In this Lake Tarpon Bass Fishing Guide, we will take a closer look at Lake Tarpon, the “Jewell of Pinellas County” – the lake, the location, and of course, how to ensure your day on the lake is full of the biggest and best bass possible.
For fishing enthusiasts living in – or visiting – Florida, you’re never too far away from a good day’s excursion on one of the states numerous lakes. However, if you’re seeking a hidden gem with excellent freshwater fishing, Lake Tarpon, just outside of Tampa, should be your next destination.
About Lake Tarpon
Located northwest of Tampa in North Pinellas County, Lake Tarpon might be best described as a rural lake in the middle of suburban sprawl. There’s quite a bit of development – single-family housing and golf course communities – encircling the lake, but the drive in can be deceiving.
Upon reaching Lake Tarpon, the built-up communities melt away, and you are planted firmly in one of the top fishing environments in all of Florida.
Dammed in 1968, Lake Tarpon is a mid-sized lake with a total area covering 2,500 acres or just under 4 square miles, which places it as the 29th largest lake in Florida. The average depth remains consistent at around eight feet, with a maximum depth of 14 feet.
The most notable feature of the lake is its length. It stretches a little over nine miles between its northern and southernmost points, providing approximately 16 miles of shoreline and a bit more variety than other lakes of similar size.
Though smaller compared to more well known Florida lakes, Lake Tarpon is renowned as one of the top 10 bass lakes anywhere in the state.
Bass Fishing in Lake Tarpon
So how does a relatively straightforward, suburban lake in the middle of Tampa rate so highly on the bass fishing scale? Similar to other bass hot spots in the state, Tarpon’s environmental conditions are absolutely perfect for producing a thriving bass population.
Gentle currents, consistently warm, shallow water, and a lot of aquatic vegetation – Lake Tarpon checks all the boxes. So much so that for many years Lake Tarpon held the state record for the biggest bass caught – a 19-pound largemouth that was reeled in 1961. Unofficially, there were reports of another, near-equal, catch of 18-pounds, 15-ounces that same year.
Although nothing that large has been pulled from the lake since it’s not at all unusual to see seven to 10-pound bass. Even a few pushing higher on the scale is not uncommon.
For first-timers, hiring a guide to navigate your initial few days is a good option. Although it’s not large by any means, and no real mysteries exist to catch bass there, a guide will help discern the few subtleties and points of interest the lake does have. If you want a successful first run, it’s a smart way to go, even if for a day. You’ll certainly be primed to take on the lake on your own after that.
Lake Tarpon Bass Fishing Guide
Speaking of which, Lake Tarpon is every bit a do-it-yourself kind of lake. Everything is right in front of you, and you don’t need insider information to manage a decent catch. Both novices and veterans of bass fishing will get plenty out of the experience. It’s also a fantastic family lake – evidenced by the two parks that border the water – and a beautiful, low-key place to introduce kids to fishing.
Similarly, to hook your trophy bass, it won’t require anything fancy. Live wild shiners will always prove the bait of choice, and Texas-rigged speed worms, trick worms, lipless crankbaits, or trolling small jigs will never go out of style.
Other must try baits are chatterbaits. Any bladed jigs, especially that look like panfish or crappie will absolutely smash larger bass.
While this guide aims to help you catch the best bass possible, Lake Tarpon is well known for holding several other species of fish. Black crappie, bluegill, and redear sunfish all make a home in Lake Tarpon. The lake also features healthy populations of blue tilapia and catfish.
Where to Find Bass in Lake Tarpon
Unlike behemoths like Lake Okeechobee, where conditions and fish shoals can vary wildly, Tarpon is relatively consistent from top to bottom. As we noted earlier, though, it does have some variety.
First and foremost, Lake Tarpon is excellent for year-round fishing. Its location in Tampa helps to maintain the lake’s ideal bass conditions. In contrast, the further south you go in Florida in summer, success on the water can be hit or miss.
During those summer months on Tarpon, it helps to follow the bass further offshore. Bass take to the outcroppings of vegetation that sprout from humps and ledges, where an abundance of shad await.
In the morning You’ll always find bass though closest to the shoreline. Cattails and bulrush blanket the banks, and there’s a good measure of hydrilla as well. The bass love to congregate in these areas.
