What to do: Because grouper season is closed, we have targeted some other fantastic opportunities.
Short trips: Fishing ledges and rock piles in 20-50 feet of water are holding huge numbers of grunts, porgies and triggerfish. Anchor over just about any break and use small cuts of squid. Rigs are quite simple with a regular fish-finder rig, with a sliding lead, and no more than a 3/0 hook.
A bit further: The mangrove snapper bite has been a bit more consistent in 90-120 feet. A well full of pilchards can be secured under most area bridges before sunup. Find your spot, anchor uptide a bit and start chumming. I like "sand balling" snapper into a frenzy before even putting one bait on the bottom. Start with a completely thawed chum block in the bottom of a five-gallon bucket. Start adding sand to the bucket and mix until it becomes the consistency of oatmeal. I make a ball about 2-3 inches around, and toss a few over the side. As this mix falls to the bottom it creates a trail of chum all the way down. Typically we don't fish for at least 10-15 minutes. Snapper have great eyesight so use the lightest leader you can, adjusting up or down depending on the size of the snapper you catch.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 and fintasticinc.com.