What's hot: Winter fishing conditions have moved into the west coast of Florida. Off the west coast, tides are the most severe. We will see the moon closest to the earth, producing strong tidal action offshore. With strong tides we should experience some of the best fishing offshore. Grouper fishing is excellent and amberjack are busting over ship wrecks and springs.
Challenge: Our biggest challenge when grouper fishing in water 85 feet and deeper is getting past the American red snapper. The American red snapper, for whatever reason, are so thick on our coast we can't get grouper baits past them. In 17 years of fishing on the west coast of Florida we have not experienced so many red snapper. Until two years ago we never caught American red snappers in less than 140 feet of water. We have had to move numerous times to find ledges that didn't hold American reds.
Tackle: With strong tides you might have to increase your leader weight eight ounces to keep your bait on the bottom. Effectively fishing springs requires a range of tackle — from 30-pound to 80-pound test — but the rewards can be fun. Springs provide one of the best opportunities to catch grouper, snapper, amberjack and blackfin tuna. You need to provide light and heavy tackle to properly fish this time of year. Live bait is key. Make the effort to catch Spanish sardines and blue runners.
Tactics: We prefer to drift over the springs to catch amberjack. Then we anchor our boats up stream to take advantage of the snapper and grouper.
Larry "Huffy'' Hoffman charters out of John's Pass, Treasure Island. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 709-9396.