In past years I would be writing that Spanish mackerel and kingfish have shown up right on schedule on St. Patrick's Day, March 17. But not this year, due to the 63-degree water temperature I've been recording on daily trips offshore targeting bottom fish and amberjack in midwater depths. The Sunshine Skyway North Fishing Pier reported scattered catches of mackerel on a daily basis, but the fish have not schooled up yet. Once the water reaches 68 degrees, we'll see the arrival of bait schools that will increase daily until the magic 72 to 76 degrees is reached. Spanish mackerel, kingfish, cobia and bonita will be seen crashing into these schools of Spanish sardines, hardtails and threadfins. The new benchmark day for trolling season to begin in earnest is April 1. The longer days contribute more to the water temperature rise than anything because the gulf is like a huge sponge soaking up the sun. Red grouper fishing remains slow. We've been fishing in 60- to 65-foot depths because other benthic fish such as white grunts, mangrove snapper, triggerfish and sea bass, all of which make great table fare, are most prevalent. Each time we go out we're catching more red grouper, a great indicator that within a few weeks everything will return to normal.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.