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CAPTAIN'S CORNER

It usually pays to have a backup plan. This past full moon we were heading out about 45 miles off Egmont Key to one of my cherished mango snapper holes. Unfortunately the southwest wind produced less than comfortable sea conditions. Our change in plans landed us on a small ledge swarming with fish about 18 miles west of John's Pass. Red grouper, gag grouper and yellowtail snapper were abundant.

Yellowtails, or YTs, made up for the lack of mangos. Besides being pleasing to the eye, these scrappy members of the snapper clan are excellent table fare.

YTs often are not targeted in our area as they are in the Keys. They often show up as an incidental catch when targeting bottom fish. These tropical fish are pushing their boundary farther north and are showing up in our area in surprising numbers. This could be in part a result of recent mild winters and absence of any significant red tide.

YTs are a schooling fish and show up in most springs, wrecks and certain ledges. I have caught them consistently in water as shallow as 45 feet. But the larger flag yellowtail will be in the deeper spots. To locate them, work the perimeter of your spot. Study your bottom machine and look for clusters of marks that appear higher in the water column than your typical grouper marks do on the bottom. Chumming can be useful to draw them to you, but these fish can be so ravenous that they stuff themselves to the gills with chum, often leaving no room for bait. Be careful not to overchum.

If you are fishing during the day I would suggest you use a light-spinning outfit spooled with 10-pound test mono and no leader. If you must use a leader, a 2-foot section of fluorocarbon will increase your strikes over a standard piece of mono. Because YTs have small mouths, a 1/0 or 2/0 hook would be ideal. In water less than 65 feet, free-lining a small live white bait or cut sardine will work wonders. In deeper waters you will need to add some weight to get it down, but keep it as light as possible.

Because YTs can be finicky, I like to target them at night when they tend to let their guard down some. Remember, it's okay to keep a few for today, but release more for tomorrow.

_ Tom Turke guides out of Tampa. Call (813) 854-5779.

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