Fishing in Bradenton Florida, a Complete Guide!

Fishing in Bradenton Florida, a Complete Guide!

This comprehensive guide will cover fishing in Bradenton Florida. Bradenton offers anglers a wide variety of fish species, locations, and techniques that are used.

Bradenton is a resort city on the west coast of Florida, just south of Tampa and St Petersburg. It is strategically located at the mouth of Tampa Bay. The inshore waters offer anglers a wide variety of species than anglers can catch. Snook, tarpon, redfish, spotted sea trout, bluefish, king and Spanish mackerel, pompano, flounder, sheepshead, grouper, snapper, jacks, sharks, and more can be caught. Anglers use light spinning tackle and artificial lures and live baits. A variety of techniques are productive.

fishing in Bradenton Florida

Bradenton Florida fishing tackle

Light spinning tackle is most often used by anglers fishing in Bradenton Florida. Spinning tackle is versatile and easy for novice anglers to use. Quite often, light lures and live baits are used. Spinning tackle is the best choice for casting these light baits. A 6 1/2 foot medium action rod and a 3000 series reel work best. 10 pound monofilament or braided line is a good choice.

Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles and reports can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.

Anglers can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “Inshore Saltwater Fishing” for $5 by clicking on the title link. It is 23,000 words long and covers tackle, tactics, and species.

Bradenton fishing charters

As a full time fishing guide for over twenty five years, I run fishing charters on a regular basis. Bradenton waters offer visiting anglers a wide variety of fishing options for clients on fishing charters. Anglers can contact me at to get information about booking a trip.

The majority of fish caught on Bradenton fishing charters is done so while fishing the grass flats. The shallow grass flats offer experienced anglers the opportunity to catch snook, redfish, and other species. The deeper flats are better choice for novice anglers and those seeking action and variety. Many square miles of lush grass flats abound in our area.

Family fishing charters in Bradenton Florida

A lot of fish and charters involve children and novice anglers. One great thing about Bradenton waters is that this is a great place for those anglers who experience success. Drifting the deep grass flats with live shrimp, bait fish, and jigs will produce many species. Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, Pompano, bluefish, snapper, grouper, flounder, ladyfish, sharks, and more are commonly caught species.

fishing in Bradenton Florida

This is fairly easy fishing. Anglers fish as the boat drifts over the grass flat. These are large areas and drifting is a good way to locate the fish. Anglers can either drift a live bait or cast artificial lures, depending on conditions and angler skill level. This technique generally provides good action as well as a variety of species.

Bottom fishing in Bradenton Florida

Bottom fishing is another method that is very easy for novice anglers to quickly become proficient at. The boat is anchored up near some likely structure, including artificial reefs, docs, bridges, and other structure. A baited hook is either than lower to the bottom or cast towards the structure. Sheepshead, which are abundant in the late winter and early spring are a prime target when bottom fishing. Grouper, snapper, drum, flounder, sea bass, and other species are also regularly taken.

Light tackle bottom fishing tips

Drifting the passes is another easy and very productive technique. Anglers bouncing small but tale jigs on the bottom in both Longboat Pass and at the north and near being point will do well on Pompano, mackerel, and ladyfish. Once again, this is a very easy technique to learn in a short amount of time.

Fishing for snook and redfish on Bradenton fishing charters

More experienced anglers may choose to target more challenging species. Snook are the premier inshore game fish in Florida and Bradenton has a good population of them. Snook are caught in a wide variety of habitat including the shallow flats, bridges, mangrove shorelines, and oyster bars.

Redfish are the next most popular game fish for anglers going out on Bradenton fishing trips. Redfish are most often caught on the shallow grass flats along the southern edge of Tampa Bay. They are available all year long in school up in big numbers and late summer.

redfish and trout fishing

Anglers can choose to fish the shallow flats using either live bait or artificial lures. Casting artificial lures is exciting and fun. Anglers drift over the flat casting into potholes, along the edges of oyster bars, and along mangrove shorelines. Top water plugs, shallow diving plugs, soft plastic baits, and weedless spoons are the top lures.

Live bait produces on Bradenton fishing charters

Live bait certainly accounts for a lot of fish on the shallow flats especially in the summer time. Shrimp are used all year long in our an effective bait. However, in the summer we utilize a very specialized technique. Using a cast net, we catch hundreds and hundreds of small shiny bait fish called pilchards. We then use these pilchards to chum the game fish into range.

