Strong winds have made offshore trips difficult to plan. For weeks now, gulf conditions have been favorable for only one or two days per week. But during those rare windows the fishing has been exceptional.
Amberjack have been thick on most of the wrecks outside 50 feet, with some weighing upward of 60 pounds. Butterfly jigs on specialized spinning rods rigged with 80-pound braided line produces big amberjack. Some big gag grouper have been on the wrecks, but it takes a dead or cut bait to reach them on the bottom through the schools of amberjack.
We put out a No. 4 planer and a spoon when moving between spots recently and were surprised at the number of kingfish we caught. On consecutive trips we reached our limit and released many more. There are pockets of warmer water in the 70- to 80-foot range holding large schools of Spanish sardines and cigar minnows, which in turn hold the attention of the kings. Normally by this time of the year most kings have moved south or way offshore.
Red grouper have taken over in many spots in the deep water. Most are being caught on fresh cut bait such as bonito, mullet, and ladyfish.
Gag grouper have moved closer to shore but not too close. Most of the big numbers of fish have been found outside 45 feet and as deep as 85 or 90 feet.
There are only a few weeks left before the bag limit for gags drops to two per person. According to Steve Branstetter at the National Marine Fisheries Service, an interim rule reducing the bag limit for gag grouper to two per person, excluding captains and crew on for-hire vessels, begins Jan. 1.
Inshore: Another unlikely species has made an odd winter appearance on the flats near Tarpon Springs. In 3 feet of water near Anclote Key, we threw spoons and caught Spanish mackerel from 1 to 4 pounds on nearly every cast for hours.
Speckled trout of more than 3 pounds are being taken on the flats and adjacent channels. Redfish have been caught along the mangrove shoreline at high tide or in the ditches where the last of the water drains off the flats at the bottom of the outgoing tide.
There are a few areas on the flats where the bluefish hang around just about every day, and they hit noisy topwater plugs.
Snook fishing has been slow, as it usually the case when the water is this cold. A few, along with small resident tarpon, can be caught in the upper stretches of the rivers if you have the time and patience to search them out.
Bring a variety of lures; you never know what fish will show up.
Ed Walker charters out of Tarpon Springs. Call (727) 944-3474 or e-mail info@light tacklecharters.com.