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Offshore fishing this time of year can be frustrating or produce gut-busting action. I had the opportunity this past week to fish with Col. George Francioni, four-time Purple Heart recipient. We served together in Vietnam and at the Pentagon. The mission was clear and the pressure was on: Produce a big grouper.

He had not caught any keeper grouper after three stops, and catching 24 grunts was not part of my plan. Fortunately, we hit our fourth spot and the lights kicked on. The action was nonstop in 55 feet, and the old 'Nam pilots from the First Cavalry Division had their hands full. When the action was over, we had boated six healthy gags, with one topping 18 pounds.

Our best action was in 90 feet southwest of John's Pass, when we found all the mangrove snapper you'd want. Frozen sardines cut in half worked the best. Thirty-pound tackle was very effective. Before our last trip we caught some big pinfish thinking to catch amberjack. Our bait died, however, in our bait pool from Red Tide. There was a silver lining, though, as we caught all the fresh Spanish sardines we needed on the South County Reef using sabiki rigs. Though fresh bait this time of year is not as important as it usually is, the difference between a real "A" trip and a "B" trip is the time you spend catching bait.

_ Larry "Huffy" Hoffman charters out of John's Pass, Treasure Island. Call (727) 709-9396 or e-mail him at