access, visit Anclote Gulf Park Pier (Holiday), Bayport Park (Bayport) and Jenkins Creek Park (Weeki Wachee). Although the latter sits a few miles upstream from the Gulf of Mexico, its brackish waters attract saltwater species such as sheepshead and mangrove snapper. Therefore, a saltwater license is required if you're fishing for saltwater species.
Fishermen on foot find plenty of good shore access at public sites such as Fred Howard Park (Tarpon Springs), Anclote River Park (Holiday), Robert J. Strickland Memorial Park (Hudson Beach) and Pine Island's Alfred McKethan Park.
You can also wade near the grass islands north and west of the Bayport Park Pier.
Coastal islands such as Three Rooker Bar (Tarpon Springs), Anclote Key/North Bar and Durney Key (mouth of Cotee River) offer great wading options, especially during summer months when snook congregate in the shallow surf. All are reachable by kayak, canoe, personal watercraft or small boat.
Walking the banks of small coastal arteries like the narrow creek at Bayport Park boat launch will present the occasional opportunity to cast at a snook or redfish. These backwater spots are also good bets for gathering live bait by netting finger mullet and mud minnows or catching pinfish on small gold hooks tipped with squid.
What can you catch?
Pier selections will vary with the tides, as incoming water washes baitfish closer to the structures and increases the depth below. The action may diminish during low tide, but you may find fish clustered near the end, or in deeper water within casting distance.
Common pier targets include sheepshead, snapper, redfish, flounder and snook. Cobia and sharks may show up occasionally. Docks and seawalls see similar species variety. Float a live minnow or shrimp under a popping cork, or bounce a jig tipped with fresh shrimp along the bottom.
During cooler months, the Anclote pier sees practically every inshore species from trout to pompano huddling in the adjacent power plant's warm water outflow canal. During spring and summer, this trench holds fish even on low tide, but you'll need a lengthy cast.
On foot, working sea grass beds will be your most consistent strategy. Target areas with potholes or "broken bottom" — sand and grass interspersed.
This habitat holds trout, ladyfish, jacks cobia, redfish, Spanish mackerel and bluefish during the warm season. Trout and reds dominate the cooler months. Fish topwaters early then fish deeper with suspending plugs, jigs and scented shrimp imitations.
Wading near the edge of a river channel like the Anclote, Cotee or Weeki Wachee affords you the opportunity of floating live baits with the current, or probing the drop-offs with jigs.
For piers, docks and sea walls, few actions are as hazardous as long, exaggerated casting. Swinging a rod behind you runs the risk of whacking, or snagging a fellow angler.
Always check your clearance before casting. Moreover, holding a rod toward the water and swinging beneath the structure yields comparable momentum with minimal hazard.
For wading, pack lightly so you don't tire from lugging excess gear. In any exposed fishing scenario, sunscreen, wide brim hats, polarized glasses and plenty of drinking water help ensure a pleasant experience.
And don't forget to shuffle your feet when wading. Summer sees lots of stingrays in area waters.