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Published Sep. 13, 2005

While our 23-pounder wasn't big enough to make the leaderboard in the Suncoast Kingfish Classic, it was the largest of 23 kings and a few mackerel we caught Sunday. With our live well jammed with whitebait, greenbacks and shad, none worked as well as the sardines and cigar minnows we jiggled up with gold hook rigs at the Indian Shores Reef.

Although you never know when the "right one" could come along, with reports coming in of some pretty good fish being caught elsewhere, Scott Sadorf and Bill Werly agreed we should abandon the sometime-frenzied action of the "schoolies" on the reef to grind it out in areas we had caught larger fish. Working bait pods and areas of hard bottom in 30 feet of water off Clearwater earned us several fish in the 20-pound range.

Though we didn't get to make the trip to Tarpon Springs to weigh in, congratulations to Randy Keys, Ira Pearson, Jimmy Hasson and Frank Chivas _ winners of this year's event (34.10 pounds) _ plus the other captains and crews that did.

Aided by stronger tides during this new moon phase and barring another hard blow, as the water near the beach clears, look for these fish to follow the schools of bait inshore with them. Popular areas such as the 20-foot depth off St. Pete Beach, Blind Pass, Redington and Sand Key should not be overlooked for the "smokers" as conditions improve.

Though you may not catch the numbers of fish you could at one of our offshore wrecks or reefs, the advantages of fishing a mile or 2 from shore are many.

_ Jay Mastry charters Jaybird out of St. Petersburg. Call (813) 321-2142.