What's hot: The beginning of the week was spent fishing offshore on small ledges and rock piles in depths of 90-110 feet. Two keys to catching red and gag grouper: using live bait (caught fresh) and anchoring on every spot we fished. Usually a test drop is in order to see if the fish are eating, but with the tides running as hard as they were, these fish were not going to leave their holes. Anchoring about 50 feet uptide of the structure gave the right presentation and also gave us a slight head start on wrestling them away from their lair.
Tackle: Since the target was gag grouper and these fish are fighters, we were using 80- to 100-pound tackle with tight drag. Longer leaders also assisted us in getting more bites, allowing the bait a larger area to swim and attract predators.
Tactics: Sometimes while over a spot, the fish will show on the bottom recorder but won't eat. They might be full from gorging themselves on the baits that inhabit that spot. Or the tide may be running too fast. We experimented with hooking different baits in different ways. We tried squirrelfish, cigar minnows and pinfish. When we hooked the baits by the tail, the fish could not resist and we boated eight gags in the 12- to 18-pound range in eight drops. When these same baits were nose-hooked they were not touched.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at fintasticinc.com or (727) 642-3411.