On recent trips offshore to bottom fish in the 60- to 80-foot depths we've been pleasantly surprised by several different species. Yellowtail and lane snapper have been almost a daily part of our catch as we target red grouper over flat "Swiss cheese" bottom. Part of the key with these desirable species is downsizing tackle. Both of these snapper have small mouths so use a hook much smaller than one for grouper. A strip of squid or a piece of sardine just large enough to hide the hook is our preferred bait. Small mahimahi have shown up several times as we bottom fish. The key to catching them is to have a light spinning or bait-casting rod with a 2/0 long shanked gold hook attached directly to the line. Chum with very small slivers of sardine to keep them near the boat without overfeeding them. They often hit a bare gold hook if it has been stripped of bait. Cobia have been also striking our bottom baits. If a cobia is hooked, back off the drag so the fish runs and tires itself out. Smaller ones can be horsed to the boat, but large ones require a loosened drag. The ones we have been catching have been in pairs with one large female and a smaller male. The second free-swimming one can easily be hooked with almost any type of bait. Cobia have to be at least 33 inches minimum fork length.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.