What's hot: Water temperatures have rebounded from what, hopefully, will be winter lows. The cold caused a dramatic slowing of benthic activity, and offshore bottom fishing followed suit. Red and gag grouper, scamp, white grunts, porgies and trigger fish have been ravenous for the past week in waters deeper than 40 feet. Using 2/0 No. 2 hook snapper rigs with squid strips has generated almost instantaneous activity for reef dwellers. Because of the great action experienced while using these smaller rigs on light tackle, many of our parties have refused to switch to more conventional medium grouper tackle.
Tactics: Targeting ledges and higher-profile rock piles will result in creating memories. You must catch, photograph and release gag grouper because of the closed season until July 1. Mark Sosin once said, "A fish is too valuable to be caught only once." Carefully releasing a large gag after a battle and knowing someone else can have this same experience has become very rewarding. There are many other species available to provide "meat" for the table and freezer.
Tip: Schools of blue runners have invaded most of the markers in the shipping channel. They also can be found on many artificial reefs and caught with Sabiki rigs. They are a great bait to entice red and gag grouper. Cutting off part or all of the tail and hooking them above the anal fin will slow them down, creating a tempting bait for bottom fish.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.