Sarasota sheepshead fishing

Once the bait well is fall, a likely spot with good current flow is chosen. The boat is then anchored up current from the spot. Several handfuls of live bait fish are tossed into the water with no hooks attached. Sometimes the bait fish are squeezed, crippling them, making them swim erratically in the water. This can drive snook and redfish crazy! Once the fish are feeding on the chum, hooked baits are cast out into the fray. This technique works on the deep grass flats as well for speckled trout Spanish mackerel and other species.

Bradenton fishing charters in the inshore Gulf of Mexico

In the spring and then again in the fall, action and the inshore Gulf of Mexico can be outstanding. When the Gulf is calm in the water is clear, hordes of bait fish will show up just off the Bradenton area beaches. This forage will in turn attract game fish. Spanish mackerel, false albacore, sharks, cobia, and other species will come in to feed on the abundant bait fish.

When fish are breaking on the surface, the action can be fast and furious. Just about any lore or bait cast into the melee will get instantly devoured. This is another situation where inexperienced anglers can catch a lot of fish. Fly fisherman will find this a very unique and exciting opportunity as well.

Read Capt Jim’s article on saltwater fishing tackle

On days where there’s a little chop on the surface and the fish aren’t showing, there are several techniques that are productive. Trolling is a great way to locate fish. The boat is idled along with a couple artificial lures out the back. I look for bait schools or bird activity and had the boat in that direction. Trolling can produce a lot a fish in a short period of time when the bite is on. Once a school of fish is located, anglers can then cast lures and baits if they so desire.

Spinning and fly tackle is used on Bradenton fishing charters

Light spinning tackle is used on the vast majority of my fishing charters. Spinning tackle is versatile and easy to use. Most anglers with even a little bit of experience are familiar with this tackle. It is very similar to what anglers use up north for their freshwater fishing.

Inshore saltwater fishing

Fly fisherman are certainly welcome on Bradenton fishing trips. Any fish that can be caught on and artificial lure will also take a well presented fly. Speckled trout Spanish mackerel bluefish and ladyfish will hit on the deep grass flats. Redfish and snuck can be cite cast it in the shallow flats. Nothing beats surface action on Spanish mackerel and false albacore in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. 7wt to 9wt outfits work best.

Giant tarpon on Bradenton fishing charters

We experience some world-class fishing off the Bradenton beaches in the summer time as giant tarpon migrate through. Tarpon average 80 pounds and fish over 150 pounds are hooked each season. Tarpon fishing does require some patients, this is not a numbers game. Instead, anglers are hoping for the trophy of a lifetime!

There are several different methods that produce when targeting tarpon. One option, which is my personal favorite, is to cite cast to schools of tarpon milling about in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. This is as much fish hunting as anything else. Anglers need be patient and then stock the fish, hoping for an opportunity. When it all comes together, there is nothing like it!

Sarasota tarpon fishing

A very productive technique is anchoring and fishing with live and dead bait. This is easier and in reality more productive. The boat is anchored in 10 to 12 feet of water off of being point and several baits are put out both on the bottom and closer to the surface. Then, anglers just sit and wait for a bite.

Finally, we experience an interesting situation when the tide goes out, particularly in the afternoon. These strong outgoing tides are called Hill tides. They flush out crabs and other forage for the tarpon. Just like the chumming with white bait mentioned earlier, this natural chum slick gets the tarpon fired up and feeding. Anglers fortunate enough to experience a good Hill tide bite, will never forget it!

Bradenton shore fishing

Anglers Bradenton shore fishing have many options. While those with boats certainly have an advantage, there are a myriad of spots for shore bound anglers to experience success. Bridges, piers, beaches, and wade-able flats abound in this area.

Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing

In order to not be repetitive, I am going to go over species and techniques at the beginning of the article. Most of these tips and tactics will produce at all of the spots listed. Obviously, most of the techniques will work at all of the spots at one time or another.

Florida resident anglers DO need a fishing license to fish from shore if they are between 16 and 65 years old, with a few exemptions. This license is free to Florida residents. Non-residents need to purchase a Florida fishing license to fish from shore.  Anglers on fishing charters do not need a license.

Fishing Bradenton bridges and piers

The three main bridges in Bradenton offer great fishing for a variety of species. There are two long bridges going over the inshore bay and another going over Longboat Pass. The Rod and Reel Pier and other docks and piers are strategically located for good fishing.

Bottom fish such as mangrove snapper and flounder are available year-round. Sheepshead are thick in late winter and spring. Live or fresh dead shrimp fished on the bottom work well.

Fishing in Bradenton Florida

Snook fishing area bridges produces for anglers, especially at night. Live bait such as shrimp or pinfish works well. Heavy tackle is required to land a big snook in structure. Lures such as jigs with a soft plastic trailer and plugs will catch fish as well.

