Sarasota Bay Fishing Guide for Beginners

Sarasota is located in a prime fishing location, right in the middle of some of the best saltwater fishing areas on Florida's west coast. With Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and Naples in the south and Bradenton, St. Petersburg, and Tampa just north, you really couldn't ask for a better location.

Check out Sarasota on your maps app and look at the satellite views. Ocean everywhere and guess what? It's filled with snook, trout, redfish, black drum, tarpon, and dozens of other amazing species you can catch and eat daily if you want.

Sarasota is a mecca for retirees and anyone who wants to enjoy the serenity of the ocean, warm days year-round, and excellent dining and resorts.

Anglers fishing in Sarasota can choose from so many different ideal fishing spots from surf and wade fishing to inshore and deep sea fishing in the ocean surrounding the city. But please don't forget about the freshwater lakes that are inland and holding big largemouth bass!

Sarasota Bay is an hour south of Tampa and borders Bradenton on its north. The bay area is about 16 miles long and nearly 4 miles wide at its widest point. The water of Sarasota Bay is rather shallow and averages around 10 feet deep. Fishing at Sarasota Bay offers anglers plenty of oyster bars, grass and sand flats, and mangrove-filled shorelines.

In our detailed Sarasota Bay Fishing Guide, you’ll learn all you need to know about fishing in and around the picturesque Sarasota Bay!

What Fish Are Biting in Sarasota Bay?

Fishing the wide expanse of Sarasota Bay can produce a variety of fish species including bluefish, pompano, Spanish mackerel, bull red drum, massive snook, spotted seatrout, huge tarpon, doormat flounder, sheepshead, black drum, and endless mangrove snapper. Bigger targets like bull sharks and lemon sharks can also be found in the bay.

How Do You Catch Fish in Sarasota Bay?

You can use a boat to fish inshore, exploring nearshore reefs and mangrove-lined flats in Sarasota Bay. If you ever tire of fishing this expanse of very productive water you can head out into the Gulf of Mexico and fish deeper water for tuna, kings, sailfish, big grouper, and snapper.

If fishing is your life, and you can afford to move south, the Sarasota Bay area is one of the best fishing spots in the entire nation and affords easy access to many surrounding fisheries as well. Whether fishing from a bridge, the beach, a pier, an inshore boat, or a kayak, there is a fishing spot that will bring tears of joy to your eyes. It may sound like I’m being dramatic, but no, this is the reality!

Let's have a look at some of the best ways to put fish in your freezer while fishing in Sarasota Bay!

1. Kayak Fishing

kayak-fishing

Sarasota is filled with luxury yachts, cruisers, and fishing boats. Do you know what we don't see enough of? Kayaks! I would regularly bring my kayak down from Tampa and launch into Sarasota Bay for a lazy day of floating around and catching reds and trout primarily, but always a variety of fun fish.

Combine your love of boating and fishing by getting out on the water in your own fishing kayak. You can carry them on just about any vehicle. I strapped mine to my Honda Prelude for years before I got a truck and could throw it in the back.

There are plenty of spots to launch your kayak in the bay and catch fish all day. One place I recommend is heading straight to Don Roehr Boat Ramp (GPS: 27.349342807281765, -82.5487409524428).

Buttonwood Harbor is a great little place to go fish in the mangroves with your kayak, but literally anywhere you go is going to be great because you can just float around and troll something behind you for that unexpected smash hookup and at the same time actively fish off the front with a plug or other lure.

One of the best options is heading straight to Centennial Park to launch your kayak, then straight across the bay to reach Lido Key Beach Park. Go south along the coast until reaching the park. This channel is filled with fish of all kinds that enjoy the current and the change of depth. This is a gem that’s worth exploring for great fishing and sometimes other wildlife like birds, rays, and the occasional shark. Don't miss the Kayak Trail! Another option is also the launch site at Turtle Beach, which is close to the Jim Neville Nature Preserve. This place is known for great fishing and the many beautiful birds that you can see while you're fishing.

