Fort De Soto, at the mouth of Tampa Bay, guards exceptional bay and beach fishing.

Bay Pier visitors tackle sheepshead, flounder, snapper and mackerel.

This 1,136-acre Pinellas County park comprises Madelaine, St. Jean, St. Christopher, Bonne Fortune and Mullet keys. The V-shaped Mullet Key largest of the bunch offers the secluded East Beach, the heralded North Beach and the park’s namesake military site strategically and centrally seated. On Mullet Key’s southwest corner, just below the fort, stands the 1,000-foot Gulf Pier. East of the fort, the Bay Pier extends 500 feet toward the mouth of Tampa Bay.

During the Civil War, Mullet Key and nearby Egmont Key served as Union blockade posts, but it was more than 30 years later when construction of a fort began, during the Spanish-American War. Serving as a sub-post to Fort Dade on Egmont Key, Fort De Soto saw U.S. military presence during WWI and WWII. Ultimately, the fort never fired on an enemy and Pinellas County bought the property in 1948. Dedication as a park came on May 1, 1963.

In 1978, Fort De Soto’s 12-inch mortar battery was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. If you glance to the surf, near Bay Pier, you’ll see weathered remnants of a 3-inch gun battery destroyed by a 1921 hurricane. Waterfront markers indicate the original building locations.

To present matters, fishing: Fort De Soto has over seven miles of waterfront, three of which hold soft white sand beaches. Amenities include a large and well-maintained launch ramp, shower/restroom facilities, 7-mile asphalt multi-use trail, kayak rentals, a designated dog park and a 2,200-foot barrier-free trail with a wheel chair-friendly path and interpretive stations.

Daily ferry trips (weather permitting) run from Bay Pier to nearby Egmont Key. FS

Where

This largest of Pinellas County parks comprises a quintet of connected islands at the south end of Pinellas County just outside of the mouth of Tampa Bay.

What’s in a Name

Named for Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto, the fort was dedicated on April 4, 1890.

Gameplan

Sample beach, pier, kayak and wade-fishing opportunities. Also Pinellas County’s premier family picnic and camping destination.

When

Spring through fall finds mackerel buzzing both piers. Outstanding wade-fishing in the warmer months.

Bait & Tackle

Fort De Soto Gulf Pier Bait and Tackle (727-582-2267), The Bait Bucket on Tierra Verde (727-864-2108)

Lodging

Fort De Soto Park Campground (Tents, RV’s), Don Cesar on St. Petersburg Beach, Coconut Inn on historic Pass-A-Grille.

Eats

Billy’s Stone Crab on Tierra Verde or Rumfish Grill on St. Petersburg are good bets for fresh seafood.

Tips

Free-lined or floated shrimp is the pier favorite, although squid spoons (mackerel) and banana-shaped pompano jigs see lots of use. Local guide Rob Gotta says Fort De Soto’s East Beach offers some of the Tampa Bay area’s best wade fishing (also great kayak waters.) Cork live pilchards or cast jigs and topwaters over the 3-to4-foot depth range.

First published Florida Sportsman June 2018

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