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Published Sep. 10, 2005

Prime time for gag grouper is now. With water temperaturesaround the upper 60s, the gags have begun their fall feeding frenzy. It's as though some switch within their brains has been turned on to gorge mode. The rest of the month and early December should provide plenty of opportunity to catch these eager feeders. Cold, metabolism-slowing temperatures in the 50s will stymie the bite considerably.

Two of the most popular ways of locating these fish are trolling and bottom fishing. Both methods require fishing around some type of structure such as a ledge, rocky outcropping, or channel edge. A great place to start trolling is around the bobbing white floats of stone crab traps that mark hard, rocky bottom. Use a large, lipped plug that will dive within 5 feet of the bottom. But stay far enough away not to snag any buoy lines. Keep an eye on the wind direction and current to help stay tangle-free.

When you locate a keeper-size fish, work the area with a bottom rig baited with a live pinfish or dead sardine. They tend to hang around in groups and a limit can be had in short order.

We have been catching many gags from 8-12 pounds with an occasional one at 18 pounds. The strongest bites have occurred around a minor or major solunar feeding period.

_ Tom Turke charters The Mixed Bag out of St. Petersburg. Call (813) 854-5779.