Red grouper fishing will continue to be hot for the next month even if the weather is not. Large numbers of fish in the 8- to 12-pound class have been in depths of 50-120 feet for some time. Grouper, especially red grouper, can tolerate a wide range of water temperatures and should stay in these depths as long as temperatures don't dip into the 50s. If that happens, look for grouper to push a bit farther offshore to stay in their preferred zone. There is no need for live bait while grouper fishing for the next few months. Lower temperatures make the fish lazy, and they will not want to work hard for their next meal. Securing a quality assortment of frozen baits such as sardines, Boston mackerel and squid is key. The freshest baits make the best presentation and make a huge difference in getting a bite going. Some anglers soak these baits the night before an offshore trip in Menhaden oil, which will mimic the smell of a typical feeding frenzy on the bottom over your spot. Amberjack have invaded many offshore wrecks and springs in depths of 70-200 feet. Though their aggressive nature makes them attack just about any artificial presentation, live baits are hard to beat for quantity. On a typical trip, a large live well full of hundreds of baits will be secured on the way offshore. Upon arrival we deploy dozens of "live chummers" to get the fish on the feed. Once the fish are feeding near the surface, we switch to vertical jigs, subsurface swimming baits and surface lures to target the most aggressive — and many times the largest — fish on the spot. Remember that amberjack now must be 34 inches to be kept, and because they are so large, a limit is not always required to bring home a lot of meat for the table. This time of year requires a good bit of planning for a trip offshore. We are always aware of the timing of the next cold front and make sure not to be out when one comes through because of strong winds. Many sites online offer great weather forecasts, along with real-time data that can be onboard through XM weather or VHF radio.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 and fintasticinc.com.