Ahh… the pier for every angler: The Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier. This place is a real gem for those who are experienced fishers of the sea, and those who don’t even have a fishing license. I visit often for long hours at a time and every day brings something new. With such a flourishing ecosystem, there’s endless wildlife to see beyond your hook.
The origin behind the Sunshine Skyway fishing pier is quite sad. In 1980, a freighter hit the nearly 5 mile long bridge, collapsing the support columns and killing 35 people. A new bridge was erected alongside it for travel and the old bridge became a fishing pier on both ends.
Now the pier stays open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I typically stick to fishing the North end of the pier so that I am close by to my favorite bait shop: Gator Jim’s Tackle. You can drive your car straight out onto the bridge making it extremely easy to tote as much gear as you desire, so, I get up early, stop at the bait shop, and drive all the way down the pier to the spot that calls my name. For me to spend 8 hours fishing on the pier non-stop, I spend a grand total of $20: $4 for car access, $4 for myself, and $12 on live shrimp. I also pack my lunch and plenty of water from home so that if the fishing is hot, I don’t have to leave. (There is also a potty on the bridge! I know you are all thinking it. There’s your answer.)
My luck with fishing on the pier is different at all times of the year. Pretty much every time has yielded a different adventure depending on what’s in season, who I take, and the rig system I choose.
Fall: In October, my dad and I hit the Skyway with our usual live shrimp bucket, one heavy duty pole, and three average sized salt water poles. Bob May likes to say “two is one and one is none so you have to take at least three poles.” Bob May proved to not be wrong. It was a great day catching Spanish Mackeral
and funny little Sea Robbins UNTIL- we decided to go really rogue and put a whole, bloody mackerel on the shark pole. We were pumped. If something hit this it was going to be huge.
Well, something hit it alright. A pelican hit the line sending our pole flying over the bridge into the water below. Tears sprung to my eyes as I watched our beloved, EXPENSIVE pole start sinking. Not one to take no for an answer, I threw another line in and hooked that bad boy and pulled it all the way up the side of the bridge. It was a miracle.
The bridge is always teaming with wildlife and shortly after we lost the pole (and got it back), a giant sea turtle popped up below us. I’m talking a 100-year-old+, five foot long, slime covered, giant-ass turtle. I think I could have rode this thing like an Indiana bull.
Winter: Pin. Fish. City. Once the weather got too cold this winter, the fish really retreated into warmer waters (or died.) Fishing the skyway was windy, miserable, and a game of feeding the fish. We pulled up pin fish after pin fish. I still can’t decide if I would rather pull up dozens of pin fish or no fish at all.
There is one consistency to expect even through the colder months: plenty of dolphins to steal your bait. Never in my life have I ever hooked a dolphin, but that time came extremely close this winter and again in the spring. I had a pin fish baited on the shark pole when it took a serious bend. Upon grabbing it, I’m sure you could see the gold in my eyes. The tug was strong and thrilling until I heard that fateful sound: a blowhole. A dolphin breached and I thought for sure my expensive rig would be gone forever. But alas, the dolphin released the line. The fight was over and I pulled up a licked lean hook.
Spring: April probably yielded the wildest day I have ever had on the pier. After a winter of pin fish, I wasn’t hopeful that we would pull up anything but more of them. NOT A SINGLE PIN FISH WAS CAUGHT. In one day, we managed to catch grouper, mangrove snapper, Spanish mackerel, flounder, jack, lizard fish, hooked another dolphin, and my favorite: a cowfish.
The wildlife beyond fishing was also a 10/10. A sea turtle made an appearance and the dolphins were having a grand time chasing fish around. We threw a lizard fish back over the railing, watched it swim away, and all of a sudden a dolphin popped up with our lizard fish in it’s mouth, bit it’s head off, and tossed it back up in the air toward us. Folks, I have seen it all.
You don’t need a boat or an experienced guide to get you to this great fishing spot. Next time you are planning a fishing adventure, drop a line from this bridge and wait for the wildlife to come to you. This will be my first summer with the pier so I’ll be sure to share what I come across next!