We haven't put up our trolling gear for the winter yet because of water temperatures hovering around 70 offshore and the abundance of bait and fish. Spanish mackerel can be found at the mouth of any pass entering the gulf and on patchy hard-bottom areas about 3 miles offshore. Mackerel are on most artificial reefs, but the quality fish are closer to shore. Kingfish are near the markers for the entire length of the shipping channel. The buoys, along with the large chain and massive sinker used to hold them in place, are where baitfish seek protection, attracting larger predators. Trolling between the markers has been disappointing. We prefer to run from one set of markers to the next to save time blind trolling. Barracuda are thinning out, but some remain on the midwater artificial reefs and offshore wrecks. Slow-trolled live blue runners are baits of choice. Amberjack are mixed in with other species on the reefs and wrecks. Gag and red grouper, triggerfish and amberjack are closed to harvest, but that doesn't mean they can't be targeted for catch, photo and release. Bottom fishing has been excellent with large fish carefully released to catch in the future. There's no lack of table-fare fish to harvest in 60-80 foot depths. White grunts, porgies, lane, yellowtail, vermillion and mangrove are available for those willing to downsize tackle to a 2/0 hook, 2-3 ounce sinker and a long leader. Squid and small chunks of sardine are baits of choice.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.