What's hot: Not the weather. Water temperatures in the 50s have the gag grouper in full feeding mode. Fishing ledges and rock piles in all depths is as good as it gets. With a limit of two gags per person, it has taken only one or two stops to fill our quota on most trips in the past few weeks.
Scouting spots: Locating ledges is pretty easy if you understand how the bottom contours run. Most of the breaks run southeast to northwest. So when looking for these spots, you need to travel to the southwest or northeast; otherwise you will be running parallel to the ledges.
Bait: A good assortment of live and frozen baits will assist in catching more fish quicker. We always hear people talking about getting the fish going with frozen baits or chumming the spot. This works but not the way many think. Many of these ledges are pretty long; some run for a hundred yards or more. When you anchor over one little section and the grouper are scattered along the entire length, something needs to be done to get them under the boat. One technique I like to use is belly hooking a few sardines right away. Drop them to the bottom and set the hook to rip them off, leaving them on the bottom where you are fishing. This doesn't get the bite started; it gets the fish right under the boat. Grouper are curious and will wander down the break to see what is going on.
Reminder: Gag grouper fishing in federal waters closes at the end of the year. Red, scamp and black grouper remain open through January.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at fintasticinc.com or (727) 642-3411.