July 11, 2020
By David A. Brown
Fishing and floating are not necessarily synonymous. Nothing wrong with boating — it certainly increases range and options; but Florida offers incredible opportunities to catch lots of fish from shore.
Increasing coastal development means access can be an issue, but there's still plenty of great areas where you can enjoy Florida fishing. We've rounded up 20 examples of where you can go fishing without a boat. Some will also offer the opportunity to slide a canoe, kayak or standup paddle board into the water, but all include plenty of space to fish from shore, or wade into coastal shallows.
1) Sebastian Inlet State Park is perhaps the ultimate Atlantic Coast venue for land-based fishing. The prominent paved jetty pier on the north side, complete with safety rails offers a safe, spacious platform for reaching the surf zone or the deeper water of the inlet. Incoming tides always bring a push of activity, but when the fall mullet run piles an enormous biomass in and around the inlet, anglers have a field day with bull redfish, giant snook, tarpon and the occasional cubera snapper.
Mangrove snapper, jacks, sheepshead and black drum add to the mix; while the shallower end, along with the smaller south jetty may yield pompano, whiting and croakers. When the fall cold fronts usher hordes of flounder out of the Indian River and toward the Atlantic, anglers line the riprap for a shot at these tasty flat fish. Light tackle anglers — especially kids — will enjoy the mix of small snappers, porgies, grunts and juvenile grouper along the jetty rocks closer to the A1A Bridge.
Sebastian Inlet State Park offers ample parking, bait and tackle shop, dining and restroom/shower facilities. Entry fee is $8 per vehicle, $4 for single occupants.
2) Crady Memorial Bridge — This mile-long pedestrian-only bridge spanning Nassau Sound (north of A1A) provides a front row seat to some of Northeast Florida's finest angling. Anglers catch a variety of fish, including whiting, jack, drum and tarpon. Access the bridge through Amelia Island State Park (southwest corner of Amelia Island) or the north end of Big Talbot Island State Park. Parking at both ends. Species mix includes trout, weakfish, redfish, black drum, flounder and sheepshead with the occasional striped bass.
3) Huguenot Memorial Park — Head south from the entrance, then turn east to follow the road running along the southern edge of Huguenot Campground. Several pull off spots provide casting access to the St. Johns River, or you can take one of the interior roads through the campground to fish the Fort George Inlet on the north side. Continuing past the campground, the looser course through the dunes becomes a little dicey for smaller vehicles. Best bet is to keep moving and stay in the established course until you reach the compacted beach sand. The mix here includes flounder, redfish, black drum, pompano, whiting, bluefish, Spanish mackerel and sharks. Entry fee is $5 and you can drive/park on the beach.
4) Flagler Pier — First opened in 1928, this 806-foot pier reaches into bountiful coastal waters where anglers can expect a mix of pompano, mackerel, bluefish, flounder, mangrove snapper, sheepshead, tripletail and black drum. Deploying live baits off the deep end often yields king mackerel, tarpon, sharks and barracuda. Parking along South Ocean Shore Blvd., restrooms, shaded seating and a bait and tackle shop. Daily fee $6 (discounts for seniors and active or retired military).
5) Melbourne Beaches — The stellar surf fishing for pompano, permit, whiting, croakers, black drum, mackerel and bluefish would be plenty to attract anglers; but with a fertile reef system running close to shore, you can expect to add snappers (lane, mangrove, mutton and the occasional cubera), margates, porkfish and the like. Reefs also attract pelagic predators, so slinging spoons or pencil poppers on wire leaders might tempt a mackerel or barracuda. Parks such as James H. Nance Park and Curtis Byrd Park offer restrooms and easy walks to the beach.
6) Indian River Lagoon — This vast estuary bristles with boat docks and lays smattered with the grass flats, troughs and bars that provide feeding habitat for snook, redfish, flounder, pompano and the signature species — big speckled trout. Neoprene or insulated waders keep you comfy in the winter, but during the warm season, simply walk in with lightweight clothing and enclosed shoes. The many public access points include Indian River Lagoon State Park (Melbourne Shores), Bear Point Sanctuary (south of Fort Pierce) and Indian RiverSide Park (Jensen Beach).
7) Jupiter Pier — Built in 2015, the 225-foot aluminum fishing pier stands on the west side of U.S. 1 (south bank) where it crosses the Loxahatchee River. Proximity to Jupiter Inlet, allows for a good assortment of fish. Mangrove snapper, lockdowns, sheepshead, croakers, drum and jacks are common targets. Snook will spawn around the inlet and hang out in the bridge/pier area coming and going. Work the pier perimeter, the river channel to the north and the bridge pilings to the east. Free admission. No restrooms. Also in the area: the famed Juno Beach Pier, which stretches 990 feet into the Atlantic ($4 admission, to fish). Snook, pompano, cobia and occasional bluewater surprises such as sailfish and African pompano are caught at Juno Beach Pier.
