What's hot: Bottom fishing trips to depths of 100 to 150 feet have yielded great catches of red grouper, mangrove snapper and amberjack.
Presentation: Most of the grouper have been 8 to 15 pounds, but quite a few have been in the 20-pound range. Most have fallen for live bait (Spanish sardines, pinfish, cigar minnows and small to medium-sized blue runners) on a standard fish-finder rig. For tackle, use a 4/0-size reel loaded with 60- to 80-pound test. Longer, heavier leader is also key in boating these fish. I use a 5- to 7-foot length of 80-pound leader fixed to an 8/0 or 9/0 circle hook.
Tackle: Mangrove snapper are one of the hardest fish to capture. They feed in packs and with amazing speed, so you have to be ready. One method for catching them is to use a knocker rig, a 1/2-ounce egg lead on the main line with a 3/0-5/0 circle hook at the end. This rig falls slowly through the water column and reaches the snapper suspended off the bottom. A light main line gets the most action. For amberjack I use a single 9/0 hook and 10 to 12 feet of 80-pound leader with no lead. I also free-line large, live blue runners for these fish with great success.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 and fintasticinc.com.