Sarasota Inshore Fishing: What You Need to Know


Image of downtown Sarasota

Sarasota, Florida is one of the best places in the world to go inshore fishing! The Sarasota inshore fishing grounds are teeming with a variety of species, and the weather is "fishable" year round. Sarasota is home to some of the most highly sought after inshore fish, including snook, flounder, redfish, trout, and tarpon. There are also a number of charter companies that offer Sarasota inshore fishing trips, so you can easily find a captain who knows how to put you on the fish. Whether you're an experienced angler or a novice, Sarasota inshore fishing is sure to provide an unforgettable experience.

What, Where, and When?


The Sarasota shallows have something offer every month of the year. In the cooler months, sheepshead are plentiful. This white and black fish with human-like teeth hangs out around rocks by seawalls, docks, bridge pilings, and other types of structure. They feed primarily on crustaceans and shrimp, and make for great table fare. Although they put up a nice tussle, they do not get very large, and are relatively easy to catch, making them a prime target for kids or newer anglers.


Getting into March and April, Mangrove Snapper will become more plentiful. These are similar to sheepshead in the sense that they are plentiful, easy to catch, and are great eating. Always check regulations before keeping a fish. These spring months also see the prime targets cruising the flats more frequently; snook, trout, and redfish.


Summer months see the great fishing continue, and also introduce the most desirable inshore fish, the tarpon. Tarpon can grow to be over 6 feet long and 200 pounds. They are picky eaters, hard, acrobatic fighters, and will test both tackle and angler. Sarasota inshore fishing charter boats book up quickly this time of year, and rates my increase.


The redfish bite is still on, and snook will begin to retreat to the warmer canals and backwater. The fall is a great time to book a Sarasota inshore fishing charter, as the weather cools off, fishing is still good, and the summer fishing rush is dying down. Spanish mackerel are a fun target in early fall. They feed in big numbers, and will hit anything shiny. They put up a fun fight on light tackle, although their food quality is a bit more subjective.

How to: Sarasota Inshore Fishing

Sarasota Inshore Fishing Tackle

Although there are some decent "all-around" options, the tackle you are using would depend on the fish you are trying to target, and where. For instance, mangrove snapper and sheepshead can be caught on light tackle, but you would want to go for a heavier duty setup when targeting Snook and Redfish, especially if you are fishing for them by structure such as a dock or bridge.

The consideration with structure is the fish's ability to swim back to cover, tangling or cutting your line on pilings or rocks. Anglers fishing docks or bridges for big snook and redfish would want a 4000 series reel spooled with 30 pound test and a 50 pound fluorocarbon leader on a medium/heavy rod. It is also important that the reel has a strong drag system, enabling the angler to muscle the fish out of cover without the concern of slipping drag or line breaks.

Sarasota inshore anglers targeting tarpon would want to "gear up" as well. A medium/heavy-heavy action rod is a must, with at least a 5000 series reel. Spool the reel with 50-60 pound braided line, and plan on a 60-80 pound fluorocarbon leader to withstand the tarpon's razor-like gill plates. Tarpon are typically sight fished, however you can try your luck drifting a crab or greenback off the beach or in the bay during the summer months.

If you're just trying a wet a line and see what Sarasota inshore fishing has to offer, a 3000 series spinning reel on a 7.5' medium action rod spooled with 20 pound test and a 20-30 pound fluorocarbon leader would be the best all-around setup. This setup would handle everything from a sheepshead to a bull red, although you'd likely be outgunned by a larger tarpon.

Sarasota Inshore Fishing Lures and Bait

Like the tackle above, the recommended lures would depend on what you are targeting. The best all-around inshore lure would be a softbait with some tail action (such as a spintail grub) on a jighead. This can draw a strike from trout, redfish, snook, flounder, and even tarpon.

Spoons are also effective, with a gold spoon being a long time redfish favorite. Go silver with a faster retrieve off the beach or in the open sections of the bay for Spanish Mackerel. A lure that has recently grown in popularity for big snook is the bucktail jig. Bounce one off the bottom by structure at night with the aforementioned structure tackle, and hold on.

Finally, anglers targeting tarpon on artificial will want to use a large swimbait that imitates a greenback, pinfish, or mullet.

On the live bait side, shrimp is tried and true. A freelined live shrimp will catch snook, redfish, sheepshead, mangrove snapper, and trout. Add a little bit of weight for a better shot at flounder cruising the bottom.

Pinfish also work very well for snook and redfish. Snook like them live, but a large piece of cut pinfish fished on the bottom near docks or other structure can produce some big reds. Even tarpon hit pinfish, but you'd be better suited matching what they are actively feeding on, which is a crab or mullet more often than not.

Ready for Your Sarasota Inshore Fishing Trip?

Now that you know what to use, where to fish, when to fish, and what you can catch, it's your turn to do some Sarasota inshore fishing! Check out our list of Sarasota public fishing spots, or find and book a Sarasota fishing charter for an unforgettable fishing experience.


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