To fish in 30 to 40 feet of water was fruitless, even with normally reliable squid, as the water was silty from last week's cold fronts. At 60 feet there was a noticeable difference in the water color; it was a milky blue rather than silty brown. Usually the water is clear blue at 60 feet and deeper, but we started fishing with the usual mix of frozen sardines and squid on some rods with the standard grouper rig; a 4-ounce sinker and 5/0 circle hook. One rod was rigged for snapper: two 2/0 circle hooks and a 4-ounce sinker underneath them.
The ledge we anchored over produced nonstop action from large white grunts, triggerfish and under-the-legal-limit red and gag grouper for 20 minutes. When the action suddenly slowed, it was a good indicator that larger fish had moved in. Hooking a live pinfish just above the anal fin and dropping it to the bottom yielded keeper gag grouper until several broke off in the rocks and the bite ended abruptly. Several stops in the same depth produced the same type of action.
Large mangrove snapper are present on ledges in the 70-foot range and can be caught by downsizing tackle and baits. We received an unexpected surprise by the number of red snapper that were mixed in with the mangroves. Red snapper season is closed now, but they provide exceptional photo-and-release action on downsized tackle.
Amberjack have been making a strong showing not only on the far offshore wrecks and springs located in 120 feet of water and deeper, but also on the wrecks in 60 feet and the larger ledges located adjacent to these wrecks. Use large live pinfish, blue runners or the new large vertical jigs on at least 40-pound tackle.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.