What's hot: Gag grouper fishing can't get much hotter. Most depths are producing banner catches in the 8- to 15-pound class. Holding tight to the structure, these fish will test your anchoring ability as they are seldom known to venture far from cover. Live baits are outproducing sardines and will continue to do so until the water temperatures fall into the lower 60s to high 50s. Many fish have been taken by trolling with large plugs and jigs in water as shallow as 15 feet. The best catches are coming from 50 to 70 feet of water, from Sarasota to Tarpon Springs.
Tactics: Trolling is an effective way to find new areas and target gags. The first step is to buy a very detailed bathymetric chart of the area. These charts show the bottom contours and will assist in finding areas of hard bottom. After locating a new area, start by deploying deep-diving plugs. While trolling, watch your bottom machine for ledges or rock piles that may be in the area. Mark these targets with your GPS and troll back over them. You can also anchor these spots 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 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 will give the angler an edge when trying to pry these hard-charging gags from their rocky lairs.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 or www.fintasticinc.com.