Bull Bay is a famed saltwater fishery located on Florida’s Gulf coast just south of Placida, FL and right around the corner from the west wall of Charlotte Harbor. Fishing in Bull Bay for redfish, snook, and seatrout is an experience that carves lasting memories into the minds of anglers who explore this wild back country paradise. The bay is wonderfully isolated from civilization and magnificently wild – Bull Bay is an inshore angler’s paradise.

The foundation of the fishery is a maze of mangrove islands flanked by oyster bars, cuts, and shallow flats crowned with turtle grass. Elongated islands, furnished with mangroves, wrap around much of Bull Bay’s perimeter, walling off the interior from the outside world. The main entrance of Bull Bay consists of two sandy channels that wrap around a mangrove island and cut north into the Bay. Though back ways and shortcuts into the bay exist, the main entrance is the most spectacular.

Coming into the main entrance is being transported through a portal to a different time. To a land that man hasn’t touched. The shorelines of Bull Bay remain wild. The only buildings you’ll see are commercial fishing houses meagerly scattered throughout the bay. Two such fishing houses occupy either side of the entrance of the bay. They sit perched on stilts, greeting you as you enter the bay. “Welcome to the back country,” they whisper.

Once inside, the bay opens up into an inviting wilderness. Wading birds stalk the shallows while schools of mullet scuttle about the landscape nervously. Crabs and juvenile fish cling to safety in the submerged tangled roots of mangrove trees. Osprey perch on silver stained deadfall that twists out of the water. The two most pressing issues confronting anglers in Bull Bay is where to start and how deep into the back country to venture.

Following is a comprehensive guide on fishing in Bull Bay for both fly fishing anglers and artificial bait anglers. It is fishing focused; topics regarding boat navigation and boat safety are not discussed. What is discussed is fishing information that I wish was available to me when I first began fishing Bull Bay. I share my favorite flies and lures to use in Bull Bay and share information that should help you confidently find fish there.

Finding Fish

The impact that tides have on Bull Bay should play a large factor in determining your fishing approach. Most anglers, given the choice, would pick an outgoing tide over an incoming tide. But there could be no outgoing tide if there wasn’t an incoming tide, so finding fish on both tides is a requirement for consistent success when fishing in Bull Bay. Outgoing tides draw fish together around pinch points and areas of heavy water flow. Creek bottoms and troughs that run throughout the bay provide the best flow. When the water is moving out in Bull Bay, focusing on areas that have the best water flow and are near pinches and points will ensure that you are around actively feeding fish. Troughs or creek bottoms with oyster bars are an ideal place to find snook and redfish. In these situations, snook are usually more stationary and face into the tide, waiting for a smaller fish to make a mistake. Redfish around oyster bars with good flow tend to be working for their meal. Seatrout can be caught around these oyster bars, but they are more frequently caught over grass or in potholes in moving water during a good outgoing tide. The more reliable class size seatrout bite can be found in the deeper basins within Bull Bay.

When the tide bottoms out in Bull Bay, especially in the winter months, anglers who know where deeper holes and pockets are located often do the best. Using satellite images from mapping tools like Google Earth will certainly help in locating deeper areas, however, there are some spectacular anomalies to the bottom topography of Bull Bay that do not show up in satellite imagery. For example, I’ve found large holes and deep depressions on extremely shallow flats around islands, but I cannot find these same holes and depressions using mapping tools. It’s the all too common situation where the more time you spend on the water, the more you are rewarded by these little secrets. On negative low tides, these holes and depressions can hold a large number of fish. We’ve found  snook stacked in these depressions during the winter.

Incoming tides tend to spread the fish out in Bull Bay. It can become much more difficult to locate fish as the water level rises. A few observations can offer helpful hints as to what flats may be holding more fish. First, the presence of wading birds congregated in one area should tip you off that a food source is present there. That food source will attract fish the same way it has drawn in the wading birds. Secondly, large schools of mullet in one area should draw your attention and warrants some investigating. Finally, if a flat has a large amount of baitfish in the water, then there is a very good chance that snook, redfish, or seatrout aren’t far away. Conversely, if an area in Bull Bay is void of baitfish or signs of life, then fishing in that area will likely be a waste of your time. Weather conditions around Bull Bay have a direct impact on where and how fish will be feeding. The weather condition that impacts fishing the most is wind, specifically, which direction the wind is coming from and the strength of the wind. A strong wind will create feeding zones for fish by pushing water through the bay where it can be pinched between mangrove islands and funneled out onto shallower flats. This can be a great place to find a redfish prospecting for its next meal. Active fish are frequently found on the flats immediately in front of these windblown islands. Islands with good depth around them or sandy bottoms seem to produce the best. Island points with depth or the lee side of islands with depth and a sand bottom are great places to find snook. Strong winds in Bull Bay can enhance the seatrout bite where shallower flats transition into deeper grass flats. The wind blows easy meals off the shallow flats into the deeper grass where class size seatrout will be waiting.

