Red grouper fishing inside of 100 feet of water has been slow lately because they are spawning well offshore in depths of 170-240 feet. The first sign of spring should have these fish heading back to the east to the bait-rich shallows they are used to. With shallow-water grouper closed to harvest outside of 20 fathoms for the remainder of this month, the best bet is looking in areas just inside the "fence" or 120 feet of water for your grouper fix. Water temperatures in those depths are in the mid to upper 60s, so live baits will continue to outproduce frozen baits. This year we have been blessed with the best mangrove snapper bite I have seen. Just about every ledge and rock pile in depths of 60-100 feet is stuffed with these keen-eyed snapper. Anchoring uptide of the structure, deploying a bit of chum and dropping down in leader and hook size will get the job done. Frozen sardines cut into smaller chunks that are just big enough to hide a hook in work best. If the tide is running hard, try a small quarter- to half-ounce jig head to help get the bait down to the fish. On recent trips offshore we have found 25- to 50-pound amberjack on just about every wreck and spring in depths of 130-200 feet. We have had luck on both artificial and live baits. Spring is right around the corner and that means pelagic species such as blackfin tuna, king mackerel, Spanish mackerel and other species such as wahoo and sailfish will be arriving. Areas such as the shipping channel and the deeper wrecks will hold bait first and thus will hold these predators first.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 and fintasticinc.com.