Typically, the latter part of March is when the water temperature rises to the mid 70s and winds slack off enough to make trips offshore more enjoyable. Unfortunately, we're a little behind. Right before this last front, things looked to be on track for an early season run for the king mackerel, as many of the nearshore reefs and wrecks were holding large schools of both Spanish sardines and kings.
The deeper water (about 200 feet) is still in the mid 60s. This means that although the pelagic species such as wahoo, blackfin tuna and mahi-mahi will take their time traveling up from the south, they should remain here a little longer during the summer.
Grouper fishing should remain productive in most depths for the next couple of months. The same areas in 50 to 70 feet of water that were holding good numbers of gag grouper before the recent closure are still holding fish.
Moving to 90- to 120-foot depths, huge schools of red snapper on just about every ledge or pothole. Since these snapper are closed to harvest it is best to do everything possible not to catch them. One technique is to deploy the larger live baits on these spots instead of frozen baits. Most of the snapper at this depth are in the 5- to 7-pound class and they have a hard time eating a live bait 5 to 6 inches long.
With high fuel prices, trips to the true deep-water areas are few and far between. Fishing at depths of 160 to 220 feet is consistent most of the year, but in springtime it is usually outstanding. Large male gags can be found on many different types of bottom. The large ridges that run north to south at these depths have been holding many quality fish.
Amberjack will start their push offshore to the deep water, as the temperature gets warmer. Most of the areas that have been holding numbers of larger fish in the 30 to 50-pound class are now holding large numbers of smaller fish in the 10 to 15-pound class.
The inshore waters have already started to heat up. Snook fishing in the passes in the past two weeks has been outstanding, with most of the fish taken on live pilchards around lights at night. Moving water is key as this moves the baitfish off of the flats and stacks them up around structure.
Pompano have been consistent right on the beach, but the larger concentrations of these fish can be found in areas such as the mouths of John's Pass and Pass-a-Grille. Look for areas with swift moving water on top and a large sandy drop-off on the edge of the channel on the bottom. These fish can be taken with small yellow or white jigs, tipped with a small piece of fresh shrimp.
Large schools of redfish have moved into our area. On the lower tides the fish will stage on the drop-offs close to the oyster beds. As the water rises these fish will move up on top of the bars. These reds can be caught on many different baits, but a small pinfish is hard to beat. Some of these schools have as many as 100 fish in them. With so many fish in a small area it is important to be as quiet as possible, because spooking one fish may cause the entire school to run.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 or www.fintastic