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Captain's corner: Mackerel, gag grouper are on the move

It only takes a short run to target king mackerel and gag grouper as both species are making their fall migrations.

Gag grouper are headed for the shallows, and the migration pattern is the same each year. During the past month the main push of gags has been north of the bay area, with great catches coming in the 40- to 60-foot depths from west of Bayport, south to the 60- and 70-foot depths west of the Anclote area. With the coming of cold fronts we should see these fish head farther south through our area and toward Sarasota. Concentrate your efforts at depths of 50 to 60 feet and along limestone ledges.

If a trophy gag is what you're after, check the 40-fathom Curve, a well-defined ridge in 240 feet that runs from the Dry Tortugas north to Louisiana. This ridge used to be just for commercial fisherman, but with the introduction of the larger and faster offshore boats it is within reach. This ridge is a great place for huge amberjack, big gags and red snapper (when in season).

Trolling well offshore has been on the slow side. With weak currents and virtually no weed lines, the fish are scattered. But the Elbow area has produced some wahoo and mahi-mahi action. This area of large 20- to 25-foot protrusions on the ocean floor about 70 nautical miles west of John's Pass. Rigged ballyhoo with a red-and-white Islander has worked best.

Cobia can be found around some of the nearshore reefs (Indian Shores, Rube Allen) and wrecks (Blackthorn). These fish rarely feed at night, so getting on site as early as possible is best. Start on the up tide or up wind side (whichever is stronger) of the wreck or reef and shut off the engine. Rig a 60- to 80-pound leader and a hand-sized pinfish with no lead or swivel. While drifting over the spot, keep a lookout for these fish just under the surface. Cobia are one of the only fish that mate for life, so keep a second rod ready for when bringing a fish boat side, as double- and tripleheaders are possible.

Further inshore the action is right off the beaches. Mackerel can be found just about everywhere the bait is, from Clearwater south to Sarasota.

Kingfish are scattered. Fish are being caught in depths from 10 to 80 feet. Target these fish with baits found in the same areas you are fishing. For example, when fishing the beach bluefish and threadfin herring will do best. When fishing offshore around wrecks or in the shipping channel, cigar minnows, blue runners and Spanish sardines are getting the best results.

Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 or

Captain's corner: Mackerel, gag grouper are on the move 10/16/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 16, 2008 8:57pm]
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