What's hot: Gag grouper fishing can't get much better than it is now. Just about all depths are producing banner catches of 8 to 15 pounds. Live baits are still outproducing sardines and will continue to do so until the water temperatures fall into the low 60s to high 50s. Many fish also have been taken by trolling with large plugs and jigs in water as shallow as 15 feet. The best catches have been in 50 to 70 feet from Sarasota to Tarpon Springs.
Tactics: Trolling is an effective way to find new areas to fish and target gags. Buy a bathymetric chart of the area you're interested in exploring; it will show bottom contours and help you find hard-bottom areas. After a candidate is found, deploy deep diving plugs. While trolling, watch your bottom machine for ledges or rock piles, mark them with your GPS and troll back over them. You can also anchor and drop live or dead baits.
Tackle: When fishing for grouper in shallow water, a conventional reel loaded with 60- to 80-pound mono is preferred, as is a fast-tapered rod in the same class. Terminal tackle should consist of at least a 7/0 circle hook attached to a 3- to 4-foot section of 60- to 80-pound leader under a 3- to 4-ounce egg lead. This tackle helps pry gags from rocky lairs.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 or www.fintasticinc.com.