What's hot: Sheepshead and hogfish are running thick on the shallow ledges. The annual movement of bay and inland-water sheepshead to the shallow offshore reefs is in full swing. In the next couple of weeks, the bigger sheepshead will have made their way to these ledges and rock piles out to depths of 50 feet and shallower. The hogfish have been fairly consistent in depths of 70 feet and shallower, and some nice-sized hogfish are being speared. It is common for a few divers to get one or two male hogfish weighing 6 or 7 pounds.
What's cold: The water temperature is still dropping. Last week I documented bottom water temperatures in the low 60s. We were finding these temperatures in 40 feet, and along with the colder water, we found ledges stocked with fish. Before we dived, we used hook and line for a while. And even with the fish showing up well on our bottom machine, we couldn't get the bite started. So with a little struggle to get in our wet suits, hoods and warm gloves, we took timid breaths and rolled off the boat with our scuba gear and spear gun to find plenty of fish swimming right under the boat. We came up with mixed stringers of hogfish, mangrove snappers, sheepshead and the occasional red grouper. In these shallow depths, we didn't find many keeper-sized red grouper. The divers who ventured farther from shore found legal-sized amberjack of up to 50 pounds and had their hands full wrestling with these powerful fish.
Bill Hardman teaches scuba, spearfishing and free diving through Aquatic Obsessions Scuba in St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 344-3483 and [email protected]