Who would have thought that a fishing pier would be part of the Florida State Park system? Considered the world’s longest fishing pier, the Skyway Fishing Pier State Park offers opportunities to enjoy the weather, get great views on the Sunshine Skyway, go saltwater fishing and see Florida wildlife.
Two separate piers make up the park. On the northside, that pier is accessible from Bradenton (Manatee County). To visit the southside pier, you travel from St. Petersburg (Pinellas County).
While the pier has an unfortunate history, the state of Florida transformed former parts of the old bridge into something for visitors and residents to enjoy day or night.
NOTE: The Florida State Parks system requires visitors to wear a mask when talking to rangers at the entrance gate and whenever entering buildings, including restrooms. When outdoors try to keep a 6 foot distance from anyone not in your party.
The original Sunshine Skyway opened in 1954. Connecting two counties separated by water, the bridge’s construction eliminated the need to take a water ferry across Tampa Bay. The bridge was two lanes headed south into Bradenton and two lanes headed north into St. Petersburg. Before completion, drivers from the south had to drive north on land to Tampa and then back south to St. Petersburg, which added extra mileage and time to the trip.
In May 1980, during a blinding rainstorm with 70 mph winds, a freighter ran into one of the southbound support beams. The impact destroyed that portion of the bridge. Not only did 1,200 feet of the bridge fall into the bridge, but 35 people died when a truck, six cars and a Greyhound bus all fell into Tampa Bay.
With the southbound lanes unusable, they put all traffic onto the northbound bridge making only one lane for each direction. The new cable bridge opened in 1987 and was much safer for cars and vessels in the channel. It was also tall enough for cruise ships to pass through.
Once the state completely demolished the old bridge after the new bridge opened, both entry ways to the old bridge became the Skyway Fishing Pier State Park.
While I find the new bridge to be beautiful and enjoy traveling across it, the tragedy is still in many residents’ minds. I’ve met people who refuse to use the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to this day.
Things to Do
There are two things to do at this state park – go fishing or sit, relax and watch people fish.
The pier is the perfect spot for anyone who loves saltwater fishing. That’s because of the depth of the water where the piers sit. There’s a wide variety of fish available to catch, such as red snapper, Spanish mackerel and pompano. A Florida fishing license may be required.
There is plenty of signage advising what to do if you see a bird with a hook in its mouth and places to throw away your hooks and fishing line.
Speaking of birds, you’ll see a lot of different types. Pelicans, seagulls, egrets, herons and pigeons are the types I saw when I went.
The breezes are lovely since this is where Tampa Bay empties into the Gulf of Mexico. I spent some time just sitting on the ledge of a sidewalk, watching the birds, barges headed out from the Port of Tampa and decompressing in the sunshine.
If you’re out and a storm starts to blow through, don’t stay on the pier. Florida, and specifically the Tampa Bay area, is the lightning capital of North America. Your best bet is to head to your car, where the metal cage will direct the lightning to the ground. If you have a soft-top vehicle or aren’t close to your car, head to one of the buildings on the pier to take shelter until it’s over. By the way, lighting can travel about 12 miles, so head for cover as soon as you hear thunder.
Food & Restrooms
The Skyway Fishing Pier has restrooms available along the piers. There is a bait shop that has pre-packaged snacks and cold drinks but no full meals. Bring a cooler if you’ll be there a while and need something to eat.
The bait shop is also the place you go for your Florida State Park Passport stamped.
There are no accommodations at this park since it’s a part of a bridge. In St. Petersburg, you could stay downtown, on St. Pete Beach or even go camping in Ft. DeSoto County Park. You can stay in Tierra Ceia on the south side of the bridge. It’s one exit from the Sunshine Skyway. You can get hotels with great water views in both cities.
The Skyway Fishing Pier is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, including holidays.
The cost to enter either side of the fishing pier is $4 per car. There is an additional fee of $4 per adult and $2 per child on top of the car fee. There are no senior citizen discounts. If you go between sunset and sunrise, the cost per adult drops to $3.
Annual Florida State Park pass holders receive 33% off the total price.
To access either the north or south sides of the Skyway Fishing Pier, you will have to get on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which costs $1.50 per car. Follow the signs to the fishing pier, located before you cross over the highest part of the bridge.
Be careful going back out from the piers. If you make a wrong turn, you’ll have to go all the way over the bridge and then re-enter to go back. It’s hard to turn around in both directions unless you go to the next exit and get back on the interstate. You’ll see signs when you’re entering the parks advising where you can pick up 1-275. But if you’re still not sure, ask the park ranger at the entrance gate when you arrive.