Where to Fish in the City

If you often think about where to fish - which we find ourselves doing often for obvious reasons - you quickly recognize how unique a place like Florida is. With a good percentage of available real estate within minutes of the coastline, even residents that live hours from the smell of brine in the air are only minutes from fish. Nationally, far more anglers seek largemouth or smallmouth bass (with trout and salmon a close second) than they do snook, redfish, halibut, blackfin tuna, wahoo, sailfish, cobia, blacktip shark, blackfish or stripers. Saltwater fishing is only a subcategory of a sport that bites deep regardless of the taste or size or species we think we might find, fool and catch.

downtown tampa

A place like the Platt Street Bridge in downtown Tampa can prove to be one of the most productive nighttime snook fisheries on Florida's West Central coast. Fortunately for those anglers who know how to analyze and fish structure in urban areas like Tampa, know that this is only one of hundreds of such hot spots. Look for strong flowing water where rivers enter bays like this one, and the mouth of the river is going to produce and hold fish all year. These are resident fish and seek the lights and structures offered by urban bridges, sea walls and estuarine river mouths.

Fishing in the City

One of the truly amazing things about finding out where to fish in urban settings is the fact that fish are even there. I mean shouldn't all those houses peppering every inch of coastal Florida have killed every single snook in existence prior to 1952 or so? At a recent media event a guy was showing slides of two different areas of Charlotte Harbor, Florida. One area had houses and the other area had mud and mangroves. He showed a slide of the bio-mass of snook embryos in the muddy waters and how few there were under the docks of these houses.

"Do you fish for snook?" I asked.

"No. I am from Washington DC. I study them. I don't catch them except for science."

If he did fish for snook he would know that the place to catch them - not weigh their embryos, but actually catch them on a hook and line - is under those docks. Obviously mankind hasn't killed off the fish. Do we have an effect on them? Yeah. If there were no lions there would be a greater population of Gazelles, I am sure. And less grass for them to eat. Cities with moving water or clean lakes hold the same fish they did before the concrete. You can catch a lot of fish - big fish - in the city.

Identifying coastal urban fisheries

The first thing you have to do is find where to fish. In keeping with our theory that 90% of the fish are caught by 10% of the anglers (with 90% of fishers catching only one-in-ten of the targeted fish landed), that means you have to figure out where the fish are likely to be.

When you're trying to find out where to fish, the first thing to look for is tidal flow and structure. You want places where the water is moving; places where the water has to sort-of squeeze through something. A bridge is a good example. Before the bridge was there, the opening was one size. To build the bridge, the engineers built pilings and extended the shoreline a bit to accommodate the structure of the bridge. That means that the space where a bridge crosses a place where there is an outflow or inflow of water, the water has to fit through the now-tighter space where the bridge is. The water is "choked". The choke makes the water move slightly faster in that tiny space. It now also curves where the edges of the bridge or structure is located.

Find structure and know tidal flow

In this image (below), you can see the outflow represented by the red arrows, and the side where the fish are likely to be sitting on an outgoing flow. In the case of this location, water actually comes up the river, and flows out very hard as a result of the combination of river flow and outgoing saltwater tides.

fishing map of bridge

In this annotated screen image from the incredible iPad software from Navionics, you can see the outflow around the bridge and the great surrounding structures. The green arrows are where the fish are likely to be sitting when the water is flowing out.

Fishing at Lunchtime

There are a few things to remember that will improve your chances of finding where to fish in the downtown near you.

  • Structure. Anywhere water moves through a city there is nothing but structure. Identify three or four places to fish and try them steadily for a few months. Fishing requires perseverance. If a place is likely to hold fish, keep trying it. Try different baits, times and even lures. Try nearby places; the next piling or bridge over, or the other side of a parking lot. If it looks fishy, it probably is fishy.
  • Tides and flows. Look for places where water is squeezed. Watch the surface. Ripples, repeating waves or shapes all indicate structure you cannot see but the water can feel. Ripples are there for a reason, as are any visible signs of flow.
  • Timing. Fish city structures at night" the lights aren't normal, so they appeal to the curious. Fish are curious. Nighttime fishing produces more huge snook under Florida's bridges than any other tactic. Early morning just before sunrise is the same - very productive. All that said, don't think for a minute that high noon in the heat of summer under the right bridge won't produce that lunker.
  • Seasons. In warm-temperature areas like Florida, the wintertime is far more productive in the urban fisheries than in the summer, although summer nights can be awesome in their own rights.
  • Not giving up. Again, if it looks fishy but you can't catch a cold there, try different tactics and strategies before you decide to give up.
  • Forums and web sites. Websites like TheOnlineFisherman.com -- that aren't afraid of giving away spots where you might catch a fish -- are a great place to find fishy spots. Even the psychotic paranoids will let you know their worse honey-holes if you pray to the West and pray to them.

All urban coastal cities offer structure like this, and although the species in Jamaica Bay New York are striped bass while the fish in the Hillsborough river at Platt Street in Tampa are likely to be big snook, the fish are around the same structure in the same places (depending on tidal flow) for the same reasons; it's where bait is. Fish will sit hidden until the bait is close enough to suck into their gaping mouth. Think about how a snook's gill plates can flare; it's to suck-in nearby fishes and fishlettes.

Want to learn where to fish in Downtown Tampa? Here's a map of one of my favorite fishing spots not too far from my home:

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