Merrill Memories: Options in Lower Tampa Bay


One would think that an area along the southeastern shore of a major metropolis like Tampa Bay would be a difficult place to scare up a decent snook or redfish. But nothing could be further from the truth. Fortunately for the environment and the thousands of fishing enthusiasts, Lower Tampa Bay is still a rich, pristine environment. It is an intricate maze of mangrove islands and passes that hold thousands of inshore species of every sort.

By Merrill “Canoeman” Chandler (1931 – 2002)

The plan was for me to meet at Capt. Doug Fisher house, which sets adjacent to the river. His craft was in the water waiting for Capt. Mel and me to board. After some cordial introductions we were off to the fishing grounds.

As we motored through a long no wake zone hundreds of fish crows were flying away from their night rookery. The shoreline held a gathering of many species of birds patiently awaiting their morning meal. A reddish egret was performing its crazy dance trying to entice minnows under the shadow of its wings where it could spear an appetizer.

We stopped at a location where Capt. Doug had engaged a couple snook the night before. Either we did not present our lures in a fashion that seemed appealing or the area was devoid of fish. I prefer to believe the latter.

It was the Capt Doug’s intention to fish places near the Big Bend Power Plant in hopes of getting some red fish and snook. We found that, due to the strong northeast wind, most of the intended destination was too shallow, so we ventured to some deeper water where we saw birds diving.

Birds flying overhead gave away the location of a big school of jacks, which we enthusiastically engaged, enjoying some serious pulls.

The wind had freshened and our Captain suggested that we head to a creek where our chances of catching some snook should be good. When we arrived there was another boat sitting on the spot pulling in some small snook. The tide was just beginning to turn when the other boat left so we set up near the honey spot.

It was rather difficult to cast into the best locations as the wind pushed our line toward the overhanging mangroves. When we were able to present the D.O.A Shrimp and TerrorEyz in the proper spot we had instant gratification. Small but active snook slammed our lures.

“Look back there next to the flats!” Capt. Doug directed. The water was erupting with hoards of marauding jacks. When we moved closer and cast into the melee we had immediate hook-ups. “I need to go under your line, Mel!” I said “No! It changed direction and is heading back.”

Talk about party boat fishing, these brutes went wherever they wanted. We each released the fish and made another cast. Mel had another jack but my fish broke the surface.

“I’ve got a good snook!” I exclaimed as the acrobat came almost out of the water. “How come you get the good fish while I’m pulling in these things?” Mel inquired.

“You always said that what you enjoy is a good pull and you sure do have that.” I snickered.

My next cast gave me a rat red. “Now all I need is a trout to fill my slam.” I goaded.

We landed more linesiders and a few jacks when we decided that it was time to leave so we would miss the afternoon traffic.

As we sped back across the shallows there, standing as if someone had misplaced a lawn decoration, was a beautiful live flamingo adorned in a brilliant shade of pink. “My wife will never believe me when I tell her about this.” Capt. Doug said. Mel and I had seen a flamingo in Sarasota Bay and speculated it could very well be the same bird.

As Mel often states, “It is not just catching fish that makes a trip so enjoyable, it is being with congenial friends, seeing the beauty of the outdoors and, most of all, the relaxation factor.”