What's hot: Everything offshore seems to be about six weeks late this year. Red grouper fishing in 80- to 100-foot depths is about as good as it gets. The Swiss-cheese hard bottom areas in these depths are alive with red grouper, Lane snapper and large white grunts. Larger fish tend to lurk near where the limestone transitions to sand, so pay attention to your boat's bottom machine to position the boat. The bait of choice varies, so we cover all bases by venturing offshore with frozen Spanish sardines, squid and plenty of pinfish. A sabiki with a 4-ounce sinker has been catching hardtails. At times the fish are picky, and a bait caught on site to "match the hatch" is key.
Tip: A large number of sharks have been offshore, so when we catch or see a remora, we move because grouper seek cover from the apex predator. Gag grouper season is open, and we have been disappointed the few times we have targeted gags on higher-profile ledges, possibly because the red grouper fishing has been so good that we have not targeted gags enough. There are enough kingfish to warrant deploying a flatline when bottom fishing. Live and frozen sardines work well. Put both out at the same time to cover much of the water column.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.