Pompano, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and other species are also attracted to area bridges. Shade, current, and bait will hold them there. Shiny fast moving lures such as Gotchas, spoons, jigs, and plugs are effective. Pompano anglers will bounce small jigs on the bottom.

Fishing off of Bradenton beaches

Bradenton beaches offer good fishing for most of the year. Winter anglers catch whiting, silver trout, flounder, and other species from the beach as long as the water is clean. Live or fresh shrimp is tough to beat. Cold fronts and wind will stir up the surf and shut down the fishing.

Fishing in Bradenton Florida

Spanish mackerel, pompano, bluefish, ladyfish and other species will migrate along the surf in spring and fall. The key to this fishing is the abundance of bait fish. Shiny lures that mimic the bait will produce. Silver spoons, plugs, and jigs work well. Live bait anglers will net some shiners and do well. Live shrimp always produces.

Sight casting for snook is great sport in the summer. Snook, some of them quite large, will cruise the shoreline in the summer. Anglers cast small white jigs, plugs, and flies at these fish.

Wading in Bradenton

Anglers who don’t mind getting their feet wet will have great success Bradenton shore fishing. Several spots offer access to some very productive flats, especially on the south side of Tampa Bay. In fact, wading can be an advantage as many of these areas are too shallow for most boats.

Fishing in Bradenton Florida

Artificial lures are convenient for wade fishing. While live bait is certainly effective, it can be a nuisance dragging a bucket around. Topwater plugs are great fun early and late in the day. Weedless spoons work well on the shallow flats. Jigs produce on the edges where the grass drops off into deeper water.

Live bait is quite effective. A live shrimp fished under a popping cork will catch a lot of speckled trout along with other species. Free lining a shrimp will also work well.

Here is a list of the best Bradenton shore fishing spots.

Longboat Pass

Longboat Pass is a fantastic fishing spot! The pass lies at the south end of Anna Maria Island. Anglers can fish from shore on the breakwater or sea wall, as well as docks on the back side near the boat ramp. The jetty offers access to both the pass and the Gulf of Mexico. Beach anglers will do well on Snook in the summer and other species year round.

Cortez Rd Bridge

The Cortez Rd Bridge offers some very good fishing. This bridge is very close to Longboat Pass and has great current flow. Evening outgoing tides can be the best times to fish.

Bridge Street Pier

There is a nice public fishing pier at the east end of Bridge Street. Speckled trout and other inshore species are available. Parking can be an issue in the evening druring the busy times.


The beach that runs the entire length of Anna Maria Island provides excellent fishing most of the year. Public access is plentiful. Several small piers and rock jetties attract fish. Anglers need to give swimmers plenty of room. The best fishing is early and late anyway, when swimmers are less present.

Neal Preserve and Manatee Ave Bridge

This is a great area for anglers Bradenton shore fishing. Wade fishing is very popular with plenty of room for many anglers. The Manatee Ave Bridge is very good for bottom fish along with other species.

Palma Sola Causeway Park

This is another great area for anglers that wade fish. There is a ton of parking with room for a lot of anglers. It does get very busy with jet skis and such on weekends.

Bean Point

Bean Point is in a terrific location right at the mouth of Tampa Bay. Currents rip past the point making it a natural ambush point. Snook fishing can be outstanding in the summer. Anglers should be VERY careful here! Do not wade! Currents are strong and very dangerous.

Rod and Reel Pier

The Rod and Reel Pier on the north end of Anna Maria Island is in a strategic spot, with excellent tidal flow. This pier has a long and storied past with some great fishing at times. Spanish mackerel run past and the bite can be non-stop. Snook, sheepshead, snapper, pompano and other species are available at certain times of year.

Robinson Preserve

This is a small area that can hold snook and redfish.

Desoto Point

Desoto Point at the north end of Bradenton on the mainland offers great access for anglers wade fishing. Lush grass flats abound, with snook, redfish, and speckled trout being the most targeted species.

Riverwalk and Green Bridge

The Green Bridge is technically in Palmetto, but it is right across the Bus 41 Bridge from Bradenton. It offers good fishing, especially in the cooler months. The Riverwalk has a nice sea wall that anglers can fish from as well.

Fishing Bradenton Beach

Visiting anglers enjoy fishing Bradenton Beach. Plenty of fish are caught from the beach itself. In addition to “surf” fishing, there are numerous piers and bridges that produce as well.

Anglers fishing off of Bradenton Beach and casting into the Gulf of Mexico catch a wide variety of species. Like most fishing, it is seasonal, but something is biting all year long. Snook, speckled trout, silver trout, pompano, whiting, sheepshead, sharks, redfish, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, jacks, snapper, grouper, flounder, and more are landed.

