You can live in town or an area for thirty , fifty, or even sixty years - and still learn something new about it every time you leave your house to drive, stroll, or boat around. It's amazing, really. Take the Gulfport Marina, for example. There are literally thousands and thousands of anglers - serious anglers - that read the articles we put here every week. But ask them if they have ever fished Allen Creek, or the Skyway for grouper, and it is astonishing how many people say "no. I heard about it" or "No, but I really have to fish there." It can be the docks of Sweetwater, or the third piling on the Tampa side of the Courtney Campbell Bridge, where I would personally go right now if I had to win a cobia tournament on quick notice. Sit there on a strong outgoing tie with quartered blue crabs on a rig with a pyramid sinker so it sticks in the light line, and you will crush them three times out of five if the water is warmer than 75 F. There are places you should know about and do not. Or if you do, you are so stuck in your ways that you will never get there if you live here another thirty years.
The Gulfport Marina sits to the east of "downtown" Gulfport, where many locals go to enjoy the many restaurants, and the touch and feel of a town with a long history. It was once the end of the train lines that reached into Florida, and has never lost the feel of the turn-of-the-century village. The fishery there is incredible as soon as you slip into the water on the beautifully-maintained and friendly ramp.
The Gulfport marina is like that. Hell, the entire town of Gulfport is like that. Living a mile or so away makes it easy for me to spend an evening there in any of a dozen dynamite restaurants. When I fished with Mel Berman for almost two decades (he had a really popular radio show in the Tampa area and was well known by some of our readers) it was one of his favorite places to drop his 16' boat if we were fishing the south side of the bay, and I cannot count the times that he met friends there to fish the bay. Legends in some cases- guys like Frank Sargeant and Gary Loomis. The marina in Gulfport was Mel's favorite for a variety of reasons, location and history being not the only ones. Boca Ciega Bay – the place you are when you drop your boat off the ramp at Gulfport – is rich with every species we target in relatively shallow water.as well as a few that you would think are only found offshore. A lot of professional guides keep their boats there because of its central location on the south side of Tampa bay, and Mel was constantly meeting them there for the free trips he was continuously offered. I went there today to do the images I shot for this article, and his voice rang in my ear as I walked the docks.
The marina in Gulfport is one of those local gems that many of our readers have no idea exists. But drop your boat there and you'll find yourself on top of some of the snookiest spots in the south bay, and a favorite of many professionals. Like always, we strongly recommend that if you see another boat - especially if they seem to be professionals -- please stay out of their way and be polite. If you are polite to others they will be polite to you :).
If you don't know about Gulfport, and have never been there, it's more than worth your time to step out of your comfort zone and check out this jewel of a city. If you fish, it is really the hidden secret of south bay anglers, and if you do not use it to place boats near the tarpon, grouper, kingfish, false albacore, spanish mackerel, huge snook, marauding redfish, and abundant trout the area holds, you are missing an incredible place to fish. Simply stated, launching from the Gulfport Marina and fishing Boca Ciega Bay is well worth the trip.
A more than fair five buck fee includes parking and use of the beautiful and completely well-maintained ramp, wide enough to put as big a boat as you could into deep water. That's the reason that FWC law enforcement personnel use the place to put their boats into the water. One look at the map will show that this area is in the heart of Sportfishing land. You can easily head offshore from here, you can troll for grouper right under the shadow of America's coolest suspension bridge, or head inshore to the snook-rich mangrove islands. I don't wanna brag on our area too much, but that marina in Gulfport sits dead in the center of all this, and convenience, cost, and the sheer beauty of the place should put it on your list of places to fish from. We often encourage our readers to fish new places, and it is about time we brought this public marina into the consciousness of our fellow anglers. If you drop your boat there one time and meet Denis and the people running the place, it will not be your last time there. Any experienced angler knows the value - measured in the joy attributed to the entire fishing trip - of a good ramp.
The history of a fishing town
The few stories remaining about the native cultures that once populated the bay area, and the presence of well-structured mounds, graceful and elegant pottery styles called Weedon after the island of the same name, and stories of run-ins between the Spanish and natives (dark stories of murder and the eventual imprisonment of the Spanish by the aggressive tribes they encountered near Gainesville) are all we really know about a place like Gulfport before the arrival of white guys with golf courses on their minds.
