What's hot: Back-to-back cold fronts, high winds and rough seas have kept us in port except for the few calm days between fronts. On the days we were able to get out, bottom fishing for red and gag grouper, mangrove snapper and white grunts was outstanding. Start in 20 feet of water fishing ledges and rock piles. If this depth does not produce, continue west searching for a depth in which the fish are active. It has not been necessary to fish deeper than 50 feet on most of our recent trips.
Tactics: We have been carrying a wide variety of baits on all our bottom-fishing trips because on any given day, one bait always seems to produce better than the others. Frozen squid and sardines are staples, along with pinfish and pigfish. Squirrelfish can usually be caught on sandy areas adjacent to hard-bottom areas on a sabiki rig, with the two bottom hooks tipped with pieces of squid tentacle. Using a 4-ounce sinker on the sabiki rig will prevent annoying tangles caused by larger baitfish.
Bait tip: It pays off to catch bait on a sabiki rig when stopped on a grouper spot. "Matching the hatch" with a bait caught on site will usually produce a keeper that is hesitant to strike a bait that has been brought into the area. Using half of a small white grunt will often produce a monster.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach and can be reached at Luckytoo2@aol.com or (727) 397-8815.