Grouper bite is on: There is no shortage of red grouper willing to take your baited hook. Make sure you take plenty of bait because you will have to bait your hook numerous times before you hook a keeper-sized red grouper. Because gag grouper are offlimits, red grouper have been under a lot of pressure. Most near-shore bottom areas have been hit hard by the parade of "head boats" and anglers unwilling to go too far offshore. Don't despair. Some nice fish are still out there. As long as you are willing to put your time in, you can be rewarded with a decent catch.
Grunts to the rescue: Known locally as "gray snapper," grunts are providing a lot of action on the bottom between grouper bites. Bite-sized nuggets of sardine and squid keep the grunts interested and biting. Though some anglers spurn grunts for their size, pound for pound there isn't a scrappier fighter or better-tasting fish in the gulf. The flesh is a firm white meat with a delicate flavor. Some northerners say grunts remind them of crappie on steroids. Many native Floridians consider "grits and grunts" a staple of life.
Spanish mackerel schooling: Substantial schools of Spanish mackerel can be found from 25-40 feet, especially over large ledges and reefs. We have been catching a fair amount of mackerel on our way offshore before bottom fishing. The bite was so good on one trip, one of my customers figured we were catching them at a rate of "one fish every 50 seconds."
Larry Blue charters the Niki Joe from Madeira Beach Marina. Call (727) 871-1058 or visit CaptainLarryBlue.com.