What's hot: It certainly hasn't been the weather. The severe cold front caused water temperatures to plummet to about 60 degrees. The high winds and rough seas caused us to cancel many trips and sit in port doing maintenance. When we could venture offshore, our expectations of bottom fish being ready to feed heavily on any bait dropped were quickly quashed. Areas in 20-30 feet were active with red and gag grouper, white grunts, triggerfish and mangrove snapper, but they were reluctant to feed.
Tactics: Moving offshore to 60-70 feet was key to putting some reef fish in the box. Anchoring over flat, hardbottom areas as opposed to ledges was more effective as well as a change in bait. Normally, we start with cut sardines and squid on both conventional single hook bottom rigs along with one or two No. 2 hook snapper rigs with 2/0 circle hooks to get the bite started. We switch to pinfish or large cutbaits to entice the larger fish lured in by the activity. It took at least five minutes for fish to start feeding on every spot. White grunts starting the action followed by grouper. Our live baits went for a ride offshore and back as they had little effect on producing grouper, whose metabolism has slowed and were reluctant to chase a live bait.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.