This might sound like a tourism pitch for the west coast of Florida, but there's one thing that cannot be disputed by even a highly experienced, world-traveling, die-hard saltwater angler:
Come mid November, when the water temperature in the Gulf of Mexico hovers around that sweet spot of 72 degrees, you won't find a better place in the world to fish than right off Pinellas County's beaches.
In the last few weeks, local anglers have caught everything from monster grouper to a 6-foot beast that was first thought to be a white marlin.
Last Friday 49-year-old David Simon was fishing from his kayak a couple hundred yards off Indian Rocks Beach. He jigged up bait and caught a feisty Spanish mackerel, the perfect offering for a big, hungry kingfish.
Armed with just one baitfish, Simon started paddling, dragging the mackerel slowly behind his kayak. After about 30 minutes, he stopped to take stock when a massive kingfish grabbed his bait and skyrocketed.
"For about 10 seconds I thought I had lost it," Simon said. "But then I realized that there was slack in the line because the fish was swimming back to the boat."
Simon furiously reeled up the slack to keep pressure on the fish. It took about 15 minutes, but Simon finally got the fish under control. Then he dragged it in the boat, slung it across his lap and paddled to shore.
"The fish measured 54 inches and was too heavy for my 50-pound scale to weigh," Simon said. "It was quite a catch."
Steve Wacker and two friends decided to take a day off to try to catch grouper before the season closed Wednesday.
Wacker and the father-and-son team of Brad and Jeff Davison were about 22 miles off Clearwater Beach when they tossed out a baitfish and just let it swim around on the surface while they fished the hard bottom.
The anglers had caught their share of grouper when a sailfish came by to investigate the bait.
"She hit very gently and then surfaced," said Wacker, who owns and operates St. Petersburg's Thunder Marine. "Then she saw the boat and took off leaping."
The fish jumped four times by the time they were able to clear the deck and pull the anchor.
"During the fight she leaped again and caught the line on her tail," Wacker said. "We thought for sure we were going to lose the fish. But we stayed with it and the line eventually freed itself."
It took about 45 minutes to land the fish, which measured more than 6 feet in length and weighed an estimated 80 pounds, Wacker said.
"Needless to say, it was a banner day," he said.
Marlin or spearfish?
The same day Wacker and company were battling the sailfish off Clearwater, Richard Mastry and a couple of buddies were working the area around the Egmont Shipping Channel, fishing and diving for grouper and snapper.
In 80 feet they came across a school of dolphin in the 20- to 25-pound range, a rare occurrence during the fall this close to land.
"We managed to pick off two of them with light spinning rods," said Mastry, whose family runs the Mastry Engine Center in St. Petersburg.
When the bottom bite slowed, Paul Hertiick strapped on a tank and dropped over the side to shoot a half dozen hogfish.
"I kept two light lines out on the surface … just in case," Mastry said. "I had one of the baits on a balloon and just as we were about to go, something grabbed it."
The fish jumped and tail-walked like a sailfish. But after a 35-minute fight, the anglers finally landed the 7-foot, 2-inch fish, which Mastry, Hertiick and Dan Helton thought was a white marlin, a species usually found in deeper water.
"Now I think it was a longbill spearfish," Mastry said. "It probably weighed between 75 and 80 pounds."
The Florida record is 61 pounds 8 ounces.
Just another week fishing in paradise.
Terry Tomalin can be reached at [email protected]