What's hot: Shallow-water fishing remains hot, and outstanding grouper digging is only part of the action. Thursday, along with grouper up to 10 pounds, we wrestled three dozen mangrove snapper out of our chum line, the largest nearly 5 pounds. Other catches included scamp, flounder and the ever-present Key West grunts. Working an area of hard bottom in 42 feet 10 miles southwest of Pass-a-Grille made for an economical trip.
Variety of baits: Many grouper were coaxed by dead sardines. Extending the bite by offering live pinfish when the frenzy slowed, we found mangos preferring 3-inch whitebait and greenbacks offering on 20-pound tackle and a 2-ounce egg sinker.
Technique: On a recent trip we caught a dozen keeper grouper during one stop in 40 feet, and we never put a live bait or a grouper rod down for the first half-hour. Allow time for chum to lure the fish under the boat. Enhance the commotion on the bottom by offering pieces of cut bait and squid. Once the Key West grunts get stacked up, it's time to offer the big baits. Start with dead sardines; once you commit to live baits, grouper will rarely settle for anything else.
Jay Mastry charters Jaybird out of St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 321-2142.