What's hot: Pesky gag grouper are almost becoming a nuisance, especially if you are trying to catch a cooler full of tasty grunts, or maybe legal red grouper. Gag grouper, which are currently off limits in gulf state waters and must be released, seem to be racing to beat the other fish for a tidbit of squid. A recent trip brought several big gags to the surface on light-tackle rods baited for grunts. Many times we had to rerig from our 30-pound-test leaders that were broken off by the larger fish.
In years past, wintertime gag grouper were the mainstay of many local anglers. It was something we looked forward to during the long, hot summer. Winter gulf conditions don't allow for many windfree days, so fishing close to shore was a blessing for small-boat anglers.
Cooperative weather: Recent conditions have been ideal for fishing, with relatively light winds and calm seas. This past week it has been almost calm enough to go fishing in the gulf from a lake boat or even a canoe. (I don't actually suggest that you try that for safety reasons. I'm just making a point about how close the grouper come to shore.) This year because of the closure nearshore gag grouper fishing isn't getting the attention it normally gets. But because fishing is something a lot of us can't live without, catch and release is our only option.
Pro tip: Try fishing in 40 to 45 feet of water to find an assortment of reds, gags and some flounder as well. If you can keep the gags from stealing your tackle, certainly you'll find a good number of larger grunts.
Larry Blue charters the Niki Joe from Madeira Beach Marina. Call (727) 871-1058 or visit CaptainLarryBlue.com.