The persistent strong winds and high seas have prevented us from venturing offshore on most days, but when we have been able to go, some challenges have arisen. Bottom fishing for red grouper, white grunts, triggerfish and mangrove, lane, yellowtail and vermillion snapper are the fish to target this time of year because of water temperatures that have plummeted into the 50s. Red grouper fishing has been disappointing because of the fish's reluctance to feed because of metabolic slowdown and many have moved to deeper, slightly warmer water. A local dive shop operator reported that when his group found a calm day and was willing to brave the cold water, the red grouper that it saw were smaller and very lethargic. Water temperatures in the 60-foot depths have not affected the other reef fish that we can target. Downsizing tackle to 10- to 12-pound spinning or bait-casting equipment as used for trout, mackerel and redfish will produce just as much sport and table fare as grouper fishing with heavier tackle. A two hook (1/0 or 2/0) snapper "chicken" rig with a 3-ounce sinker will produce almost nonstop action. The use of lighter tackle and the smaller hooks have been producing some unusual results. Triggerfish are now open and have a 14-inch minimum fork length to be kept. Yellowtail snapper are usually caught far offshore while targeting other species. The smaller hook rigs have been producing keepers (12 inches overall) in waters as shallow as 50 feet. Strips of squid and small chunks of Spanish sardine have been the baits of choice.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.