8) Dania Pier — One of Southeast Florida's top land-based fishing opportunities, this 928-foot structure reaches into deep enough water to offer opportunities with mutton and yellowtail snapper, while also gathering snook, mackerel, bluefish, barracuda, grunts and porgies. Fish the shallower sections and you might find pompano, whiting and flounder. Tarpon often run this area anglers soaking live baits or sight casting big swimbaits might put one in the air. Onsite parking, restrooms and bait/tackle shops make this a user-friendly destination. Fishing fee is $3.
9) South Pointe Park Pier — Located at the tip of Miami's South Beach, the pier parallels part of Government Cut's north jetty. This double dose of fish-attracting structure, along with the tidal flushing of a major inlet makes this a good multi-species spot. Snook, tarpon, grouper, snapper, grunts and barracuda. Cool feature is the center openings that allow you to fish below the pier. From the metered parking area to the pier is a bit of a hike, but it's a straight shot down the walking promenade running along the cut.
10) Keys Bridges — Several of the famed Overseas Highway's 42 bridges offer outstanding fishing opportunities, either from their elevated arches, or the areas below. Two of the best the Channel 2 Bridge (mile marker 73) and Channel 5 Bridge (mm 71). C2 has parking on both ends; C5 has parking on the south end. Both provide spacious access to a wide range of Keys favorites like snapper (mangrove, lane, mutton and yellowtail), tarpon, grouper, yellow jack, snook and porgies.
1) Fort Desoto Park in south St. Petersburg leads the list on Florida's left coast. The gem of Pinellas County, this 1,136-acre park comprises Madelaine, St. Jean, St. Christopher, Bonne Fortune and Mullet keys and complements an impressive angling menu with campgrounds, picnic shelters, bathroom/shower facilities, concessions, bait shop, dog park and historical significance.
Figuring into the Civil War, Spanish-American War, WWI and WWII, the centerpiece fort, positioned on the Mullet Key point, never fired upon an enemy, but the nearby 500-foot Bay Pier and 1,000-foot Gulf Pier offer tremendous action. Waders will enjoy some of the area's most fertile grass flats off East Beach at the extreme east end of Mullet Key, while roadside parking offers access to deeper sections of Mullet Key Bayou. Expect a good mix of snook, trout, redfish and flounder, along with mackerel, cobia, pompano, sharks and mangrove snapper at the piers. Entry fee is $5 per vehicle.
2) Johnson Beach — The Gulfward face of Perdido Key, at the Panhandle's western edge, this picturesque beach within Big Lagoon State Park is part of Gulf Islands National Seashore. Boardwalks over the protected dunes offer access to the redfish, flounder and trout waters on the marsh side, but surf fishing is the big attraction. From whiting, pompano, bluefish and mackerel; to sharks, cobia and bull reds, this is one of Western Florida's premier shore fisheries. Parking lot and roadside parking allowed.
3) Santa Rosa Sound — Bordered on the south by its namesake island, this narrow body of water linking Pensacola Bay (west) to Choctawhatchee Bay (east) offers tremendous wade fishing opportunities for speckled trout, redfish and flounder. Lots of points, shoreline contours, docks and grass flats create a target-rich environment. Much of the shoreline is private property, but several spots such as Shoreline Park (west of the Pensacola Beach Bridge) and the Gulf Islands National Seashore Headquarters offer public access to the waterway.
4) Apalachee Bay Piers — Remnants of an old bridge linking the Franklin County mainland to St. George Island, the East Point Fishing Pier and St. George Island Fishing Pier — both 3,200 feet — stand east of the St. George Island Bridge (Bryant Patton Memorial/Hwy 300). On either end of the island, West Pass and East Pass keep the bay flushed and vibrant, so baitfish and the predators that chase them move freely past the piers. Sheepshead, redfish and black drum, speckled trout and flounder top the target list. Parking available.
5) Anclote Gulf Park Pier (Holiday) — Extending from a boardwalk around the park's mangrove shoreline, the 500-foot wooden pier flanks the north shore of the Anclote Power Plant's northern outfall canal. Fall through winter sees an uptick in the action, as the deep canal offers winter refuge for a variety of fish including snook, trout, pompano, permit, ladyfish, jacks and juvenile tarpon. Winter also brings loads of sheepshead to the pilings, while black drum, redfish, mangrove snapper, Spanish mackerel and flounder make regular appearances. (Also wade fishing access on the flats north of the pier.) Park fee $2.
6) Honeymoon Island State Park — Walk the stunning Gulf beach and surf fish for whiting, croakers, trout, flounder, Spanish mackerel, cobia and summer snook; or check the eastern side's mangrove basins for snook, mangrove snapper and redfish. On either side of the Dunedin Causeway, cast a bait over the pristine grass flats of St. Joseph Sound, or wade into the usually clear waters where speckled trout, mackerel and redfish roam. The main causeway bridge and the smaller one right before the island offer sheepshead, black drum, snook and snapper opportunities. A ferry to adjacent Caledesi island extends the opportunities.
