Cold water: Gulf waters from Clearwater to New Port Richey are clear and very cold. Recent offshore bottom readings were 57 degrees from depth of 20 feet out past 60 feet. The fish are often present but have been reluctant to bite. This can be tough for anglers but perfect for Neoprene-clad spearfishermen willing to enter the chilly water. North county free divers have had great catches of hogfish, amberjack, sheepshead and red grouper during the past few weeks.
Tips: If you are going in the water, a full body wet suit at least 5 millimeters thick with a hood is a must. Even then, underwater hunters can only dive a half day before they are too cold. To keep warm we divert the outboard engines' external cooling water hose into a jug. The sea water emitted is about 95 degrees, which feels really good when poured into a wet suit after a chilly dive. Periodic warming of your core temperature will allow more dive time.
No rush: Be selective when the fish are abundant. Hogfish have been very plentiful and are often found in groups with many small females and a single large male. By passing up the average size hogs, you are more likely to get the bigger fish for your five-fish bag limit. Sheepshead are spawning on the reefs and ledges inside 50 feet. It is common to swim through huge schools while stalking the very largest, which can run more than 8 pounds during the winter.
Ed Walker charters out of Tarpon Springs. He can be contacted at [email protected] or at (727) 944-3474.