Why Nearshore Reef Fishing is Underrated

It's the grand fallacy of "offshore" fishing: The farther you go, the more you catch. No doubt, increasing your distance from port may increase your opportunity level, but blasting more than 5 miles offshore from just about any Gulf Coast port guarantees only two things: You will burn a lot of fuel and you will pass over, or near, productive bottom fishing sites en route to the deep water.

Case in point, one of my go-to Tampa Bay charter guides, Capt. Billy Miller, regularly runs out of South Pinellas County ports, stops well within eyesight of beachcombers and puts his anglers on a mixed bag of gag grouper, mangrove snapper, Key West Grunts, triggerfish, sheepshead, and the occasional hogfish.

I've made the trip and while fish size varies, keepers are common. Rock piles, along with a mix of natural and artificial reefs smattering the Gulf's nearshore region offer plenty of sporty and edible fish in 20-30 feet. In Florida's Nature Coast-Big Bend region, the bottom slopes gradually so you may find productive limestone outcroppings in 12-15 feet of water several miles offshore.

Bait options are many and the benefits are clear: Less time running means more time fishing. Also, when summer storms threaten offshore trips, Miller's never more than a short jog from port. Close range trips are also a great option for anglers who are prone to seasickness (I gotta raise my hand on that one).

The other cool thing is that just about any single-engine vessel can reach these nearshore spots. Pick your days and enjoy an easy run that won't kill you at the fuel pump.