What's hot: Water temperature has hit the magical 72 degree mark, bringing larger baitfish such as Spanish sardines, threadfins, cigar minnows and blue runners into our area. The pelagic predators, including Spanish mackerel, kingfish, bonito and cobia, are also here feeding on the baitfish to fuel their migration to the Panhandle.
Now that both red and gag grouper season is open, opportunities exist to return to port with a mixed bag of fish.
Strategy: Instead of venturing offshore with the mind-set to target only bottom fish or pelagics, we have been gearing up for both types of fishing. Normally the fishing for kingfish and mackerel is best near sunrise and sunset, so we adjust our game plan to troll at the beginning of the day. Stopping at the artificial reefs off Madeira Beach, Treasure Island or St. Petersburg Beach on the way out also presents several options. One is to fill the bait well with several types of baitfish for bottom fishing. If the bait is present, the pelagic predators will also be there, so deploying a stinger-rigged flatline while catching bait is usually productive. On many days, the two per person bag limit on kingfish will be caught before the bait well is full.
During the gag grouper closure, we caught and released many keeper-sized (22 inches) fish while fishing within 3 to 4 miles of these artificial reefs. Targeting these areas saves fuel and allows for more fishing time. The 10 Fathom Curve outlined on most charts serves as a highway for many of the migratory species, and at this time of year it also harbors most species of the bottom fish that we seek.
Tip: If it's too windy to venture offshore and must get a "fishing fix," sheepshead gather in numbers at nearly every bridge and dock near the passes that enter the gulf. They provide an excellent fight on light tackle as well as being great table fare.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.