What's hot: Cooling water near the coast has caused the seasonal movement of gag grouper from offshore to shallow rocky areas inshore. The fish prefer the moderate temperatures of fall and come in to feed on the abundant baitfish found closer to shore. Recently, great fishing occurred in as shallow as 12 feet. Even anglers inside Tampa Bay have reported good catches of gags in shallower than 20 feet. We caught gags up to 16 pounds just a few miles west of Tarpon Springs last week. Free-diving trips to this area revealed schools of gags on many rock piles. Some were visible from the surface.
Tips: Move often. If you don't hook good-sized gags within two or three casts, move. Waiting for grouper to bite while picking through sea bass, grunts and other nontarget species did not work well. The same goes for diving. If we did not see fish immediately, we probably weren't going to.
Tackle: A 60-pound test clear monofilament leader works best in the shallows. It is thin enough to get bites from finicky grouper but strong enough for a few scrapes on the rocks. Braided line is visible to the fish, so use long wind-on leaders (15-20 feet) or 40-pound test monofilament for your main line.
Ed Walker charters out of Tarpon Springs. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (727) 944-3474.