Conditions will often dictate when fishing off of the Bradenton Beaches will be productive. Ideal conditions are an east wind. This results in calm seas and clear water. Add in a high tide, and conditions are ideal. Conversely, a strong west wind will churn up the surf, making it silty and muddy. This is the time to avoid the surf and seek some cleaner water in the backwaters. This is particularly true in the winter when fronts are severe.

Surf fishing Bradenton Beach

When the surf has settled down, fishing Bradenton beaches is good in the winter. Whiting school up and a mess can be caught in short order. They are not large, but fun on light tackle. And, they are quite tasty! Pompano, sheepshead, silver trout, flounder, and other species will also be taken.

Spanish mackerel will move along Bradenton beaches in the spring and again in the fall. The key is bait, when the bait shows up in the surf, so with the mackerel. They will often times feed actively on the surface. This is exciting fishing as just about anything that gets cast into the frenzy will fool a fish. Ladyfish, bluefish, jacks, and other species will be landed as well.

Snook fishing can be outstanding in the summer! This is truly world class sight fishing. Anglers walk the beach while scanning the surf line for fish. Once sighted, a presentation is made. Hopefully, a take will ensue. Small jigs, flies, and plugs work best for a subtle presentation. Snook will spook in the very shallow water.

Longboat pass on the south end of Anna Maria Island and Bean Point at the north end offer great snook fishing. Strong current flows through both of these spots, especially Bean Pt. Anglers need to be VERY cautious! It is best to stay out of the water, currents are quite strong.

Fishing Bradenton bridges and piers

There are three bridges in Bradenton that offer good fishing. They are the Longboat Pass Bridge, Cortez Rd Bridge, and Manatee Ave Bridge. All three are very close to the beach. They are a good option when the surf is stirred up. They are also very good at night, especially on an outgoing tide.

Piers are another great option when fishing Bradenton Beach. Piers are very convenient as anglers do not need a fishing license if there is a fee to get on. (Anglers DO need a license to fish off of bridges and the shore line) Another cool feature is the availability of bait and tackle. This is not the case when bridge fishing. The Bridge Street Pier and Rod and Reel Pier both lie along Anna Maria Island.

The Rod and Reel Pier is in a great location on the north end of the island. It juts out into lower Tampa Bay. It is usually loaded with bait fish. Spanish mackerel runs can be legendary! Snook, snapper, sheepshead and other species will be caught as well.

The Sunshine Skyway pier is not in Bradenton. It is a short drive away. When a new bridge was constructed, they turned the old bridge into a fishing pier. It is a long pier which anglers can drive their cars on. It offers very good fishing and is worth the short ride.

Tackle and rigging for beach fishing

Tackle requirements for fishing Bradenton Beach and surrounding piers and bridges are quite basic. A 7′ spinning rod with a 3000 series reel spooled up with 15 pound monofilament of 30 lb braided line will get it done. Anglers fishing the surf can go a bit lighter as there is less structure for the fish to get around.

The best rig for fishing live bait off of the Bradenton beaches, bridges, and piers is the “fish finder” rig. A sliding egg sinker is placed on the running line. A small black swivel is then tied on. This lets the line pass through the sinker. Fish can pick up the boat and move off without feeling any weight.

A 24” piece of 30 lb leader is tied onto the swivel. A #1 or #2 live bait hook finishes off the rig. The weight is determined by the strength of the tide and water depth. Anglers should use the minimum amount of weight that will hold the bottom. Surf anglers need only a ¼ ounce weight. Many people surf fishing use heavy weights and cast too far. Most of the fish are fairly close to shore.

Fishing with live baits

The most popular and versatile bait is shrimp. Live shrimp is available at most bait shops and is pretty easy to keep alive, especially in cooler weather. Fresh dead shrimp will catch plenty of fish. Whiting and sheepshead will take a piece of shrimp. Frozen shrimp are the third choice.

Cut bait can be productive off the beaches as well. However, sometimes it catches the less desirable species. Catfish, rays, and skates like dead bait fished on the bottom. Top cut bait is squid, but any legal fish can be cut up and used for bait. It will catch small sharks off the beaches.

Sand fleas ( AKA mole crabs) are a specialized surf bait. They are very effective for a variety of species, but are most often associated with pompano. Sand fleas are caught right in the surf line with special rakes that sift out the sand and keep the sand fleas.

Fishing with artificial lures

Artificial lures have their place, especially when fishing off the beach. Lures can be a bit more challenging off of piers and bridges. Jigs are very effective as they mimic crabs and other crustaceans. Small bucktail jigs work well, as does the jig and grub combo. Anglers can “tip the jig”. This is placing a very small piece of shrimp on the jig hook. Kind of the best of both worlds.