RELATED: Vibe Sea Ghost 130 Angler Kayak Review 

2. Surf Fishing

surf fishing

Surf fishing is one of the easiest ways to get out on the water and throw some bait around. You can use just about any size fishing reel – either baitcasting or spinning reel and any rod. If you can, choose a longer rod that will enable you to cast farther. It's good to get out beyond the breaking waves to reach some of the other fish. Pompano can be caught right in the surf, so, up to you what you target!

You can just bring the basics when surf fishing. Basic live or dead cut bait is fine, as is the use of a spoon, GotCha plug, or some sort of artificial shrimp or crab. All of these can work wonders while shore fishing. Most beaches in Sarasota are open to the public so you shouldn't have a problem finding an open beach to go to.

When is the best time to go surf fishing in Sarasota? The summer gets super hot, so while it's a great time to fish, you should go in the morning or evening and time your arrival with the incoming or outgoing tides for best results. Winter surf fishing can be OK too, it really depends on the water temperatures. In Sarasota, it is typically warm enough to fish year-round with some success!

3. Bridge and Pier Fishing

bridge fishing

The variety of fishing available in the Sarasota area is astounding. One morning you may be surf fishing in waist-deep water. Later that afternoon you're fishing from a pier before sunset and catching fish for dinner. The next day you're on your kayak (or rental) and exploring the mangroves and docks that cover the Sarasota Bay coast.

Sarasota Bay is the perfect place to try different types of fishing styles. Bridge and pier fishing is especially good because you have so many places to choose from. 

There are countless bridges, fishing piers, and docks in the Sarasota area. With your map app, it's easy to find the one closest to you. You won't have to go far.

Piers like the Hart's Landing Pier or the Sarasota Pier are big enough to hold some people and probably won't get too crowded unless it's a 3-day weekend or some other holiday. Bridges are everywhere, and if you can't fish from them, they'll have a sign.

Bird Key Park is next to the Ringling Bridge, and is a popular fishing bridge filled with locals targeting a number of different marine species. This is the perfect destination for good fishing, and you’ll admire the beautiful views of Sarasota while you wait for that big fish to bite.

4. Charter Fishing

charter fishing

Another way you can enjoy fishing in Sarasota is to book a charter fishing trip with one of the captains with a boat. This takes all the responsibility off you and you can relax and enjoy the ride out to the fishing grounds and they'll have live bait for you and the rods and everything else you need.

Going out into the Gulf of Mexico requires a longer trip of at least 8 hours so if you're not sure if someone in your group will get seasick or be scared of being on a boat in the middle of the ocean, you might just book a shorter inshore trip. You can even go for a half-day and fish the shores and other shallow spots. This way you'll be fine if someone gets sick and wants to get off, you can easily drop them off and keep fishing!

You can book a half or full day on the water with the group tours who bring sometimes up to 50 other anglers and the cost is very reasonable compared to private charter boat rates. A shorter local tour is more convenient for people of all ages, and the water in Sarasota is suitable for everyone looking to catch fish.

What Fish Are in Season in Sarasota Bay?

Fishing in Sarasota Bay relies on the Florida State saltwater calendar to let us know when it is legal to catch fish because many fish have a season where they are allowed to be harvested. Currently, they are displaying the 2022 calendar and we cannot find the new one anywhere. We'll update this page as we do.

There are dozens of different species of fish available in the area, and you’d have to spend a lifetime angling to catch them all. Some of the best game fish species to target include the following.

1. Tarpon

tarpon

Sarasota Bay is home to one of the great fighting sport fish of Florida, and really the world – the Tarpon! This is a hard-fighting fish that can put on aerial displays that rivals marlins and other sailfish. Tarpon fish can grow to over 200 lb. and have huge mouths. There are no other huge fish as big as this one in Sarasota Bay. Of course, I’m not counting sharks. The tarpon is a special breed that we're so happy to have in Florida! 

