What's hot: Red grouper, white grunts, and mangrove snapper have been our main targets in 50- to 70-foot depths. The legal red grouper size is 20 inches overall. A stinger-equipped flat line on every bottom stop has produced several memorable fish lately. Large Spanish mackerel, gag grouper, kingfish, barracuda and a tiger shark have all been drawn in by bottom fishing and the natural chum slick produced when bottom fish expel their stomach contents.
Tip: Put out two flat lines, one with a nose hooked frozen Spanish sardine and the other with a live bait such as a blue runner, live sardine, or hardtail, to cover much of the water column.
Tactics: Last week we were unprepared for the school of mahi-mahi that appeared under the boat as we bottom-fished in 70 feet of water. From now on we will have one or two 10- to 12-pound class rods rigged with 2/0 gold hooks ready. Our usual drill is to chum with small slivers of sardine. Chumming with large chunks only feeds them and they will soon move on. Use a small gold hook; this lets a piece of bait the size of the chum fall naturally. Because these fish feed so voraciously, keep several hooks handy.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.