What's warming up: Fishing conditions have improved since the hard freeze but a full recovery will take some time. Many species stunned by the frigid water have not returned to normal behavior, evidenced by a weekend trip to bottom fish the edges of the normally dependable ships channel inside the Skyway Bridge. Stops at several areas of usually productive rocky domain were void of the typical array of bottom dwellers. Grouper, snapper, sheepshead and even ever-present Key West grunts were hard to come by. As we move away from the sluggish tides of the current first-quarter moon phase, and temperatures increase, action should improve.
Offshore: Reports from deeper water have been considerably more encouraging. Those able to get out report good catches of grouper in 70-90 feet. Areas on and around the pipeline have been among the best bets for red and gag grouper, with some large snapper in the mix.
Bait: Gathering live bait in the winter is traditionally a challenge, and after this freeze, it'll likely be even tougher. Acquire some "livies" if you can but in winter, grouper don't mind the dead stuff. Often hesitant to exert the energy to chase down something frisky, many prefer cut bait, squid or frozen sardines.
Jay Mastry charters Jaybird out of St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 321-2142.