Whatís hot? Well, itís not the temperature. Gag grouper season is closed in all depths and will remain so until June. So if grouper is on your menu, reds will be next up. Look for large packs to make their way into the 80- to 120-foot depths with each passing cold front. They will reside on all types of bottom as long as bait is present. This is the time of year that frozen baits such as sardines, squid and bonita can outproduce live baits because cooler water temperatures slow their metabolism, making them very sluggish. Mangrove and lane snapper have been cooperative in nearly every depth, from 50-150 feet. After this weekís winds, look to large structures such as wrecks and big ledges in these depths for big schools of these hungry snapper. Chumming is best to get them behind your boat as the waters most likely will still be cloudy. The No. 1 mistake most make when snapper fishing is over-chumming. A slow, steady slick is much more affective in getting them into a feeding pattern. Hogfish will be the main focus for anglers looking for action in shallower water, 30-60 feet, for the next few months. Live shrimp, crabs and sand fleas will get the job done. Anchoring is key to catching this delicious species of wrasse. Unlike grouper fishing, you want to anchor just off the ledge or rock pile you normally fish. These fish feed in the sand and donít spend much time too close to the structure itself. Lighter tackle is okay, but we typically donít fish anything less than 30-pound class. Remember the new size limit on these fish is 14 inches and is not measured overall; theyíre measured to the inside of the fork in the tail.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 and fintasticinc.com.