So, tarpon are huge fish that have the ability to jump 10 feet out of the water and sail for many yards. They can be dangerous, as it's possible they can knock someone off a boat into the water. These are fast-moving fish, whether in the water or the air!

You can target tarpon all year, but they are really biting like crazy from May to August, this is when small baitfish they feed on are schooling in large numbers. Smaller tarpon are also a lot of fun to catch and you can get them with a 20 lb. test line if they're small enough. 

The biggest tarpon caught was 243 lb. in Key West!

Tarpon are strictly catch and release in Florida. You can only keep one if you have a tarpon tag and you are trying for a record. Otherwise, all tarpon caught must be returned to the water.

As the bait move, so do the tarpon. These huge fish need to eat almost constantly. They range from shallow flats areas to deeper water around bridges and piers. 

Besides small baitfish, they will also feed on schools of ladyfish swimming in shallow waters.

Please read closely all information on tarpon fishing at the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission website because there are gear and other restrictions you'll need to know. There are a number of laws that apply specifically to tarpon that you must know or you can be fined for breaking them.

Just FYI - tarpon over 40" are not to be removed from the water unless going for a record submission!

2. Flounder

flounder

Although some flounder species can be caught all year long, they are more concentrated and easier to catch during the fall and winter months.

Flounder are easily caught on live or dead shrimp, squid, or cut bait fished by slowly dragging your bait on the bottom through sand or mud. Flounder lay in wait under the loose bottom and ambush their prey very quickly. It is not hard to catch these great-eating fish.

If you want to use artificials for flounder, that's also possible. The DOA Shrimp, Savage Shrimp, and anything that looks like a shrimp dragged through soft sand on the bottom will trigger a flounder attack.

Use sinkers 18" before your bait to help kick up some extra sand and dirt This excites the flounder and they can't resist.

You can catch a bunch of flounder in one spot and not scare them away. As always, the bigger the bait, the bigger the fish so go big if you want that doormat flounder!

3. Snook

snook

Sometimes the harvesting of snook, trout, and redfish are banned or limited in certain Florida regions, such as the south of State Rd 64 in Manatee County on the south bank of Gordon Pass in Collier County. These fish are often assigned 'catch and release' status for months at a time as they are more affected by red tide than other fish.

You’ll find snook on the flats and in the bays when the water is warm. When it gets hot, they move toward the beaches. When it gets cold you'll find them stacked up in residential canals and rivers just under the surface where they are attempting to get warm from sunlight. They can stay in freshwater as well as saltwater for extended periods but spawn in saltwater.

Snook are one of Florida anglers' most popular fish because they have a decent fight, they get fairly big, and they are absolutely delicious on the plate!

Fishing for snook at your leisure from piers and bridges, the shore, and small boats inshore is a fun way to target this species. They can be found in so many places, but some kind of structure is necessary like a dock, rocks, bridge or pier supports, or mangrove trees.

Snook love big shrimp and greenbacks, and will eat just about any live baitfish on a hook. If you're looking for a big snook, use a big pinfish and hold on. Snook have a strong first run and sometimes a strong second run. Make sure you've got at least 30 lb. test line on your reel. I usually use 40 lb. braid and a 30-40 lb. test fluoro leader for big snook.

Whatever type of bait you choose – it’ll be fun – and you’ll come back for more!

4. Grouper

grouper fish

Bottom fishing in Sarasota Bay for grouper might seem like a dumb idea, but you can definitely find the smaller grouper inshore in the shallow flats areas. Look for grassy bottom and or rocks and you're likely to find some.

A good rule of thumb is that the bigger the grouper, the farther off-shore you are. This is why commercial and recreational charters go 25-50 miles offshore. They want the big ones.

Grouper put up a heck of a fight. When they know they're hooked they go down as deep as possible and they'll try to find a hole or some obstacle to wrap your line around to cut it. They are very good at this and you have to be ready to fight immediately or you'll lose your great-tasting fish.

