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Offshore treasures

Recent winds have been better suited for the America's Cup challenger series than offshore fishing. But fish have remained active in deeper waters despite rough seas.

On an overnight trip out of John's Pass last weekend, Matt Shimp guided the 72-foot party boat Florida Fisherman on an exceptional middlegrounds trip. Approximately 80 miles offshore, where the Gulf of Mexico is about 120 feet deep, his guests caught their limit of grouper that averaged 10 to 12 pounds and amberjack as large as 70 pounds.

Eighty miles offshore may be out of range for many of us. So, as the weather stabilizes, I'll be concentrating my efforts in the 50- to 70-foot range.

Although inshore fishing slows during adverse weather, look for improvement as seas calm and mild weather returns. Silver trout will bunch up over the hard bottom along our gulf beaches, flounder will reappear at some of the close-in artificial reefs, and redfish will cooperate because they don't mind cold and mud. Sheepshead fishing already is pretty good and will steadily improve as we get further into the month. While sheepshead gang up to begin their spawning ritual, look for them around docks, jetties and bridges leading to the gulf.

The ledges and edges of the shipping channel along the mouth of Tampa Bay will provide steady action this month. Mangrove snapper, black sea bass and all the Key West grunts you care to catch will be happy to sample the pieces of shrimp or cut bait you offer them. And you can be assured if you're anchored where you are supposed to be, a giant grouper will come along and slam that shad, pinfish or grunt you've got out there while catching the smaller stuff. "Sheepies" also use the channel as a pathway to the gulf.

Catching snook will be a bit of a challenge. Shallow-water temperatures are closer to 50 degrees than the 60 you see in most published reports. Snook aren't made to thrive in those conditions. After a warming trend for a few days, look for their eating habits to become more aggressive.

Land-based anglers experience many of the same obstacles. However, Tuesday morning I strolled on Redington Long Pier and observed anglers catch a pompano, a sheepshead, a black sea bass, a flounder, a drum and a silver trout. Not as much production was seen on scouting missions on the bay and gulf piers, but you can t bet fishing will improve when the weather does.

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