7) Big Pier 60 — At this Clearwater Beach icon hosts a bounty of inshore and coastal favorites, with summer gathering big numbers of huge snook. The piers lights attract baitfish, so expect everything from snook, to trout and the occasional bluefish to stake out these feeding spots. Spring and fall bring kingfish within reach, while a summer tarpon bite can make things interesting. The warm season finds mackerel and jacks around the perimeter. Fees: adults $8, seniors $6.75, children (15 and under) $5.25. Weekly, monthly and yearly passes available. Bait/tackle shop, rod rentals, snack bar, restrooms.
8) Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers — The north and south ends of the former Sunshine Skyway bridge spanning Tampa Bay now stand as state park structures offering spacious access to grouper, snapper, mackerel, kingfish, pompano and snook. Reach the north pier from I-275 South in St. Petersburg. For the south pier, take 275 North from Terra Ceia. Both drive-on piers include restrooms and bait/tackle shops.
9) Venice Jetties — Protecting Venice Inlet (Sarasota County), the North Jetty is part of Nokomis, while the South Jetty is fully within the city of Venice. Both jetty parks offer ample parking and restrooms. With beach shallows, the coastal Gulf and deep channel waters within easy reach, anglers find a steady mix of the inshore regulars, along with passing tarpon, kingfish and sharks. Summer is primetime for big snook staging for their spawn; while fall sees voluminous baitfish schools exiting the inner bays, with several predators in pursuit.
10) Naples Pier — Dating back to 1888, when it served as a freight and passenger dock, the now modernized pier includes restrooms, showers, concessions and covered areas. The landmark pier has seen several facelifts and renovations, most recently, the 2018 repairs following Hurricane Irma's impact. Snook are one of the top targets (especially in the lights), but you'll also find pompano, Spanish and king mackerel, tarpon, cobia, sharks and sheepshead.
When scouting out your land-based Florida fishing spots, minding these considerations will help ensure an enjoyable trip:
Keep It Legal — With the exception of piers with licenses covering admitted anglers, Florida requires a saltwater shore fishing license to fish from land, pier, bridge or jetty (wading included). The license is free for state residents (convenience fees apply for online or phone orders), so it's pretty silly to earn a costly citation for not obtaining one here https://myfwc.com/license/recreational/saltwater-fishing/shoreline-faqs/.
Also, be aware of your responsibility to know the state's fishery laws. Size, season and bag limits remain the same, regardless of how/where you catch your fish. See https://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/.
Parking — Most city or county lots offer parking meters, or more modern payment kiosks where you prepay a flat fee or hourly rate by entering your license plate or numbered spot; while state or local parks typically charge a day use fee to enter. Parking on private property will almost certainly get you ticketed and it may get you towed. Don't ruin your day with a poor choice.
Moreover, choose your non-regulated parking spots carefully. Empty lots and bridge pull-offs may be convenient and cost-efficient, but a cursory scan for questionable types who clearly not fishing might offer a safety/vehicle security clue.
Restroom Facilities — Key planning element, especially if you're bringing the family. Tip: Local businesses rarely budge on the “restrooms are for customers only” thing (many have signs posted), so don't expect any mercy, no matter how much you grimace and squeeze your knees together.
Consider the Distance — Pretty obvious stuff, but the walk out and the walk back will cover the same distance. Add in several hours of fishing and fatigue can become a real issue. Commercially produced aluminum pier/bridge carts with wide wheels will easily transport your rods, tackle bag, cooler and live bait well over pavement, rocks or sand; but for casual duties, a garden utility cart (some models fold) will suffice.
Weather Watchers — Florida's often fickle weather can change quickly, especially in the summer months, so watch the skies and monitor your weather app. Waiting until you feel that cool downdraft can leave you and your gear exposed and out of options; so know where the nearest shelter lies and have a bug-out plan just in case.
Be a Good Neighbor — Any licensed angler has equal claim to public fishing areas, but how we interact with fellow anglers can greatly impact our day. It starts with respectful spacing, so if you approach an area where others are fishing, take note of where their lines are set (short, long) and allow reasonable buffers.
A friendly wave and a friendly “how's the bite?” Inquiry goes a long way toward establishing good rapport. You might even get a tip or two on the local happenings.
Shark Fishing – It's a timeless tradition on the Florida coast, but frowned upon by some piers and municipalities. Also, the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission now expects anyone targeting sharks from shore to complete an educational module and obtain a free Shored Based Shark fishing permit: MyFWC.com/SharkCourse. The course will cover rules and regulations, smart fishing practices, and fish ID.
— David A. Brown