What's hot: Gulf water temperatures have reached the low 80s, which usually signifies many changes affecting bottom and trolling fish. In a normal year, kingfish pretty much would have left the area by now and been replaced by large schools of Spanish mackerel, which can be found near passes and on the near shore artificial reefs. In the past week, scattered schools of kingfish have been hot, caught with trolling spoons and plugs or live bait. Schools of Spanish mackerel are abundant in Tampa Bay but are scattered in the gulf. Those targeting mackerel would be more successful in areas near the Sunshine Skyway bridge.
Grouper update: The severe winter cold also has affected bottom-fish patterns. Normally we would be fishing in the 90-feet-plus depths targeting primarily red grouper. This year it has not been necessary to travel that far offshore to catch keepers. In the 40- to 60- foot depths are so many undersized gag and red grouper that they become a nuisance by getting to the baits before the keepers. Dropping a large bait such as a white grunt head, a squirrelfish or a large live pinfish usually triggers a strike from the larger fish once the bite has been established by the use of frozen squid and sardines.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.