No matter what your experience level is, if you can hold on tight and crank that grouper up off the bottom, you're going to have some real fun! You can try any time of the year to catch some of these super-strong bottom dwellers.

Gag grouper is the usual target inshore. They can be found in a lot of areas and no angler is too surprised when they catch one, even when not focusing on them at all. They seem to be everywhere. They are always hungry and they are constantly moving around, unlike the big grouper in the depths that stay in one place until they see prey. It’s quite normal for grouper to show up in the shallower waters during the spring and winter.

Although they’re tough fighters, their flesh is not. It has an amazing and unique texture when cooked. Try some grilled grouper sandwiches at a beach bar, it will blow your mind. Grouper is one of my top 5 fish to eat.

If you want to try your luck with giant grouper like this massive one held by the guy on the boat (below), head out to the offshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It will take you a while to get there, but when you find water around 200 feet deep, you can find large grouper just like this.

5. Snapper

snapper

You really can't go inshore fishing without catching snapper, either on purpose or purely by accident. They are all over the coast around every pier, bridge, dock, boat, rock, and fallen tree. The good news is, they are absolutely delicious! Mangrove snapper are a delicacy when broiled. They are easily one of my favorite fish to eat.

Using ultralight tackle you can target snapper and sheepshead fish in the same area. Snapper will more readily go for shrimp or squid away from the structure, but close by. Snapper is one of the easiest fish to catch, and an absolute blast for kids, so put them on some of the toothy rascals!

The easiest way to find them is to head to any fishing pier or bridge. They will be close to the concrete supports that hold up the structure.

You can also find more than enough snapper in the mangroves. They love the roots and any fallen tree or rocks. They hang out together in small schools. For huge snapper, just like grouper and most other fish, you can find them well offshore. Red snapper is an amazing-tasting fish you can target if you get a chance.

What Is the Best Time to Go Fishing in Sarasota, Florida?

Here is an overview of what the typical year of fishing looks like in Sarasota. Use this to help you decide when your best chance is to target the fish you're eager to catch!

January. January can be one of the slower months of the year. We're at the peak of winter in North America and even Florida cools off a couple of times during a normal winter. One of the top fishing targets in Florida, snook, go out of season during the winter and they become vulnerable to freezing/shock as the temperatures plummet.

Redfish are tailing in January and are easy to target if you have a small boat. Sheepshead are biting like crazy during January and you'll see many anglers on the bridges targeting these excellent-eating fish (top 5!).

February isn’t the best time of year to fish because of the cold water and many fronts affecting the water.

Fishing Big Sarasota Pass in the mornings for sheepshead is where it's at in February. You'll catch your limit of these tasty, toothy fish with crabs on a long shank hook. Some use circle hooks, but I just don't have luck with those.

Speckled trout, flounder, and red and black drum are easily caught in February from docks, piers, or even from shore in some spots.

NOTE - MARCH TO AUGUST are the best months for fishing in Sarasota.

March. The month of March begins the good fishing days in Florida as the water is gradually warming with some very sunny and warm days. When the first days of spring arrive, it's time to dust off your fishing gear and get out there and catch something!

The species you can catch in March include sheepshead, snook, redfish, trout, pompano, cobia, king macks, Spanish mackerel, flounder, snapper, grouper, jack crevalle, and even sharks are all plentiful and getting better as we get into April.

April. Bluefish, specks, Spanish, blues, ladyfish, pompano, and drum are common. Just throw something in the water and you're going to catch fish. This is the beauty of Florida's unbeatable fishery. Sarasota is one of the best places to fish in the states and in the world. Just get yourself down here and catch fish. Simple. Well, make sure you get your license, then it's simple after that.

Baitfish are increasing and you can start cast-netting bait in the shallows if you don't want to pay for it.

May. With temperatures in the mid-70s to high 80s, the water is warming up nicely and the fish are reaching  peak activity mode. From this month you have until August to capitalize on some of the best fishing mother nature allows mankind!

