Where are the grouper?: They are scattered over the ledges and wrecks in most depths. The deeper ledges of the Middle Grounds are producing many robust red grouper and nice gag grouper. The bottom temperature in the grounds is in the low 70s and more comfortable for divers than the mid-60s temperatures closer to shore.
New grouper laws: New rules approved by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, starting Jan. 1, restrict recreational anglers to two gag grouper a day, down from five. Recreational gag fishing and spearfishing will be closed during February and March, which doubles the 2008 spawning season closure.
Swarming snapper: The most prevalent fish on the Gulf of Mexico bottom is the American red snapper. Never have I seen so many. Many spots from 80 feet and deeper are swarming with red snapper up to 20 pounds. There are so many that spearfishermen are finding it hard to see past the snapper when searching for legal fish. My hook-and-line friends are also perplexed when they attempt to get their baits past the reds and to the other bottom fish. It's great to see this species rebound to such dominant numbers. The beginning of the short gulf red snapper season is June 1, and it can't come soon enough.
Bill Hardman teaches scuba, spearfishing and free diving through Aquatic Obsessions Scuba in St. Petersburg and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 344-3483.