What's hot: Gag grouper have been catch and release since November and red grouper will join them Friday when that closure goes into effect until April 1. But there are still plenty of fish available for delicious meals. White grunts, gray snapper, saltwater crappie and a host of others are our predominant reef fish, and when tackle is downsized, provide drag pulling action just like larger reef fish. In addition to the grunts, mangrove snapper, triggerfish, silver trout and sea bass are all in gulf waters.
Tackle: Bring light spinning or bait casting tackle to a rocky area normally targeted for grouper. Rig with a No. 2 hook "chicken rig" 2/0 hooks, three-quarters ounce sinker and let the action begin. The activity of the smaller reef fish feeding will bring in larger grouper.
Tip: We have been pleasantly surprised by the number of kingfish and large mackerel in 50- to 60-foot depths. We have gone back to deploying frozen sardines on a stinger-rigged flatline. Keep the flatline rigged and ready when traveling offshore. We have been encountering small pods of kingfish smashing into schools of bait and have had great success casting a frozen sardine and using a "walk the dog" method of retrieval to trigger a strike.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.