In the afternoon, offshore debris will hold your largest bass. A lot of tournament anglers have been dropping offshore brush piles. While illegal to fish your own during a tournament, it can produce large bass in short amount of time.
Where & When Bass Spawn
If you’re seeking the absolute best conditions, spawning season occurs from December to April with February and March the peak of activity. In the midst of this, you’ll encounter some of the lake’s most prominent and healthiest bass.
During this time of year, stick close to the shoreline with the northern- and southernmost points providing optimal fishing. Coontail grass thrives in these areas and is the preferred spawning grounds for the bass.
In addition, the southern tip of Lake Tarpon, called South Cove, adjacent to John Chestnut Sr. Park, can produce a number of great catches. The fishing extends to the Lake Tarpon Outfall Canal, usually at points along the banks, which are lined with cattail reeds until it finally drains into Tampa Bay.
Finally, the western shoreline offers several small alcoves where bass will gather. Salmons Bay, located next to A.L. Anderson Park, and, further south, Dolly Bay and Little Dolly Bay (both of which contain deep holes) can all result in significant yields.
Lake Conditions and Policies
As far as changing lake conditions, Lake Tarpon is by far one of the less volatile in Florida. You will find the occasional storm passing through, but very few upset the ecological balance. Also, given its location in one of the more protected, moderate areas of the state, the conditions are often perfect year-round for fishing the lake.
Recent environmental pushes had increased the upkeep of the lake and the larger 52 square mile Tarpon watershed.
It’s important to keep in mind that Lake Tarpon is a neighborhood recreational lake. Aside from the premier fishing, it’s a popular spot for boating and jet skiing.
Although the combination of location and stock make Lake Tarpon a prime location for weekend bass fishing tournaments, the daily bag limits help keep the fishery population healthy.
Currently, anglers are restricted to five, with an allowance of only one longer than 22 inches. Similar to other Florida lakes, the limited policy helps maintain a consistently high level of quality of fishing on the lake.
Lake Tarpon is a massive draw for outdoor enthusiasts. As we’ve briefly touched on, two popular parks, John Chestnut Sr. Park in the southeast and A.L. Anderson Park in the northwest, sit directly next to the lake.
A.L. Anderson Park Boat Ramp: 39699 US Hwy 19 N, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689
Boat Ramp Costs $6 and is paid at the ramp via credit card or cash.
The parks provide direct access to Lake Tarpon via public boat ramps (fee charged) and have several amenities, including restrooms, fishing piers, picnic areas with grills, playgrounds, and trails. Both parks, including the ramps, are open sunrise to sunset.
If you can gain access, there is a private boat ramp located at the Lansbrook Lakefront Park, part of the Lansbrook community on the lake’s eastern shore. There is also one at Cobb’s Landing, another private community on the opposite side of the lake, and a ramp at the Lake Tarpon Sail and Tennis Club further north.
At the north end of the lake is the Tarpon Turtle restaurant. A fantastic eatery directly on the water, the Tarpon Turtle provides free boat docking. Float in and grab a bite, or take it to go and enjoy a quality meal on the water.
Travelwise, Clearwater (15 miles) and Tampa (30 miles) offer the most direct access. Orlando and Fort Myers are each approximately two and a half hours away.
If you need help deciding when to go, keep in mind the height of bass spawning season on the lake is also prime time for spring training and Major League Baseball’s Florida Grapefruit League. Nine of the 15 teams in the league are within 100 miles of the lake, including the New York Yankees training facility 45 minutes away.
Florida boasts plenty of phenomenal bass fishing lakes. Lake Toho and Lake Kissimmee near Orlando. The St. Johns River or Rodman Reservoir south of Jacksonville. And, of course, the “Big O,” Lake Okeechobee, in south Florida.
However, when it comes to overall bass fishing, few provide a better, more complete angling experience than Lake Tarpon.
From its accessibility and location to the serene setting once out on the water to the abundant population of bass, Lake Tarpon earns its distinction as the “Jewell of Pinellas County.” Next time you’re planning a bass fishing trip in Florida, make Lake Tarpon the top of your list.