People have been fishing a long time around Gulfport and the area where the marina is. This image of tarpon hanging in the sun before being put into neighborhood gardens and tomato patches seems horrific by today's environmentally friendly mindset. But the reality is that the millions of tarpon that were once hung to dry in the sun seemed to have had no impact whatsoever on the vast schools of the silver kings that show up in local waters -- right outside the marina, in fact -- every year. Of course it's far better to not kill fish that you're not gonna eat (the huge herring are so boney that there is little evidence that even the prehistoric fishing villages made much use of them, and we're sure they were quite able to kill them by lances, which is the way they were first hunted in local waters.
From around the mid eighteen sixties until today we know a lot. The town was settled by a family by the name of Barnett, and the old lady whose family built the house on the ridge in the middle of town is still sleeping there. It was the first place where boats ran from the mainland to the islands, and it grew slowly at first, with a dance hall ( called a Casino) and a sawmill and docks for fishing boats. The casino was meant to be a transition stop between the train and the islands but took on a life of its own. The one there today was built in the 1930's and is the third structure to sit there. The first one fell to the 1921 hurricane that devastated the Tampa bay area and the second to faulty building and code violations so bad it is surprising nobody fell through the dance floor before the bribes passed away and it was torn down by city officials. It is in the middle of town and is certainly a cool place to stop, This is where the restaurants and bars ( very popular bars) are, but the marina is down the ways a bit, and if you do not know where it is, you are not gonna pass it on a trip to town for a Sunday stroll. As gorgeous as the charming little town is, it is the marina you have to check out if you are an angler.
It's amazing how much critical tackle you can fit into a very small space. The guys at the Gulfport Marina fish our waters, and have on their wall exactly what they would consider important if they were going out onto Boca Ciega Bay or into the Gulf. And they have it hanging on the wall. Spend fifteen bucks in the shop and the $5 you had to pay to use the ramp and park there are waived. It's a hard place to beat on today's busy weekends. We forgot how gorgeous the place is and how cool it is until we went there this week to shoot the images for the story.
Location, location, location...
I keep my 21' Robalo bay hunter in the high-and-dry at the Harborage at Bayboro, and it is a beautiful high-end high-and-dry in its own right. We are going to be writing about that site and the benefit of using facilities like that under certain conditions soon. But for the average guy who does not live close to a high and dry, or wants to fish in more than one place 90% of the time, or moves their boats on a trailer and is looking for a great place to fish, and a great place to get to that great place to fish, the marina in Gulfport is a rarity that you really should know about. Go there once, and we will bet good money you will go there again and again. The reason? Where it is located. Ok, granted, the people there have a very cool bait and tackle store. Tiny, like a lot of the great ones, and rich in only the stuff you need to catch the fish in the waters where the shop is. These people know fishing. Guys like Denis that run the place have fished here all their lives. And they know the guides that use the ramp; they get reports every bit as good as the ones you read here on theonlinefisherman.com.
Gulfport is a beautiful, historic, and in some ways a little strange town. If you turn onto 22nd Avenue South from 275, go towards the water until you see the signs for Gulfport on your left, and go down the road till you hit the water, you encounter the Casino. Never a place where you could spin the wheel or toss the bones, the Casino was once the launching point for boats going to all the islands, Anna Maria among them. The town was home for a sawmill for a while. That lasted three years until the company had cut down the entire pine forest that once covered the entire county. So the next time you think of Pinellas Park, think pine trees. The lumber was used to build the city.
Using the marina
Now that we have had a chance to get there again in order to get a few pictures and talk about fishing, it has become apparent what an unused - or at the very least underused - resource we have available to us in this public marina at Gulfport. There are inexpensive daily and weekly transient rates available if you would like to dock there for a few days - and to better expose our readers to this wonderful place to fish, Denis said he would make you guys a special offer. Between now and Labor Day, if you go there and spend the $5 to use the ramp and park your car, go inside the Ship's store, mention that you read this story on TheOnlineFisherman.com and they'll give you a couple of dozen free shrimp. What a great incentive for scouting a place you may never have fished or only fished a few times. Gulfport Marina also has a floating fuel dock with diesel and non-ethanol fuel so you don't even have to stop on the way there to get your gas. The marina's website is The Gulfport Marina.
A Fishing Map of Boca Ciega Bay
The second part of this story is going to be a fishing map of Boca Ciega Bay, and hints on how to apply the "Three P" concept of fishing new spots to find fish in this rich, ancient, and completely accessible local fishery. Move around the map below and click on all of the icons to learn all about our favorite fishing spots in Boca Ciega Bay!