Plugs and spoons are also productive artificial lures for Bradenton surf casters. They work especially well when mackerel are schooling just off the beaches. Both with catch snook and other species as well. I like the Rapala X-Rap in the #8 size in Ghost. ½ ounce silver spoons are a great choice as well and they cast a mile.

Fly anglers are not to be left out of the action! A 7wt or 8wt outfit with a sinking or sink tip line and a 9 foot tapered leader work well. The leader should have a 25lb bite tippet. Small white flies work well when the water is clear, especially for snook. A #1 Clouser, Crystal Minnow, or D.T. Special will get it done.

Bradenton bridge and pier fishing

Anglers can achieve success when Bradenton bridge pier fishing. There are three large bridges in Bradenton. All three of them offer productive fishing for a variety of species. There are three nice fishing piers as well that are good fishing spots.

Fishing Bradenton bridges

Bridges and piers are basically artificial reefs. They provide shade, structure, and attract bait fish and other Forge. They are man-made fish magnets. The best bridges and piers are low to the water, have old pilings with lots of barnacles, and hopefully some grass bottoms.

The Longboat Pass Bridge connects the south end of Anna Maria Island to the north end of Longboat Key. It is a fairly low bridge, making it good for anglers to fish off of. It is shallow on the south end and fairly deep in the channel.

The Cortez Rd Bridge connects the mainland with Anna Maria Island, just a bit north of Longboat Pass. The channel runs on the east side of the bridge. Lush grass flats exist on the west side of the bridge. It is also fairly low to the water.

The Manatee Avenue Bridge is the longest of the area bridges. It connects the mainland to Anna Maria Island at the northern third of the island. There are flats on both ends and the channel runs pretty much in the center of the bridge. There is a small channel on the west side of the bridge.

Fishing Bradenton piers

The Bridge Street Pier lies at the east end of Bridge Street. It juts out into the inland bay. It expands over some nice grass flats and is good for trout, sheepshead, and snapper. Anglers can purchase bait and tackle there. Parking can be an issue in the evening, especially on weekends and in the busy season.

The Rod and Reel Pier lies at the north end of Anna Maria Island. It is strategically located and just out into Tampa Bay. This area gets very good current flow. Bait and tackle is available. Just about all species are caught here but the Spanish mackerel runs can be fantastic.

While in Palmetto and not Bradenton, the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier is such a great spot, I feel it necessary to include it. The pier is part of the old bridge that connected The south mainland with St. Petersburg. It is right at the mouth of Tampa Bay and is a fantastic fishing spot. Bait and tackle are available. It is quite long and anglers can fish right next to their vehicle, which is quite convenient.

Bradenton bridge and pier techniques

Fishing from both bridges and piers is similar, so I will address them together. Anglers fishing from the bridge or pier will catch most of their fish by working live bait close to the pilings. Live shrimp are the easiest bait to obtain and use. They catch every species all year long.

The rig is pretty basic. Anglers use a 7 foot spinning rod with 20lb braided line. Monofilament line can be used, but braid is better around the structure. A sliding egg sinker is slid on the line, then a small black swivel is tied on. A 24” piece of 30lb flourocarbon leader it tied on the swivel and then a live bait hook is tied onto the other end of the leader. Weight is determined bu the current. Anglers will do best using the lightest weight that will hold bottom.

Whenever possible, anglers will do best fishing the up-current side of the bridge. This allows the boat to float naturally back under the bridge with the current. Game fish will position themselves behind the pilings and out of the current flow. They will then dart out and attack prey as it flows past them.

Bradenton bridge species

Many different species will be encountered when fishing from bridges and peers. Snook, redfish, trout, Pompano, ladyfish, Spanish mackerel, flounder, sheepshead, snapper, and grouper are just some of the species that will be encountered. Fish caught will be determined by bait availability water conditions and time of year.

There are times when casting out away from the bridge or peer can be productive. This is particularly true in the more shallow ends of peers and bridges are grass flats exist. Fishing a live shrimp under a popping cork can produce in these instances. Often times a long cast is more desirable. The same goes if breaking fish are seen out away from the bridge. Anglers may need to get the bait or lower out away from the bridge to them.

Artificial lures do have a place for anglers fishing from bridges and peers. Jigs work well as they are heavy enough to sink down to the bottom. One issue with using lures is the distance between the water in the actual bridge or peer structure. Too long a distance will make using lures difficult. Heavier jigs and spoons are the best choice in this situation.

