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.