Between Bradenton and Tampa on the southeastern shore of the Bay, lies a magical winter wonderland. TECO power plant located in Apollo Beach is one the best winter fisheries in the world. When the bay and gulf waters cool down, TECO power plant heats up! Anglers, captains, and spectators flock to TECO power plant by land, sea, and air. Many private planes and helicopters circle to get a birds eye view of this amazing natural winter aquarium. Many are there to see the largest population of manatees per square mile in the world at TECO’s manatee viewing center. You can bring the whole family for free. Sting Rays, Dolphin, Mullet, Tarpon, and Sharks put on their daily acrobatic show. On a good day, you can see any one of those species leaping, jumping, rolling and/or spinning into the air. Most are there to fish. Some anglers fish by land at the Apollo Beach State Park located across from TECO, but most fish by boat. Anglers are set up all over the power plant waters looking for the fish of a lifetime, much like Boca Grande Pass in spring and summer.
I’m going to focus on two of many fish we like to target at the power plant in winter and give you some tips on how to catch them.
Cobia: Idle around the TECO sand flats and the deeper waters between Apollo Beach and Beer Can Island looking for the elusive Brown Bombers. You can typically find them riding underneath or beside manatees or Cow Head Rays on the surface. Most of the time, you’ll see one to three Cobia at the time. We like to use both live and artificial baits. Greenbacks, Thread Fins, Pinfish, Finger Mullet, and large Shrimp are your best bet for live bait. Green, black, or yellow ten inch plastic eels or a white and red Bomber plug seems to be the best artificial bait. When you spot the Cobia, make your first cast count. Lead the fish like a quarterback leads his receiver. If you make your first cast count, and the Cobia’s hungry, hold on tight, if he’s not hungry, you can make a hundred casts with a hundred different baits and the Cobia will continue to have lock jaw. Cobia gets my best tasting fish and best fighting fish award for this time of year.
Shark: Tampa Bay is the shark capital of the world, with the largest population and the largest variety. Sharks school to TECO in search of warmer water, but mostly following the droves of Mullet and Cow Rays that they love to feed on. To get the big Bulls and Black Tips anchor up on the six foot contour and chum with blood, cut bait, and/or chum bags. Use big tackle with wire leader and circle hooks. Use chunks of Ladyfish, Mullet, or Spanish Sardines, the heads are the best. You should free line them when you can on a slack tide. To target smaller sharks such as Bonnet Heads or Black Tips fish in the shallow sand flats in front of TECO. Tip a large shrimp on a jig head under a popping cork with a twenty five to thirty pound leader. If you are casting in three feet of water your leader should be two feet ten inches long.
Now is a great time to get out on Tampa Bay and catch some fish.
Good Luck and Tight Lines,
Capt. Joel Brandenburg