Bottom fishing has been about as hot as the temperatures in July. Fishing areas of hard bottom in 120-160 feet has produced a mixed bag of snapper, grouper, dolphin, kingfish, tuna and amberjack.
The most productive bait for grouper and snapper has been frozen sardines and butterflied squirrel fish or vermilion snapper. The best method for these areas has been power drifting. Locate fish on the bottom then use the motor to hold your boat over the area, drop some baits down and see what comes up. If it's grouper, drop baits down until the bite slows, then move to the next spot. But if you catch mangrove snapper, mark the spot with a buoy marker and anchor up on this spot. If snapper are there, there is a good chance you will catch some nice gags also.
If you're chasing amberjacks, blue runners have been the hot bait. Pinfish, small grunts and whitebait produce some smaller fish but bigger jacks can't pass up a lively blue runner. Smaller jacks are holding over wrecks and ledges in 80-120 feet, while larger jacks have pushed into deeper water.
Dolphin, tuna and kingfish have been taking a variety of live bait flatlined behind the boat during bottom fishing. While running from spot to spot, keep an eye open for any kind of floating debris as just about anything floating on the surface will hold dolphin.
_ Randy Rochelle runs Islander Charters in St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 528-1213 or by e-mail at Islanderchartersij.net.