What's hot: The grouper closure ends Thursday, and it looks like trolling season will begin about the same time. Last week, Spanish mackerel showed up in scattered schools, feeding on extremely small baitfish that required us to use 00 spoons behind a No. 1 planer and 2-inch skirts rigged with a 2/0 long-shanked hook behind a small trolling sinker. Larger spoons did not produce a single bite. Gannets and terns dipping down for baitfish led us to stop in 40 feet to troll on our way to 60 feet, where bottom fishing produced consistent action.
Water temperatures are not ideal yet, but the appearance of mackerel should lead us to start thinking about northward migrating cobia. They will be found near markers in the Egmont Channel, artificial reefs (especially mid water reefs in 40 feet) and wrecks.
Tips: During the grouper closure, we have targeted smaller reef fish — white grunts, mangrove snapper and triggerfish — with snapper rigs baited with squid. Because of the numbers, we spent longer at each spot. This has led to long waits before we dropped larger grouper baits such as Spanish sardines and pinfish. Keeper grouper have been lured by the commotion caused by the smaller fish. After Thursday, we will stick with this plan while bottom fishing.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.