Fishing Bradenton bridges by boat

As in most fishing situations, anglers with a boat have an advantage. It is usually best when anchoring, to do so on the up current side of the structure. The bait can then be allowed to flow back naturally with the current to the waiting fish. The same rig used for bridge and peer fishing works fine from a boat.

During times when current flow is light, free lining a shrimp can be deadly. This means just looking the shrimp on with no weight or just a small split shot. This is a very natural presentation. This is an extremely effective method for catching snook at night!  Some captains run specialized fishing charters for snook at night.

Anglers with boats can also do well casting artificial lures. Since the boat is level with the surface of the water, it is much easier to control the slack in the line and get the lore down into the desired strike zone. Small plugs work very well, especially when baitfish is present around the bridge. Jigs with a shrimp tail bounced along the bottom can be deadly.

When practical, which basically means during times when boat traffic is low, drifting the fender systems can be extremely productive. Large snuck, Jack Gravelle, grouper, and other species will be caught doing this. Anglers can free line a live bait, cast shallow diving plugs, or bounce a jig along the bottom as they drift.

Safety first when fishing bridges!

It is important to be careful when fishing around bridges either from a boat or off the bridge itself. When fishing off the bridge, it is easy to forget that there are cars and traffic. Anglers must the cautious when fishing off the bridge. Also, heat any signs that restrict fisherman, especially fishing near the opening span. Boaters need to be prudent as well, staying away from the portion of the bridge that raises and being careful around the pilings.

Fishing license requirements can be a bit tricky. Anglers fishing from a boat need a Florida saltwater fishing license. Florida residents do need a license to fish from bridges. However, this license is free. Non residents need a license to fish from bridges. Free piers and docks, including the Bridge Street Pier are the same as bridges. Anglers require a license. Anglers fishing on piers that charge an admission fee do NOT need a license, the pier buys one that covers it’s guests.

Bradenton surf fishing

Many visiting anglers and joy Bradenton surf fishing. There’s something very enjoyable and relaxing about standing at the edge of the sea and casting into it. When conditions are right, sir fishing can be very productive.

Surf fishing and Bradenton can be as simple or as complicated as an angler chooses it to be. Surf casters can bait a hook with some shrimp and just relax while the rod sits in a sand spike. Or, they can work hard, walk several miles, and make a lot of casts. Either way will produce fish.

Surf fishing off of the Bradenton beaches can be good in the winter. However, it all depends on the weather. Strong fronts will bring high winds. The beach will be rough and the water “dirty” from the churned-up sand. Fishing is not good under these conditions.

The wind will shift north east after the front moves through. The beach will calm down and clear up after a couple of days. That is the time to fish! Whiting are usually plentiful in the cooler months. They love shrimp and will hit a small piece fished on the bottom. Silver trout, sheepshead, pompano, and flounder will also be caught.

Tackle and rigging for surf fishing

The best outfit for Bradenton surf fishing is a 7′ spinning rod with 10lb monofilament or 20 braided line. Unlike surf fishing off the Atlantic beaches, long rods and long casts are not required. In fact, many novice surf fishermen cast too far out! Most of the fish are within twenty feet of shore, in the first trough.

The rig for surf fishing with shrimp, sand fleas, or cut bait is simple. It works great all year long, but especially so in the cooler months. A light sliding egg sinker is threaded on the main line. Then, a 24” piece of 20 lb shock leader is tied on the end of the line using a small black swivel. The swivel keeps the sinker from sliding down to the hook. A #4 live bait hook completes the rig. Anglers should use just enough weight to hold bottom. A ¼ ounce to ½ ounce sinker is perfect.

Another option for surf anglers is to use a ¼ ounce jig head with a small hook. This is very convenient as the weight and hook is all in one unit. The sliding weight is then omitted. This also allows the angler to switch to a grub on the jig if so desired.

Bradenton Surf fishing techniques

The technique is the same for both rigs. The hook is baited with either a small shrimp, a piece of shrimp, sand flea, or piece of cut bait. Shrimp are best in the winter. Cut bait works and stays on the hook, but can attract catfish and skates. Serious anglers catch sand fleas with a special rake. They are very good baits, but more difficult to obtain.

Once baited, the rig is cast out twenty or thirty feet. The bait may sit on the bottom or move a bit with the current. Either situation is fine. Anglers can hold the rod or place them in a sand spike. Sand spikes allow anglers to fish more than one rod at a time. However, when the bite is on, it is best to hold the rod.

Artificial lures are also productive for Bradenton surf anglers. They allow anglers to cover a lot of the beach as they walk along. Also, there is not the hassle of acquiring live bait and keeping it alive. Jigs, plugs, and spoons are the top lures. The best approach is to make several casts and then move several steps and repeat.

