Warmer than normal water temperatures have resulted in fall targets hanging around longer than usual and winter targets showing up late. Remember, migratory fish such as grouper, kingfish, tuna and cobia, to name a few, don't have the same calendar as we do. Their trigger to migrate has everything to do with the changes in water temperature and the migration of their prey. Kingfish are still around and as long as the bait stays in the area and temperatures stay above 68, they can be found in the area. Before this past cold front there was an epic bite happening right on the beach, from Pass-a-Grill north to Clearwater pass. Most fish were 15-20 pounds with many 30- to 40-pounders also in the mix. As the frontal winds turn east and the water nearshore starts to clear, look for pods of threadfin herring near the beach and you'll find these fish still feeding well. Looking further offshore, mangrove and yellowtail snapper are feeding heavily in 60- to 90-foot depths on ledges and smaller wrecks. As the water cools these fish will continue to move south seeking warmer waters. Typically we set up just up-tide of the structure, chumming heavily and deploying small pieces of cut sardines or live shrimp into the chum line to catch these fish. Light leaders and small hooks are key. Red grouper and amberjack will open on Jan. 1. Look for reds to be feeding on juvenile sardines in depths of 60 to 110 feet. Anchoring over small chunks of hard bottom and dropping typical fish-finder rigs baited with frozen sardines or live baits should yield a bounty of 8- to 12-pounders. For amberjack, try offshore wrecks and springs in 80- to 140-foot depths. During winter, fish in the 25- to 40-pound range make their way into these bait-rich areas. Amberjack are mature and ready to spawn around their third year (24-28 pounds) so to conserve the species we typically try to release fish of this size and take only the larger females. The larger fish yield ample meat, so only take a few.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 and fintasticinc.com.