What's hot: Now that anglers are restricted from keeping gag grouper (charter vessels with reef permits must abide by federal rules in state and federal waters), we have put kingfish tackle on the boat and have begun to target other species. The No. 20 class or less tackle puts the fun and challenge back into catching white grunts, triggerfish, porgies, mangrove snapper, scamp and black sea bass. A trip offshore to 90-foot depths with Bill and Betty Kinder last week produced disappointing results for red grouper, which are open until Feb. 1. But gags bit well, with several about 30 inches being caught, photographed and released. We returned to port with a great catch of tasty reef fish.
Tactics: When targeting white grunts, sea bass and mangrove snapper, use the same method as grouper fishing. Limestone outcroppings — whether ledges, Swiss-cheese bottom or jumbled rock piles — will hold a variety of reef fish. Conventional grouper tackle can be used, but these smaller fish are best targeted with light spinning or conventional tackle using a two-hook porgy rig with 2/0 circle hooks and the sinker on the bottom. Small pieces of sardine or strips of squid are the baits of choice. There are no size or bag limits for white grunts. On our charters, we have instituted a 12-inch minimum.
Tip: The activity created when fishing for smaller reef fish will lure in large grouper. When the activity stops, drop a conventional grouper rig down with a larger bait and enjoy the battle with a trophy released fish.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach and can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 397-8815.