What's hot: The migration of baits such as threadfin herring, pilchards and Spanish sardines makes this time of year exciting. Bottom fishing in 70 feet and deeper has been good, but getting past 100 feet is key. Red grouper have staged under the towers of baitfish in areas of hard, swiss cheese bottom. The best bait is northern mackerel, which can be found in 5-pound boxes at your local bait shop.
Locating: Know the difference between bait stacks of vermilion snapper and Spanish sardines. Vermilions hold over a small piece of bottom and stay put. Sardines suspend a bit higher in the water and move around. Mark the show on your GPS, and head back a few times. If the show is gone, then keep moving.
Other targets: Mangrove snapper fishing also has been good. Key in on sharp ledges in 80-90 feet. Before any baits hit the bottom, I cut a few pounds of frozen bait into tiny chunks and start a slow trickle over the side at a rate of 1-2 pieces every minute. As it falls through the column, the fish will climb the ladder of food. Rig with 20-pound fluorocarbon leader and hide a 2/0 circle hook in a small chunk.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 and fintasticinc.com.