What's hot: Since the gag grouper closure, reports of outstanding grouper digging have come from 20 to 70 feet, from Clearwater to Sarasota. On Saturday, in 43 feet just south of the Egmont shipping channel, we caught grouper up to 12 pounds, even though we weren't targeting them. With a couple of 7-year-olds on board, our focus was on mangrove snapper, triggerfish and grunts, which we caught on nearly every drop.
Tackle: Though we brought heavier tackle, just in case, most everything we caught, including the grouper, was on 20-pound test with a 30-pound fluorocarbon leader. In Clear water, our prey had become leader shy and the lighter tackle made a difference. Although we had more break-offs, we had five times more strikes.
Bait: Squid is the safest bet to guarantee catching something. It's tough, it stinks, it stays on the hook well and there's hardly anything that swims that won't eat it. Bait-gathering normally gets tough this time of year because bait scatters when it gets cold. With it looking more and more like a warm Christmas, bait has stayed bunched up and relatively easy to collect. We've caught greenbacks, whitebait, pinfish and even a few Spanish sardines at the Structure C Bridge (Bayway) just before daylight on each of our recent trips.
Jay Mastry charters Jaybird out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 321-2142.