What's hot: On every trip offshore last week we encountered scattered schools of large Spanish sardines and hardtails in the 40-foot depth range in all directions from John's Pass. It was easy to catch them on sabiki rigs and proceed to 55- to 60-foot depth. There, they were used for outstanding catch and release action from gag and red grouper. Switching to light tackle, small 2/0 hooks snapper rigs baited with strips of squid or grunts, nonstop action occurred from white grunts, porgies, triggerfish, sea bass, and an occasional mangrove snapper along with grouper that presented a challenge keeping them away from the structure. Although they are harder to clean than a single larger fish, the smaller reef fish all provide excellent table fare.
Trolling time: The early arrival of larger baitfish and unusually warm gulf water prompted us to try trolling. South County artificial reef was a logical choice because of the depths where we were catching the baitfish. Floating seaweed made trolling with planers and spoons difficult. Spanish mackerel have arrived. Every pass over the tug "Orange" that we made without weed-fouled lines produced a 14- to 16-inch mackerel.
Tip: There is no longer a marker on the South County reef. Get coordinates for the reef and the structure scattered throughout the area at pinellascounty.org/utilities/reef.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.