Friday, April 20, 2018

Gag grouper season returns

Check your terminal tackle and put new line on those reels. The wait is over: Gag grouper season opens Monday in the Gulf of Mexico.

Offshore anglers have spent the months in port waiting for the chance to catch these prized bottom fish, once the mainstay for Florida's west coast charter boat fleets.

The season closed Oct. 31 and the species has been off limits (except in one four-county region in northwest Florida) since, causing headaches not only for anglers but tackle manufacturers and bait shops as well.

"We have probably seen more than 500 of our accounts go out of business this year alone," said Bobby Aylesworth, whose St. Petersburg-based bait company sells squid and sardines throughout the Southeast. "These long closures have hurt everybody across the board, from boat dealers to mom-and-pop bait shops."

Largo's Eric Bachnik, whose family has been making MirrOlures for decades, said he has seen a noticeable drop-off in his offshore business.

"People have just stopped going out," he said. "There has to be a better way to manage this fishery."

Gag grouper will remain open in most gulf waters (except state waters off Franklin, Wakulla, Jefferson and Taylor counties) through Dec. 3. The season in that four-county region opened April 1 and closes Sunday. The minimum size limit is still 22 inches and the bag limit is two fish per day.

Joe Georgia of Seminole's Dogfish Tackle said he has seen a boost in sales during the past week as offshore anglers rush to replenish their tackle boxes.

Here's Georgia's list of "must-have" items for this year's grouper season:

Venting Tool: It is the law to carry one. Vent the fish properly, behind the pectoral fin closer to the belly, until all the air is out.

Dehooking Devices: These are also required by law, and when used properly, they can be a fisherman's best friend. Dehooking devices allow you to retrieve the hook from your catch without touching the fish's body.

4/0 Conventional Combo: A 4/0-sized reel paired with a quality, heavy-action rod should be your gear of choice. Spool the reel with 50- to 60-pound monofilament line and you'll bring them up from 100 feet or more.

Circle Hooks: Who says the government never had a good idea? Required in both state (shoreline to 9 miles out in the gulf) and federal waters (beyond 9 miles in the gulf) when bottom fishing, these contraptions reduce the chance of gut-hooking a fish. Most major hook companies make circle hooks, but a local favorite is the Gamakatsu 209417 7/0 4x.

Swivels: Many anglers using heavy tackle use too light of a swivel. When the diameter of the line is bigger than the swivel, under pressure, the swivel will act like a razor blade and cut the line. So go big to land the big one.

Spro bucktail jigs: Live bait isn't always the answer. Sometimes an artificial lure will trigger a bite when everything else fails. A 4-ounce bucktail jig bounced off the bottom can be a fish grabber.

Shimano Butterfly Jigs: Grouper don't just hug the bottom waiting for a pinfish or sardine to swim by. You'll often find these traditional bottom feeders 10 to 30 feet off the bottom. Butterfly jigs have good vertical action and a proven reputation for grouper and snapper.

Fluorocarbon Leaders: The competition will be fierce offshore, but you can get the edge on your mono-loving angler comrades by using fluorocarbon leaders. These leaders, in 60- to 80-pound test are virtually invisible in the water and they are highly abrasion resistant.

Slip Egg Lead: Using a slip lead as opposed to a swivel lead will let you feel the bite before losing your bait. A slip lead lets the line slide freely, but you can still feel the slightest bite.

Captainís Corner: Trout moving toward the beaches

Captainís Corner: Trout moving toward the beaches

After significant winds from a front last week, things are calming down and fish are turning on again. Bait has gotten predictable and easier to chum on the flats after moving to deeper water during the front. Iíve been targeting trout at first light...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Captainís Corner: Rush of warmer water in gulf heats up fishing on offshore reefs, wrecks

The rush of warmer water on our offshore reefs and wrecks in the Gulf of Mexico has brought with it a cadre of pelagic fish. Divers and anglers have enjoyed the influx of cobia, kingfish and more. The benthic (bottom) fish are splurging on the balls ...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18

Captainís Corner: Spring bite is solid despite wacky weather

Bipolar weather continues to confuse both fish and anglers. Fortunately the water temperature has gotten high enough that the effects donít last long and the spring bite continues to be solid. Snook are still the hot bite in many areas around the bay...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18

Captainís Corner: Kingfish, sharks provide aerial displays

Fishing was good this past Saturday, ahead of the cold front. We fished close to shore about 2 miles. Our approach was simple. We anchored the boat, fished with live baits and chummed heavily. Kingfish action was nonstop for the entire morning. We ca...
Published: 04/16/18

Captainís Corner: Trolling or anchoring up, kingfish bite is hot

Are you looking for line-screaming action? Head offshore. The kingfish bite has been good, though high winds may require a wait for the water to clear. The best numbers have been about 5 miles out on the hard bottom. Trolling for kingfish works well;...
Published: 04/13/18
Updated: 04/15/18

Captainís Corner: Spring run is the most wonderful time of the year

The full spring run of all species in our area is in full swing. Whatever species you would like to target, inshore or offshore, is as good as it gets this time of year. Redfish schools have shown up in the flats around Pinellas Point, but they are i...
Published: 04/11/18
Updated: 04/13/18

Captainís Corner: Spanish mackerel, kingfish showing up in big numbers

They are here! Spanish mackerel and kingfish have shown up in the numbers expected of them at this time of year. All we have to hope for is weather that will allow us to get offshore. In most years the hot spots have been the artificial reefs, shipwr...
Published: 04/11/18
Updated: 04/12/18

Captainís Corner: Offshore fishing heats up in spring

Spring is here and things are heating up offshore. Kingfish have arrived from Tarpon Springs to Anna Maria. Spanish mackerel are around many of the bridges and piers, and cobia have appeared on the wrecks. Our most interesting discovery last week was...
Published: 04/10/18
Updated: 04/11/18

Captainís Corner: Trout, snook gathering around oyster bars

The recent full moon has finally sent the bait to the flats, although if you prefer the markers, theyíre still there, too. It seems we are finally in full-on spring mode. Trout have been sporadic at best, but when a group is located, they are coopera...
Published: 04/10/18

Captainís Corner: High winds making fly fishing a challenge

Wind has been detrimental lately, not only in fly casting but in finding fish, then getting them to take our offering. Ideally, find some clear water and donít worry about it. Areas with lots of sea grass will filter water for exceptional clarity. Un...
Published: 04/09/18
Updated: 04/14/18