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For the boatless, check out these (mostly free) fishing piers

As the sun beats down in another sweltering summer afternoon, a handful of fishing optimists cast lines off the north Skyway fishing pier. With the tide ripping out into the Gulf of Mexico, baits are drifted into the 20- to 25-foot deep water.

Near the end of the pier, Kevin Chiem is using a sabiki rig to catch greenbacks for bait. Chiem, 30, is a Skyway pier regular. He travels from Tampa at least once a week to see what's biting in some of the most active water a Tampa Bay fishing pier has to offer.

On this day, with the tide going out for another two hours, Chiem is fishing for grouper using live greenbacks on a 130-pound test leader.

"You have to be patient," Chiem said. "You can catch fish out here, grouper, snapper, mackerel. People don't think you can catch grouper out here but you can. You just have to know what you're doing and be patient."

For those without boats, or those who like the stability of land, piers are one of the best ways to spend a day (or night) wetting a line. And the Skyway is perhaps the best place to start.

The original bridge was destroyed when the freighter Summit Venture collided with a column of the bridge during a storm on May 9, 1980. In 1992, the center spans of the old bridge were demolished and the remaining sections on the Pinellas and Manatee county sides were converted into piers. The south Skyway pier is the longest fishing pier in the world.

Debris from the old bridge was put in the water to form a reef. Because it was a bridge, both piers sit high above the water. It makes for spectacular views not only of the deep blue water, but of the new Skyway bridge just to the east.

"I think this is one of the best places to go," Chiem said. "I'm not going to give away any secrets, but you can catch fish here."

The Skyway is not the only place for boat-less souls to land a fish. There is good wade fishing leading up to the bridge, as well as the areas around the Courtney Campbell Causeway and the Gandy Bridge. Fort De Soto Park has good wade fishing, as well as two piers. The Redington Long Pier off Redington Beach has been a go-to spot for pier fishermen for over 50 years.

And Pinellas County doesn't have a monopoly on piers. In south Tampa, Picnic Island and Ballast Point fishing piers can be hot spots. The Ballast Point pier reaches far out into Tampa Bay. With a picturesque view of the downtown Tampa skyline, it has plenty of room for anglers.

"It's really relaxing to come out here and fish," said Jamie Messina, 42, of Tampa. "It's nice coming out here at night when the lights are on and you have the view of the city. You can catch jacks and angel fish. I've even seen some small hammerhead (sharks) caught here."

On a recent weekday morning, Messina was fishing with 7-year-old son Jamie Jr. and 14-year-old son Thomas. He said he tries to get to the pier two to three times per week.

"It's best to get here in the morning or in the evening," Messina said. "It's too hot at mid-day. But it's a good alternative to the Skyway. And it's free."

In cases where a pier is free to fish, a saltwater fishing license is required. At piers where there are fees, like the Skyway Pier, no fishing license is needed. For exemptions, visit myfwc.com.

No boat, no problem

Here are some other piers around Tampa Bay to check out:

Fort De Soto Gulf Pier (Fort De Soto Park, St. Petersburg)

Hours: 7 a.m.-11 p.m., year round

Cost: $5 fee to enter park

About: A T-shaped pier that juts out into the gulf with a view of Egmont Key. Depending on the season, anglers can land mackerel, snapper, pompano, snook and redfish. There is a bait shop with snacks and tackle at the base of the pier.

Fort De Soto Bay Pier (Fort De Soto Park, St. Petersburg)

Hours: 7 a.m.-11 p.m., year round

Cost: $5 fee to enter park

About: This pier is smaller than the Gulf Pier, but can still produce fish. There are several fishing spots at the end of the pier. It is especially good when the mackerel are running in the spring and fall. There is also a bait shop with tackle.

