What's hot: Red grouper remain strong in the 80-foot-plus depths. Live and dead baits are producing hefty fish, some tipping the scales at more than 15 pounds. On many spots we have reeled in the lines to get away from the fish, since only one red grouper per person is allowed. There is no reason to catch and release reds after limits have been met. Trying to find gag grouper has required a bit more work. The keepers we have been getting have been primarily around the bait stacks of juvenile cigar minnows. These huge schools have been smothering many of the large structures in the gulf, particularly the bigger wrecks below 70 feet.
Tactics: We normally send a variety of baits to the bottom to entice the entire colony of bottom dwellers. Chunks of squid, frozen sardines and grunt fillets are the top choices for dead baits. Pinfish and Spanish sardines are the best live baits. And the American red snapper will eat them, too. Red snapper have made a big comeback since the late 1970s. It's quite common to see a few nice ones come up from the bottom, even in the shallower depths of 80 feet. We have caught numerous American reds in the 8- to 10-pound class in the past month fishing west of Clearwater Beach in about 85 feet.
Tips: Be sure to toss freelined baits out at this time of year. Many large kingfish can be taken in these same depths while bottom fishing. This action can occur until late August. Many of the big kings are females full of roe, so take only what you will eat.
Dave Mistretta captains the Jaws Too out of Indian Rocks Beach and can be reached at email@example.com, jawstoo.com or (727) 595-3276.