Artificial lures in the surf

Jigs work very well in the surf year round. A ¼ ounce jig head with a soft plastic grub body is very productive. Light colors work best when the water is clear. White, pearl, and chartreuse are good choices. Small buck tail jigs are quite effective as well. White is the best color for buck tail jigs.

One little trick is to “tip the jig”. This involves putting a small piece of shrimp on the tip of the jig. The shrimp piece needs to be small, about the size of a pea. Too large a piece will ruin the action of the jig. The lure is then cast out, allowed to sink, and retrieved back using a series of small hops.

Fishing with spoons and plugs in the surf

Silver spoons are another effective lure for surf fishermen. They cast a long way and are a great option when fish are schooling off the beach. !/2 ounce is the best all round size. Spoons work great on Spanish mackerel and ladyfish in the spring and fall. They can be reeled in fast and steady or erratically.

Plugs are another very good artificial lure in the surf. The lure needs to be relatively small to match the bait fish that are present. The # 8 Rapala X-Rap in Ghost (white) is a proven beach lure. Anglers can fan cast the area or cast it to breaking fish. It should be brought back in using a “twitch and pause” retrieve.

Fly anglers are certainly not to be left out of surf fishing. The best outfit for this is a 7wt or 8wt rod with an intermediate sink tip line. A 9′ tapered leader with a short 20lb to 30lb bite tippet finishes off the rig.

Beach snook fishing in Bradenton

Bradenton beaches offer anglers the opportunity for some world class sight fishing for snook. This is great sport! Anglers will catch some large snook using fairly light tackle. Plugs and small jigs work best. Fly anglers score using small, white bait fish patterns.

The technique is straight forward. Anglers walk along the beach and look for snook in the surf line. Once fish are sighted, the lure or fly is cast out a few feet ahead of the fish. Snook will be seen alone or in small schools. Any structure such as a pier, rocks, or sea wall are worth a cast or two. Bean Point on the north end of Anna Maria Island is a great spot, just be careful of the strong tides!

Live and cut bait fishing in Bradenton, Florida

Many anglers prefer to use live bait when fishing. The reasons are fairly obvious, fish like the real thing. The best Bradenton fishing baits are shrimp, pin fish, grunts, scaled sardines, threadfin herring, and sand fleas.

Best Bradenton fishing baits

Shrimp are by far the most popular live bait in Bradenton and really the entire state of Florida. They are the nightcrawler of saltwater, catching every species that swims. Shrimp are also available year-round. Most shrimp are purchased at bait shops, though some anglers to catch their own.

Shrimp are incredibly versatile. They are effective and just about every fishing situation. In most instances, the shrimp is hooked near the head through the horn, keeping the shrimp lively. This is the preferred method for fishing over the grass flats, either free lining shrimp or under a cork. Both methods work well when either waiting a grass flat or fishing from a boat.

Free lining shrimp is a very natural presentation. A shrimp with just a hook and it and no weight will swim naturally in the current. This is very attractive to game fish. Free lining shrimp works very well over grass flats that are 6 feet or deeper. And water shallower than 6 feet, the shrimp will tend to get down into the grass.

Shrimp can be free line either from a drifting boat or an anchored boat. When drifting a flat, having the shrimp drift out a good distance behind the boat is very effective. If it is breezy and the boat is moving quickly, a small split shot can be added.

Fishing techniques when using shrimp

Free lining live shrimp also works very well from an anchored boat. Generally the best approach is to anchor in deep water and cast the shrimp out towards the edge of a bar or flat. If current is present, casting up current and allowing the shrimp to flow naturally with the tide is very effective and productive.

Many of fish has been caught using a live shrimp under a popping cork. Most anglers have fished with a bobber and a warm at one time in their lives, this is very similar. The shrimp is hooked onto a number one live bait hook than a popping cork is added 3 feet above the hook. A popping cork has a concave face which when twitched sharply a minutes a loud pop. This imitates feeding fish and will call game fish to the shrimp.

Bottom fishing with shrimp is extremely productive. Anglers use a number 10 live bait hook and just enough weight to hold the bottom. Shrimp can be hooked through the horn as mentioned above, but for snapper and sheepshead threading the shrimp on can result in more hookups. Sheepshead especially are great at nibbling the bait off. Fresh dad and even frozen shrimp works fine in this application.

Snook and redfish love a nice lively shrimp! Anglers fishing lighted docks and bridges at night do very well using live shrimp. Shrimp are just as effective in the daytime fished around docs and other structure. They can also be used on the shallow flats in potholes and along the edges of oyster bars.

