Mother Nature gives and she takes away. Nature gave us warm water and great king fishing until Dec. 31. She ushered in the new year with a severe cold front with high winds and rough seas that kept us in port every day. The cold air and overcast skies plummeted water temperatures into the 50s, meaning goodbye to kingfish and the bait that wisely headed south. Itís time to have lighter trolling tackle serviced and put away until mid March or early April, when water temperatures return to the magical 68-72 degrees. Greater amberjack season remains open until Jan. 27, providing a worthy opponent for trollers targeting wrecks and springs. Slow trolling live blue runners is the method of choice, but trolling large-lipped plugs and large jigs with curly tails over these same structures is often effective. Bottom fishing for white grunts, triggerfish (until Jan. 16, when the season closes), red grouper and lane, mangrove, vermilion and yellowtail snapper will occupy most of our trips. Gag grouper and red snapper are closed but provide exciting catch-photo-release action. Red snapper are voracious feeders and often swallow even circle hooks, which are required. If a fish is hooked deeply, itís best to cut the leader as close to the hook as possible and release the fish. It will be worth much more than a 25 cent hook when the season opens June 1. Frozen squid and sardines are currently producing much better than live bait. The metabolism of fish has slowed. They are more likely to prefer the easy pickings than chasing a lively bait. If the current isnít running strong offshore, chumming with small slivers of frozen bait will be effective.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.