Fishing Equipment for Bull Bay

Medium action rods will handle most fish you come across in Bull Bay. The length of the rod should depend on what is most comfortable for you. The rods I carry are St. Croix Premiers in 6’6” & 7’0” lengths. The Penn Spinfisher V (2500-3500) is a durable and comfortable reel that comes at a reasonable price. 10 lbs. test braided line (Power Pro or Suffix) allows for long distance casts while still providing the strength required to turn larger fish away from danger. A 2 – 3 foot fluorocarbon leader in 20 -25 lbs. test is perfect for most situations here. Carrying a few heavier rods on the boat is a smart move. I do carry a 7’0” heavy action rod that is used to cast larger artificial baits like the DOA baitbuster. Running a 30 – 40 lbs. fluorocarbon leader on this setup is recommended because larger fish tend to chase these baits. Fly Fishing anglers should use 8 – 9 weight rods in Bull Bay. A 7 weight will do the job for 70% of the fish you come across in Bull Bay, but the memories of the 30% of the fish it can’t handle will crush your soul. A WF floating line like the RIO Flats Pro or the Airflo Bruce Char Tropical Punch allow the fly angler to easily shoot line and turn larger flies over. A second rod with a clear sink tip line like the Orvis Hydros clear sink tip give the angler a better opportunity to work deeper areas more thoroughly. Leaders should be at least 9’ in length, but most guides are using leaders closer to 12’ on their rods. The reel should be able to handle saltwater and it should be comfortable for the fly angler to use. The Lamson Waterworks Speedster is a great reel. Nautilus makes fantastic fly fishing reels that are favorites of many.

Artificial Lures for Bull Bay

Aquadream ADL spoons: Spoons are great for covering water on the flats in a variety of situations. Redfish love spoons and snook attack them with veracity. The biggest drawback of the spoon is its ineffectiveness in deeper water and its propensity to create line twist despite the use of a swivel. These are less drawbacks and more mild inconveniences when you factor in how effective spoons are on redfish. Gold, silver, green, & white are all solid color choices in Bull Bay. Work these baits in with a steady retrieve. Vary your retrieve speed until you find what is triggering bites that day. Mirrolure Mirrodine XL: A highly versatile suspending hard bait that can be used at varying depths. It is a killer seatrout bait and it may be as good at catching large seatrout as Paul Brown’s series of soft plastic plugs. The snook of Bull Bay attack these plugs aggressively. Some of the largest snook caught from my boat have come on the XL. Redfish will eat this bait as well, but a spoon or soft plastic may be more effective. Unfortunately, these plugs are not weedless and they have a tendency to foul when worked aggressively. The cadence that is most effective for me is the ‘twitch-twitch-pause’. Pausing for up to 3 seconds is sometimes enough to get larger fish to commit. Soft jerk bait: The zoom super fluke, rigged on a weighted weedless hook, is a bait that can do just about anything in Bull Bay. They can be skipped under mangroves, fished low in deeper grass flats, and used to probe sandy potholes on shallower flats. This is a bait that is equally effective on snook, redfish, and seatrout. As well rounded as this artificial bait is, it still has its limitations. It is not the most effective lure for covering the flats quickly, so it would not be a good candidate for power fishing an area to locate fish. It is most effective when you have located fish and you need to work an area effectively. Paddle Tails: Soft plastic paddle tails fished on jig heads are a favorite for many anglers. They can be fished by bouncing off the bottom or using a straight swimming retrieve. Rootbeer and New Penny are both great colors, but the number of available colors is almost endless.

Flies for Bull Bay

Clouser Minnow: It’s true that Bob Clouser’s fly catches just about any fish, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it finds its way onto a list of highly effective flies for fishing Bull Bay. My favorite pattern to use in the bay is a clouser that has some characteristics of a deceiver. Chartreuse over white with a few strands of peacock herl on top for contrast is a great pattern for the bay. Medium sized eyes on a size 1 or 2 hook works perfectly for this pattern. The fly can be fished over deep grass, around mangrove lined islands, and in potholes. Adding a weed guard to this fly is highly recommended for use in Bull Bay. Aside from keeping weeds away from the hook, the guard also prevents the fly from becoming hung up in mangroves due to an errant/overzealous cast.

Deceiver: Lefty may be gone, but his signature fly continues to carry his legacy forward. If you’re fly fishing in Bull Bay, then your fly box should be stocked with a few deceivers. Deceivers land softly on the water, yet provide a large profile for flats fish to key in on. Deceivers are great flies to use along mangrove shorelines. They perform well over sand as well. A chartreuse body with white tail material is a good color combination for this area, though plenty of other color combinations produce fish. A weed guard is recommended.

Gurgler: Top water is a great way to locate and attract fish in Bull Bay. Using a gurgler on higher tides around the bushes often teases out a few snook. A gurgler tied with concave lip will give the fly angler  the ability to use the fly as a popper as well. When fish eat a gurgler, it often comes on the pause, so remember to leave those pauses in your retrieve.

Shrimp Fly: There are multiple shrimp patterns that are effective on the flats, so pick one that you have confidence in. The pattern that I use most frequently in Bull Bay is a beefed up bonefish pattern with ridiculously long crazy legs. The long legs give the fly a larger more visible profile and go long way in giving off the appearance of a fleeing shrimp. And yes, a weed guard is a must on this pattern as well as a mono loop at the rear to keep the crazy legs from fouling on the hook too frequently. This is a great redfish and seatrout pattern. We have caught and lost some chunky redfish on this small fly.

Time on the Water

If you are venturing out into the back country of Bull Bay to explore on your own, I wish you the best of luck. The more time you spend on the water there, the more success and confidence will find you. If you see me at the ramp, say hello, I’d enjoy meeting you. If you would like to fish Bull Bay, but would prefer to do it with a licensed guide, the last paragraph contains all the information you need.

Guided Charter Trips to Bull Bay

Fall, winter, and early spring are ideal times to run trips into Bull Bay. I run both spinning tackle trips and fly fishing trips to this location. I offer both a 6 hour trip and a full day trip (8+ hours) to the bay. Trips normally begin around sunrise, sometimes earlier depending on the time of year. On colder mornings in the winter, we will get a later start and allow the water temperatures to rise before heading onto the water. You can call me or find more information about other trips here.

See you on the water soon!

Captain Brian Boehm
Quiet Waters Fishing
Guide at CB’s Saltwater Outfitters
Sarasota, FL