What's cold: This week our dive computers registered bottom temperatures in the gulf ranging from 48 degrees in 50 feet to 55 degrees in 100 feet. Getting below 54 degrees is uncommon. The last time I documented bottom temperatures this low was off Bayport on Jan. 27, 2001, when it was 49 degrees.
Tactics: Almost every bottom fish species offshore is heading west. Gag grouper, some more than 20 pounds, are on the big ledges at depths of 110 feet or more. Even sheepshead that make the winter months fun for spearing on the shallow offshore ledges and rock piles are going deeper. The big sheepshead that usually limit themselves to depths of 60 feet are being found on ledges to 100 feet.
Watch the weather: Double-check the weather and all the boat's safety equipment before venturing out. The water is simply too cold to survive for long if you're forced to float and wait for a rescue.
Bill Hardman teaches scuba, spearfishing and free diving through Aquatic Obsessions Scuba in St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 344-3483 or firstname.lastname@example.org.