Great grouper baits: As the water temperature cools, we use Key West grunts in two types of presentations. A fillet attracts lots of small reef fish to chew on the meat. This activity interests the bigger gag grouper, which usually steals the fillet. The head of a grunt is also considered big fish bait. Oftentimes the head of the grunt produces the biggest grouper of the day for us.
Live baits: The often-overlooked butterfish is one of the best wintertime grouper baits. Butterfish, often called sugar trout, can be caught around dock lights and bridge-light shadow lines in the bays and close to the shoreline in the gulf. They are not really good for anything but grouper and are easily accessible for the next few months. Pinfish will become harder to find in the bays as the water cools. This time of year, look a few miles out in the gulf for pinfish. Giant schools of them will hover over the sandy bottom in winter. They are quite hungry and can be netted or jigged up on gold hooks. The pins will migrate back when the water temperature rises.
Fishing depth: We have been catching impressive gag grouper in 40 feet of water for the past month. I have noticed a decline in their appetite after the last two cold fronts. Water temperature is the culprit as it slows their metabolism. The shallower spots seem to be affected first. This has forced us to fish deeper with a great success. A few miles farther out, in about 50 feet of water, has produced best.
Dave Mistretta captains the Jaws Too out of Indian Rocks Beach. Call (727) 439-2628 or see www. jawstoo.com.