What's hot: The harvest season for all grouper in state gulf waters (shore to 9 miles out) closes at the end of this month and will remain closed until April 1. Gag grouper are currently off limits. The past few weeks we have had to run offshore past some of the best gag grouper fishing I have ever seen in order to reach depths of 90-120 feet for our target, red grouper.
Tips and tactics: Look for red grouper in areas with small relief and just plain hard bottom. Ledges and high-profile spots will hold more of the gags and should not be fished. As you move around your target area, watch the bottom machine for 3- to 5-foot rolls. Follow that spot down until you see the fish show on the bottom edge. That's where you will find the grouper. Generally the larger reds will eat first, so if you catch four or five small or undersized fish (20 inches) in a row it is usually time to move on. Live baits have been outproducing frozen baits more than normal.
Tackle: Red grouper do not require as heavy of tackle as gag grouper. Use medium to heavy spinning gear with 4/0-sized reels loaded with 60-pound main line. Leaders should be at least 50-pound test as there will still be a hiding spot or two in the area that these fish can get into. The new limits for red grouper in federal waters (beyond 9 miles offshore in the gulf) started Jan. 1 and allow anglers to take four per person in the daily grouper aggregate.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 and fintasticinc.com.