Ballast Point Park Pier (5300 Interbay Blvd., Tampa)

Hours: Pier open 24 hours per day; park from dawn to dusk

Cost: Free

About: The pier juts straight out into Tampa Bay, with areas to cut bait and anchor a pole. It is rocky and shallow at the base of the pier, but gets considerably deeper at the end. The Taste of Boston restaurant — as well as a bait shop — is located at the foot of the pier.

Picnic Island Park Pier (7404 Picnic Island Blvd.)

Hours: 7:30 a.m.-dark

Cost: Free

About: Not as long as Ballast Point, it is nonetheless a good spot for bay fishing. There is no bait shop attached, so be sure to bring everything you need.

Skyway Fishing Pier (4905 34th St. South, Old Skyway Bridge)

Hours: 24 hours per day, year round

Cost: $4 per vehicle plus $4 per adult. $2 per child 6-12 years old. Children 5 and under free.

About: There is a north fishing pier and a south pier. Admission is good for both piers for 24 hours. Both piers have bait and tackle shops with live and frozen baits. Water is deep and the piers are high above the water, so heavy tackle is recommended.

Redington Long Pier (17490 Gulf Blvd., Redington Shores)

Hours: Summer: 7 a.m.-midnight; open until 2 a.m. on Saturdays. Winter: 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; open until midnight on Saturdays.

Cost: $15 to fish, $20 for VIP fishing, $5 for non-fishing.

About: The pier is 1,200 feet, which is why it's referred to as a Long Pier. It originally opened in 1962 and was renovated in 2007. The best fishing is at the end of the pier, which is why it costs more. Those spots are coveted, so they are often filled early. Plenty of fish to be caught. It is the highest-priced pier, so plan on staying a while to get your money's worth.

Merry Pier (801 Pass-a-Grille Way)

Hours: May-August: Sunday-Friday, 7 a.m.-midnight; Saturday, 7 a.m.-2 a.m. September-April: Sunday-Friday, 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m.-midnight.

Cost: Free

About: While the pier itself does not jut out very far, there is a lot of space to fish along the sea wall. Pull up a lawn chair, throw out a live bait and wait for some action. Parking can be a little expensive. Meters are 50 cents for 15 minutes, which can add up fast. Fishermen share space on the pier with docked boats, so there isn't much room to roam.

Pier 60 (1 Causeway Blvd, Clearwater Beach)

Hours: March-November: 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. December-February: Sunday-Thursday, 6 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 24 hours. Closed on Christmas.

Cost: $8 for adults, $5.25 for children 5-15. Monthly and yearly passes available.

About: Right in the center of Clearwater Beach, Pier 60 juts out beyond the usual throng of beach-goers. Fishing can be active, especially at night or in the early morning. Possible to catch snapper, tarpon, mackerel, king fish, trout, snook and redfish.

Anclote Gulf Park Pier (2305 Baillies Bluff Road, Holiday)

Hours: Park is open from dawn to dusk; fishing pier is always open.

Cost: $2 parking fee

About: The pier was renovated three years ago. It is 500 feet, so it can fill up quickly, especially in the winter months. Has a nice view of the Gulf and holds fish like trout, snapper, snook and redfish.

Port Richey Waterfront Park (8119 Old Post Rd., Port Richey)

Hours: 24 hours per day, year round

Cost: Free

About: The pier is 200 feet and has a 50-foot "T" at the end. It is on the Pithlachascotee River and Millers Bayou. There are restrooms but no bait or tackle shop.

Weedon Island Pier (End of Weedon Island Dr. NE, St. Petersburg)

Hours: Daily, 7 a.m.-7 p.m. The cultural center is closed Sunday-Wednesday.

Fee: Free

About: It's not a very big pier, so at times it may be crowded. The tide whips in and out of pass, so it would be wise to check a tide chart before fishing. Depending on the season, there are snook, trout and redfish to be caught, especially near the mangroves.

For the boatless, check out these (mostly free) fishing piers 08/08/16 [Last modified: Monday, August 8, 2016 1:57pm]
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