What's hot: The snook on the beach are in smaller schools than normal, which gives us fewer shots at a catch. They usually don't thin out until the first week of September. We did find bigger schools inside the beach, but we couldn't get them to feed. The problem was keeping the bait alive. Scaled sardines and threadfins that were netted in deep water were not surviving the move to shallow water. The 10-degree change in water temperature was too much for the bait to handle.
Grouper: The grouper bite inside Tampa Bay has been good. Trolling large jigs and big-lip plugs or bottom fishing produced legal-size grouper. There were a few problems to deal with. The worst was the large patches of grass floating on the surface. We would have to pull in the trolling gear every few minutes to clear the grass off the planer and plugs. Grouper won't strike a plug covered with grass, and a planer won't dive deep enough wrapped in grass. We also had to deal with dolphins stealing our baits and the oversized grouper cutting us off in the rocks. To have a chance with the larger grouper, we shorten the leader and tail-hook the baits. Tail-hooking makes the bait swim up and off the rocks. This makes the grouper swim farther from their holes. This gives you a chance to lift the grouper away from the rocks before they can get back to the den.
Doug Hemmer charters out of St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 347-1389.