Fishing in Bradenton with pinfish and grunts

Pin fished are next in line on the list of best Bradenton fishing baits. Pin fish can be purchased at bait shops, but they are very easy to catch on the flats. They are so numerous in the summer time they are actually a nuisance. Anglers can either cast net over a shallow grass flat or use a small hook in a piece of shrimp. Either method should put a couple dozen pin fish in the well.

Larger live bait fish such as pin fish generally won’t produce as much as shrimp in terms of action. However, they will oftentimes catch larger fish. A 3 inch live pin fish fished under a cork is deadly on the deep grass flats. Pin fish will not only catch the largest trout specimens, they will also fool cobia sharks, and even tarpon.

Pin fish are also deadly on snook when fished around mangrove shorelines. Oyster bars that drop off into deeper water are prime spots as well. This is best on the high tide stages. Redfish, jack crevelle, and other species will also hit a live pin fish.

Grunts are a terrific live bait fish

Pin fish work well fished around deeper structure such as docks, bridges, and structure in the passes. Not only will snook take a live pin fish there are some large gag grouper that reside in the spots and will take a lively pin fish as well. Anglers will need to beef up their tackle for this type of fishing. Heavier tackle in the 20 pound range will be required to winch a larger fish away from the structure.

Grunts, also known as pig fish in some areas, are an outstanding live bait! A lively 2 1/2 inch grunt practically guarantees an angler a nice keeper trout. They are fish in exactly the same method as pin fish. Snook love them as well, as do most all other game fish.

Grunts are a little more difficult to catch and keep alive. They seem to be more plentiful in the Sarasota area in mid to late summer. The key is catching the right sized grunts. It is not difficult to catch four and 5 inch grunts, but those can be a bit large for trout on the flats. Some bait shops to sell grunts as well.

Fishing in Bradenton Florida with pilchards, whitebait and shiners

Scaled sardines are a tremendous bait for Bradenton anglers. Scaled sardines, also known as pilchards, white bait, and shiners, are caught using cast nets. This is a bit of a specialized to technique. It requires a cast net, the ability to throw it, in a large recirculating live well. But, the effort is well worth it.

Scaled sardines are caught both on the shallow grass flats and out on the beaches near the surf. The best grass flats are usually those just inside the passes. Some days, especially within incoming tide, the bait can be seen dimpled up on the surface. This makes them easy to locate and catch. On breezy days, cloudy days, or on an outgoing tide, the bait fish will be much more difficult to locate. The best bet under these conditions is to anchor up and chum the bait fish and close. A mixture of tuna cat food, canned mackerel, or even commercially available fish food will draw them in.

Live bait chumming with shiners

Often time captains on fishing charters will catch hundreds of scaled sardines. This is so that they can then chum on the flats or along mangrove shorelines. This is an incredibly effective technique! The boat is anchored in position, whether it is a flat or a nice shoreline, and then a few handfuls of live bait is thrown into the water. Some anglers squeeze them, crippling them so that they are even more attractive to the game fish. If the game fish are around, it won’t be long before there popping the freebies out behind the boat. Anglers then hook on a bait and cast it out behind the boat.

Threadfin herring are another small, shiny bait fish. While similar in appearance to the scaled sardine, they have a smaller mouth and a little black spot near the Gill. Some anglers refer to them as greenbacks. Threadfin herring will usually not respond to chum. Anglers will need to cast net them visually, either seeing them dimpling on the surface or swimming and schools in the water.

While very effective baits, they are not nearly as hardy as the scaled sardines. Their scales will come off quite easily in the cast net and in the bait well. Despite this, they are fantastic live baits. Larger specimens are deadly on snook. They are also very popular baits for nearshore golf anglers targeting king mackerel.

Fishing in Bradenton with sand fleas

Sand fleas, their true name being mole crabs, are a specialized bait prized by surf anglers. They are caught in the surf line using a special rake, jokingly turned a Florida snow shovel. Sand fleas are about the size of your thumbnail. They are a very good bait for Pompano, sheepshead, whiting, silver trout, and other species.

Once caught, sand fleas are easy to keep alive in a bucket of sand with a little bit of water. They can also be frozen and used at a later date, though as in most bait fishing, fresh live baits are best. Surf anglers will use a small number two or number for hook and just enough weight to get out into the trough. Pompano in particular find them irresistible.

Sand fleas are also very good for sheepshead. Sheepshead are found near some type of structure. Docks, bridges, seawalls, and submerged rocks will all hold sheepshead. A sand flea fished on the bottom will seldom be refused if sheepshead are in the area.  Please check the Florida FWC website for all license requirements and fishing regulations.

Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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