What's hot: Bottom fishing offshore in depths of 120-150 feet has been pretty easy. Red grouper have been the main target on all of our trips. They are stacked on every rolloff and pothole in these depths. Typically the larger fish will be the first ones to eat and as the bite progresses the fish will usually get smaller, until you catch a non-legal size fish. The biggest problem at these depths is pesky red snapper. We have caught at least one true 20-pound class fish on every trip since grouper opened at the start of the month.
Tips: The trick to targeting grouper has been big live baits, such as grunts and large pinfish. Frozen sardines have been the old standby for red grouper for years but these smaller, soft baits usually get inhaled before reaching bottom.
Different tricks: Artificial baits such as large buck-tails and butterfly jigs have been getting even the most picky fish to bite. These baits draw a reaction strike. Drop the rig to the bottom and work it upward in a pretty fast motion to mimic a baitfish trying to get away. Red grouper are about the most aggressive of all grouper and will hit these baits not because they are hungry, but because they can.
Pelagic: During the next few months we can expect many other offshore species such as wahoo, mahi, and tuna to move into the bait-rich shallows in these same depths. Usually, a flatlined bait off the stern will pay off. A quick stop at the markers in the shipping channel will do the trick, securing sardines and cigar minnows. It is always smart to run a small trace of wire in front of the hook in case the predator that eats this bait has teeth.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 and fintasticinc.com.