As bottom temperatures in the gulf continue to drop, fish are moving closer to shore. This past week the bottom temperature in 50-85 feet due west of St. Petersburg reached a low of 65 degrees. Gag grouper are hanging outside the ledges, but most of the legal-sized gags are staying away from divers. Gags have become more and more wary as their season has progressed. Divers who can see their outline on the edge of visibility and can quickly identify them are able to spear them before they dissolve into the dim water. Red grouper have not moved in as fast as the gags. Hogfish are in all depths. Mangrove snapper are happy in these cooler water temperatures, and they are everywhere. In the past couple of weeks, we've seen "out of season" red snappers in depths as shallow as 60-70 feet, and all were legal size, but the season is closed on reds. In all my years diving the gulf, I've never seen red snapper so close to shore in such large concentrations. Their populations is doing well. The underwater visibility is good until you get a few feet off the bottom. Just off the sea floor, the particulate from the last cold front is still settling to the bottom.
Bill Hardman teaches scuba, spearfishing and free diving through Aquatic Obsessions Scuba in St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 344-3483 and [email protected]