The Tampa Bay Fishin’ Report: Angler lands bonefish in ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ catch

Angler Alex Ciekot had plenty to smile about after making the catch of a lifetime fishing off the Big Bend power plant in Tampa Bay. Though it’s a common catch in the Florida Keys, taking a bonefish in the bay is right up there with winning the lotto.

Nick Stubbs Sig

Rare but known to happen in Tampa Bay, one of our regular sources reported a customer caught a bonefish in the bay. Don’t get excited; repeating the feat is a long shot, to say the least.

The lucky angler, Alex Ciekot, is relatively new to fishing the bay and needed advice on where he might go to catch something, so he asked Jacob from Riviera Bait & Tackle, who was happy to point him in the right direction. The bay water being chilly, Jacob advised fishing the outfall at the Big Bend power plant at Apollo Beach. When the water is cold, fish are drawn to the warm water expelled by the plant.

Typically pompano, cobia, trout and sharks consider it a safe haven, but it seems at least one bonefish, which don’t range much north of the Florida Keys, also picked the spot.

Over the years, for unknown reasons, some bonefish ended up in Tampa Bay. A few old salts think hurricanes that push up the Gulf from the south are behind the phenomenon, moving schools of fish caught in the turbulent waters and driving them like a herd of cattle.

Jacob’s customer ended up taking the tip and set up off the plant with shrimp from the shop, resulting in a bite from the hard-fighting bonefish, which he landed and photographed.

“Wouldn’t you know it?” said Jacob, who would like to have made the catch himself to add to his Tampa Bay angling achievements. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

Robert over at Gandy Bait & Tackle said the only other bonefish he’s heard about at the shop was from years ago when a man cast-netting mullet on the 4th Street flats on the Pinellas side of the bay near the Howard Frankland Bridge got one in his net. Robert has seen the photo of the fish.

Capt. Chuck Rogers, who has been fishing the bay for more than 30 years, had two words to describe the recent catch: “Very rare.”

Tackle shop roundup

Gandy Bait & Tackle (813-839-5551): Robert got out to survey things in the bay, finding chilly snook bunched up in a school of 50 fish that would not take any kind of bait. The cold water means that’s something anglers are likely to find all over the bay until we get a few more days of warming. He said the fish were in less than 2 feet of water soaking up the sun’s rays. Trout were in a better mood. Wading off the face of Picnic Island, Robert landed some 30 fish 16 to 18 inches. The redfish bite has been on at Weedon Island, with a customer reporting taking fish on live shrimp at the mouth of a creek there. The reds ranged between 22 and 33 inches. Word is a few cobia have shown up off the Big Bend power plant, along with huge jacks. The Pinellas end of the Gandy Bridge has been producing some nice sheepshead around rocks and pilings. Fiddler crabs are the best bait, but shrimp will get it done.

Riviera Bait & Tackle (727-954-6365): Jacob reports in two hours of fishing one of his favorite winter spots, the Big Bend power plant, he caught all the reds and mammoth jacks he wanted (but no bonefish). He’s had reports the cobia are there, as well, though he didn’t encounter any. Trout on deeper grass and around channel edges, as well as sheepshead on docks, bridge pilings and submerged rocks are other good bets right now. Offshore, anglers are catching good numbers of hogfish beginning at the 45-foot mark, but the action and size of fish is better in 60 to 80 feet of water. Live shrimp is the best bait.

Mitch's Bait & Tackle (727-826-0265): Ryan says things have been a little slow at the shop since the last round of cold nights. Those going have been reporting a mix of sheepshead, mangrove snapper and scattered reds. The snapper and sheepshead are around any kind of structure and taking live shrimp on the bottom. The reds have been hit-and-miss around flooded mangroves in various parts of the bay. Offshore, anglers are taking hogfish, and when going well offshore, red grouper.