What's hot: Red snapper have been the first target on offshore trips this past week, and it could not get much easier. These fish are stacked as high as 100 feet off of the bottom in some spots. Since there are so many fish on each spot feel free to use any number of techniques to catch them.
Tactics: Red snapper have ferocious appetites and usually devour any live or frozen bait. During the course of a feed the larger and more dominant snapper will move up in the water column. To target these fish try a "knocker rig." This setup consists of a smaller egg lead, usually about ¼ to ½ ounce, placed on the main line right above the hook. The smaller lead will present the bait in such a way that it looks like a stunned baitfish sinking to the bottom and therefore an easy target. Another more traditional style of fishing is a standard fish-finder rig. This rig has a sliding lead on the main line, then a swivel, connected to a length of leader and finished with the hook. A trick that works for us: drop this rig to the bottom baited with a sardine, then reel up about 20-30 feet of line (depending on depth) and wait for the hit.
Grouper: With gag grouper closed we target big red grouper in depths of 120-180 feet. These fish will eat most offerings, such as large Spanish sardines or pinfish and other live baits. Another way to catch these brutes is the use of a 3- to 4-ounce bucktail jig. This past week the groupers caught with artificial baits were larger than the ones taken on live or frozen baits.
Bonus fish: While anchored for bottom fishing have a flat-lined bait swimming behind the boat. We have seen schools of mahi-mahi in depths of 110 feet and more. Having a surface bait out will almost always yield action, and in some cases a fish of a lifetime, such as a sailfish or a big wahoo.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 or www.fintasticinc.com.