Targeting the Cold Weather Species in Tampa Bay

As the colder weather moves in, so do many varieties of fish from offshore into the bay! Winter is one of the most prosperous fishing seasons in Tampa Bay because many different types of fish are moving in search of shallower and warmer waters. Our captains love to target Sheepshead, Gag Grouper, Tripletail, and even many varieties of sharks this time of year.

One of the reasons this happens is because of a change in the type of tide. During the winter months, Florida’s west coast experiences four, fast moving tides per day. Most game fish tend to move inshore with these high rising tides as their bait is typically more active and easier for them to find.

Sheepshead are a popular fish to target during the winter months because they move inshore in search of warmer water and more to eat as they work on their annual spawn in January and February. They like to hang out around bridge pilings, docks, and artificial reefs throughout Tampa Bay and they put up a good fight once hooked. The main attraction to catching Sheepshead is that they are very good eating. They are often referred to as the “poor man’s lobster” because they have a very similar taste to the Florida spiny lobster. The minimum size limit for Sheepshead is 12” with a bag limit of 8 per person, making this the perfect fish to target if you are wanting to fill your cooler!

The Gag Grouper is a Florida fishing staple! The cold weather pushes them into the bay, where they like to hang out around shallow reefs and rock piles, munching on crabs and shrimp. An average adult can weigh in around 30 pounds and their white meat is firm, flakey, and extra lean, making them a delicious fish to be blackened for tacos or grilled at your next backyard barbecue. The minimum size limit for Gag Grouper on the west coast is 24” with a bag limit of 2 per person.

The Tripletail, also known as “Blackfish”, are fairly new to the inshore fishing scene, not because they haven’t always been around, but because not very many people knew about them or knew how to catch them! Tripletail love to hang out around structures in the bay, so you can find them congregating near buoys, channel markers, and even debris floating in the water. The minimum size limit for Tripletail is 18” with a bag limit of 2 per person.

Check out this video of Captain Brophy showcasing the variety of fish you can catch in Tampa Bay in December.

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