What's hot: Grouper remain the hot topic in offshore waters. The bulk of gag grouper in the bay area are in 80- to 160-foot depths. These fish are quite hungry and on the move as water temperatures climb. Live baits are key, but staying on the move will be the most important factor in the next few months. Last week, one trip — out to 135 feet — was one-stop shopping for amberjack, red and gag grouper and mangrove snapper.
Other options: This is a great time for pelagic species such as blackfin tuna, mahi-mahi, wahoo and sailfish. Offshore, keep an eye on the water's surface for signs of life. Trolling a small spread of Islander lures with ballyhoo, and other smaller lures such as Billy Baits, will get the job done. We released nine sailfish in June and had countless shots at others. Look for them on the surface feeding.
What's next: Red snapper season opens Tuesday, and they are just about everywhere in 90 feet or deeper. The limit is two per angler, and the minimum size is 16 inches. Frozen sardines will be the bait of choice. As the bite gets started, these fish will rise into the water column and get aggressive. A small lead on a knocker rig is a great way to keep the baits in the strike zone of the larger snapper for a bit longer.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at fintasticinc.com or (727) 642-3411.