What's hot: With shallow water grouper closed inside the 20-fathom line this month, we have been concentrating on inshore areas holding bait. Most of the usual hard-bottom areas in 70-110 feet have had decent numbers of red and scamp grouper. Live baits have been producing better than frozen since the water is on the warmer side for this time of the year.
Tips: Most ledges in 70-110 feet are holding a lot of large mangrove snapper. We have taken our share on sardine plugs fished either on a small jig head or a very light knocker rig. Both rigs let you focus on the larger fish well off the bottom. Drop the bait over the side, open the bail and try to keep in contact with the bait during its descent; don't hinder the natural presentation of a bait falling free. Small chunks (the same size as your baits) should be deployed at a very slow rate, making a ladder of food for the fish to climb off the bottom. As these fish follow the food trail toward the surface they should find your bait in the mix.
What's next: The spring migration of king mackerel should be here soon. Scattered reports of fish in 70-100 feet over live bottom have been going on for about a week now. The bait is here so the table is set.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 and fintasticinc.com.