What's hot: With the water temperatures dropping into the upper 60s, many larger speckled trout have moved inshore, and the cool water will bring the grouper closer to the beaches off good hard bottom. The shallows of north Pinellas County are holding good numbers of fish where sandy potholes are mixed with rich turtle grass.
Bait tips: Artificials are beginning to work well; anglers can cover large areas while drift fishing. Try pumpkin slammers rigged with an 1/8-ounce weedless jighead. Pearl-colored tails will symbolize the whitebait are covering the beaches. Bucktail jigs and shallow crankbaits also work well with this type of presentation. As for live bait, a smaller sardine rigged with an adjustable cork can be popped at the surface to entice larger female trout.
Site tips: As the grouper inch toward shore, concentrate on aggressive-looking rock piles in 20 feet. Many stone crab lines are in this range and can often give away the best areas because crab is often caught better on natural hard bottom. Live pinfish work best with larger gags. When fishing in shallower terrain for grouper, work off the structure and allow the chum to pull these aggressive fish away from the rocks to increase the landing ratio.
Jim Huddleston charters out of Tampa, Palm Harbor and Clearwater and can be reached at (727) 439-9017 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.