With easy access to endless fishing spots, the offshore waters near Clearwater have some of the best deep sea action in the Gulf. The Suncoast gives anglers the chance to catch incredible reef fish only a short distance from the dock or head all the way out and hook up with the biggest pelagic species in the Gulf.
The natural beauty of this area has attracted visitors since the first settlers put down roots here. With incredible wildlife and pristine shoreline, Clearwater has grown from a small community to one of the top vacation spots in the country. Fishing is also a big reason many tourists visit Clearwater. Some of the most sought-after sportfish pass through Clearwater which has made it a haven for anglers around the world.
Few places in the Gulf of Mexico have an environment as rich as the waters just off the coast of Clearwater. The Natural geography of the Florida peninsula makes Clearwater the last spot where the Continental Shelf can be reached by charter boats. South of the Tampa area, the coast pulls away making the trip to the shelf too far for most captains.
Many of the most prized sports fish migrate through Clearwater each year because it sits further out into the Gulf. Easy access to the annual runs of different fish species throughout the year makes this a very productive fishery.
Reefs and shipwrecks are scattered across the seafloor off the coast from Clearwater and are home to a variety of fish. These reefs are the perfect environment for bottom-dwelling species to hunt for food or take shelter. That means there are plenty of fishing spots to explore in search of a monster.
The favorable waters offshore from Clearwater have a variety of deep-sea fish species biting throughout the year with migrations frequently passing through. With many of the most popular fish passing through it’s an amazing place to wet a line and catch a variety of fish. There are three species of fish that don’t fit into one of the below categories and they are cobia, Spanish mackerel, and sharks.
Cobia and Spanish mackerel cover a lot of ground and can be found anywhere from nearshore reefs to remote bluewater. While Spanish mackerel tend to school cobia will cruise around solo or hunt in groups. Sharks are interesting predators and similar to cobia can be found anywhere and by themselves or in a group you just never know.
A reef trip means bottom fishing for some of the most delicious fish such as red snapper, amberjack, and grouper. The reef fishing is so good, Clearwater has become famous for catching huge grouper and has been called the “Grouper Capital of the World.” The snapper and grouper bite is on fire for most of the year so there is no bad time to go. Amberjack tends to have more specific runs but the appeal of this fish is the fight and the flavor. With calmer waters and less travel time spent getting to fishing spots, reefs trips are perfect for families or inexperienced anglers but still offer the opportunity to catch a massive fish.
Most deep sea fishing charters will head out between 20 and 100 miles offshore for the giant pelagic species. On a shorter offshore trip, you will find kingfish, wahoo, blackfin tuna, mahi mahi, and even barracuda depending on the time of year. On a full day or overnight trip, you can reach far away deep bluewater home to sought after billfish including marlin, yellowfin tuna, sailfish, and swordfish when the conditions are right.
These pelagic fish grow huge and hooking into one means a tough fight and possibly some acrobatics. The most effective way to cover ground and get on these fish is by trolling and there is nothing more exciting than watching a big fish hit a lure on the surface.
This might be the best fishing spot in the Gulf of Mexico with more offshore target species in this one spot than anywhere else. The Middle Grounds are 100 miles off the coast of Clearwater but the long haul is worth it with productive fishing that’s second to none. The best species to catch here include various snapper and grouper species along with amberjack, mahi mahi, wahoo, and tuna.
Located much closer to shore, Rube Allyn Reef is located 11 miles offshore from Clearwater Beach. This massive artificial reef is known for the giant kingfish bite in the spring and fall. At the Rube Allyn Reef, you can also target, red snapper, grouper, and amberjack.
Grouper, snapper, and amberjack will crush bait throughout the year but they do have different peak seasons. Grouper have their peak bite in the winter and slow down the warmer month while snapper are the opposite and peak in the summer. Amberjack are the most consistent with a strong bite for most of the year but goes on a feeding frenzy in late summer.
Mackerel are hot in the late spring and fall when water temperatures are warm but drop off quickly as the weather gets cool. Mahi mahi are one of the most popular and plentiful pelagic species but the best time to find them in Clearwater is from summer into fall when the water temps are high.
The giant offshore species including tuna, sailfish, and wahoo get red hot in the summer but fall off toward the winter months. Cobia are firing on all cylinders in the spring and taper off into the summer months. While there are definite peaks for each species the fishing in Clearwater is amazing year-round because of the overlapping migrations of different species.
Although Clearwater has incredible deep sea fishing, the inshore and nearshore fishing is just as good and maybe more popular. With a variety of nearshore reefs and inshore backwaters, the options are endless. The fishing opportunities are
For inshore anglers, Clearwater is a very special place. The inshore waters are home to a variety of fish including many bucket list species. In the spring and summer months, tarpon stop by on their southern migration chasing food and warmer water. They are followed by snook moving into the warmer bay waters to hunt. In the summer and fall redfish move through the bays and channels into the flats to spawn which is the perfect time to catch a giant.
When water temps start to cool off, speckled trout and flounder will start moving into the shallow backwaters. The trout will be extremely aggressive and feed on any baitfish or shrimp they can find.
Some of the best places to find success while inshore fishing Clearwater is to hit Caladesi Island and Honeymoon Island or cruise the bays, backwaters, and bayous for mangrove monsters.
There are plenty of nearshore reefs and wrecks that hold a ton of different fish including snapper, grouper, amberjack, mackerel, and cobia. The nearshore fishing opportunities have a lot of similarities with deep sea reef fishing done further offshore. A nearshore trip will put you on some of the most amazing fish without spending a ton of time traveling to the first spot.
With inland fishing available to the north in Lake Tarpon, Clearwater is one of the most well-rounded fishing locations in the world. This lake covers an area of over 2,500 acres and has a healthy largemouth bass population. Wildlife biologists that sample the lake every year have found that the bass population is well balanced and is one of the top 10 bass fishing lakes in the state. Lake Tarpon doesn’t get much fishing pressure which makes this fishery a prime location to wet a line if you are a bass angler.
Apart from the world-class inshore fishing, rich inland bass fishery, productive offshore and nearshore waters, and award-winning white sand beaches, there are plenty of events and activities to keep you busy back on land. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is great for families, but for those looking to let loose, you can choose from a number of micro-breweries, bars, and nightclubs. If you want to mix it up and try a new city head south to St. Petersburg or east to Tampa. With so many places to go and things to do, there is no shortage of fun to be had in Clearwater, on or off the water.
Updated on December 6, 2022
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