What's hot: Santa Claus did not leave us the weather we all asked for right after Christmas, but the conditions should improve as they do after each of these wintertime fronts. Anglers who have grasped the short windows of opportunity to venture offshore when weather permits have reported great results. Now that the majority of bait fish have left for warmer waters, the predators are feeding heavily in preparation for even tougher times to come. Gag grouper fishing has been excellent, though it is catch-photo-and-release fishing because of the closed season. One can return to a rocky outcropping where fish have been released and catch a large shallower gag over and over.
There are several species to target for table fare including red grouper, scamp, triggerfish, porgies, mangrove snapper and white grunts. For as long as I can remember it was necessary to target 70-90 feet for red grouper. There has been a dramatic change in both red grouper numbers and habits, and we've been finding keeper-sized fish in waters as shallow as 30 feet. Live baits are no longer a necessity, and most of the legal fish have been caught on squid, a combination of squid and Spanish sardine on the same hook, or a chunk of white grunt or other reef fish.
Tripletail are available to anglers who spend the time hunting them. Find a line of crab trap buoys, idle along them looking for the fish that will be very close or partially wrapped around the marker. Be prepared with a medium spinning outfit with a small jig or circle hook with a shrimp or chunk of sardine without any weight. It may take some hunting, but the explosive battle and great taste will make the time worthwhile.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.