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CAPTAIN'S CORNER

It's the time of year again to dust off the downriggers and head out to the Egmont shipping channel in Tampa Bay. As the water temperature starts to drop, the gag grouper that reside along the channel will become more active, making them easier to locate and catch.

On two recent trips we boated several in the 22- to 29-inch class while slow trolling 4-ounce jigs tipped with 8-inch tails. Hot colors have been pink or chartreuse with silver glitter.

You'll need to use a 6-foot section of 80-pound mono leader to prevent the larger grouper from cutting you off. Grouper rods with fast action tips and lots of backbone, and reels spooled with 50-pound mono and }-locked-down drags will be needed to stop the bigger fish from reaching the rocks or the channel edge.

If you don't own downriggers you also can use No. 3 planners. There are other baits that also will produce well, such as hard-body, deep-diving type lures that will run 20 to 30 feet without planners or downriggers. The hot colors have been gold and chartreuse.

When trolling the channel, keep your baits as close to the bottom as possible. The best time to fish has been at the start and end of each tide, when the current flow is less.

_ Randy Rochelle runs Islander Charters in St. Petersburg. Call (727) 528-1213.

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