The magical 70s: A much-needed cool front has dropped surface water temperatures into the 70s. Once winds allowed us to venture offshore, we were able to easily catch our limit of gag groupers. All depths have produced keepers since the opening of the season, but we have consistently been reaching our limits out inside the 80-foot mark.
Key ingredients: Live bait is still the groupers' choice. If it wiggles, the big gags are going after it. Squirrel fish are one of my favorites. They are a bigger bait (about 6 inches), making it a task for undersized fish to eat. This allows bigger fish time to investigate the bait as it struggles on the hook. Last week we caught six keepers on one squirrel fish. It seems that once these baits get eaten, they become more attractive to other fish. We rehook it after each grouper we catch, sending it back down to the bottom.
Add ingredients: Hand-sized pinfish are also a must to add to your bait arsenal. We have found them by drifting with sabiki rigs a half-mile offshore, and we have found them on sandy bottoms, too. A tiny cut piece of squid scents the small fly hook, attracting schools of these great grouper baits directly under the boat.
Dave Mistretta captains the Jaws Too out of Indian Rocks Beach. Call (727) 439-2628 or see www.jawstoo.com.