If we've already had a string of very hot days around 100°F by this time in May, you should fish in the early morning hours (and tides of course) for the best fishing of the day. Target whatever fish you want, they are all here and active during the next few months.

June. All fishing is exceptional this month, and it's possibly the best month of the year to fish if the days haven't been too hot for a long time.

Tarpon are all over the coast up and down Florida's west side as massive schools of baitfish move along the beaches close to shore. You can catch tarpon from shore, boat, kayak, bridge, or pier. There are also some other fish you can target with success this month like false albacore, mahi, tripletail, cobia, and of course jack crevalle.

July. July is a very hot month in Florida and Sarasota doesn't escape the heat. If it's too hot, expect fishing to be better in the early morning hours until the sun heats the water up too much for fish to remain active.

July is the last flat-out amazing tarpon fishing month in Sarasota as they are moving toward the estuaries in the next month and will be harder to find in the usual spots. As usual, snook at night is a great time to get out there and see what you can do.

Some piers are open all night long. In Sarasota, there is a small pier you can go to called 'Fishing Pier behind Mote Marine' on Google maps. No joke. You can find it using this address - 1704 Ken Thompson Pkwy.

There are many different fish species to catch in July, including tarpon and snook during night fishing or fishing in very shallow waters for reds or big trout.

August. With rain moving in, it cools things down a bit (or a lot) depending on how many inches we're getting per day.

Deep seagrass flats will hold many trout you can hook into with a simple shrimp freelined with the current. To get big trout, go with a pinfish or mullet for bait. Huge gator trout eat big 8-12-inch mullet, don't be shy about baiting one up!

Baitfish are everywhere and ready to be cast netted by the hundreds. Chumming and fishing live bait on the flats is a super-effective way to catch your limit of multiple species in August.

September. Fishing the dock lights on Sarasota Bay at dawn is a sure way to land some slot snook in September. Small tarpon, red drum, and black drum will be near the docks at this time. In the seagrass, you'll find the usual trout, blues, and Spanish in the bay.

October. Shallow sand flats and oyster beds are full of reds this month as they break up and scatter. The same areas will also give you good action for grouper, king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, snook, and trout.

November. The air and water are really cooling off now from summer highs. If you haven't been out on the Gulf of Mexico yet this year, get out there now before the water cools down too much and the bite stops.

Reds, trout, snook, sheepies, mangrove snapper, jacks, and some other inshore fish are still biting.

December. Though snook can be caught and released around the docks, if it's very cold, and really, even if it isn't, give these fish a break and leave them alone until it warms up next year. Snook take the cold hard and many don't survive when the water dips too much.

Find reds and trout congregated in potholes on the flats when the water is clear. Bluefish are also caught in good numbers during the cool weather.

Sheepshead catches start cranking in December as the water gets colder.

December is the month when trout and snook move into canals to get through the cold winter by sunning in the shallows.

Wrapping Up

Whether you are an avid angler already or you're considering learning to fish in Florida, make your way to Sarasota and book a charter for $50-80 and spend the day catching fish. Is it what you thought it was? WAY better? Yeah, of course, it was! You're going to become a convert just like millions of others who have gone before you.

Fishing is an amazing pastime and you might as well be in a place that makes it easy with so many available species and ways to fish. Sarasota Bay and the surrounding area is a fishing mecca, truly one of the best spots in the world to ocean fish.

Don't go crazy with gear, just get a basic size 6000 spinning reel and 7-foot rod and get to it. You can catch most fish with this simple setup. Of course, you'll have to choose the right line and other gear but it isn't that difficult.

Remember, as it gets hot in Sarasota (anywhere in Florida), switch your fishing to early morning hours around the tides and you'll catch a lot of fish. Let us know how it goes, we're always here to lend an ear!


Photo of author

Brian Hopkins

Brian is an outdoor writer and the youngest member of our team, but he is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to fishing and different techniques for catching different species. He shares valuable information that the younger generation can relate to. When he is not fishing, you can find him hanging with his friends and gaming on his computer.

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