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The heat is on . . .

For as hot as it is, the card looks inviting. There are tarpon and snook, for starters. How about redfish, mackerel and cobia? There also are grouper and snapper.

To find tarpon, sit quietly as the sun rises in some back bayou. Once you get on a school that is staying put, bottom-fish with dead shad or free-line with pinfish and whitebaits. Areas up the bay such as Palm River and the old Westinghouse channel are good starting points.

Work the gulf and bay passes on the outgoing tide for hefty snook. Use stout gear if you want to have a chance to land one of these bruisers. Sixty-pound line with 100 leader should do the job. Free-line crabs, grunts, shad or whitebait with the current for best results. When the "bump-bump" comes, don't set the hook right away. Give the fish a couple of seconds to eat the bait.

Stealth is the key to catching reds on the flats. Find a school and get up-current. Corked pinfish, grunts and jumbos are the choice baits. They will live a lot longer than whitebait in this warm water. Present the bait in front of the pack so the reds will have to swim through your offering. Look for reds on the latter part of the flood tide next to mangrove shorelines.

Spanish mackerel and cobia still can be found on close-in artificial reefs and wrecks. The St. Pete Beach and Madeira Beach reefs are good choices along with the Betty Rose and Rube Allyn wrecks. Chumming is the key. Hang out a chum block and cut small pieces of bait to help create a good slick. Pinfish is the prime bait for cobia, and mackerel will have a hard time passing up a frisky sardine. It's not a bad idea to use a stinger rig for the macks.

Offshore, grouper action is consistent in the 80- to 100-foot depths. Mangrove snapper bites also are good at those depths. Try frozen sardines, shad and squid to get things going on the grouper. Once things begin to heat up, drop down a pinfish, threadfin or blue runner for the big ones. Snapper can be taken with live shrimp, scaled sardines or frozen squid. Try to use the lightest tackle possible for snapper, which can see extremely well and be scared off by thick leaders.

The North Skyway Pier reports that mackerel up to 25 inches are being caught just after first light on shrimp and whitebait. They also are reporting catches of flounder and pompano.

Party boats are catching sea bass, grunts and grouper on the half-day trips. Better grouper and snapper are being caught on the full-day charters. Three-day or overnight trips to 100-foot depths are producing good catches of grouper, snapper and amberjacks.

_ Rick Frazier runs Lucky Dawg Charters in St. Petersburg. Call (727) 526-2590.

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