Inshore action continues to be slow, but those lucky enough to get offshore on the rare calm days between cold fronts have found excellent bottom fishing.
The heavy winds the past few weeks have given the gags a chance to settle near the larger ledges and rock piles with no fishing pressure.
On Wednesday, we took advantage of the mild conditions and ran out to a depth of 65 feet. The water color was poor, more dirty green than the normal blue, but the fish did not seem to mind.
The first two spots were 5-foot ledges, and each produced a couple of big gags right off the bat before the locations went cold. The next stop was a large object that often holds fish in winter. Though I have fished it for years, I haven't figured out if it is a wreck or an isolated limestone "tabletop" formation. Regardless, it was home to an amazing number of big grouper on this day.
As we idled around surveying the situation below with the depth recorder, we discovered a huge school of bait had settled in tight to the bottom and adjacent to the overhanging edge on the northern side of the structure.
We tossed out a marker buoy and anchored precisely over the bait school about 25 feet from the actual overhang. We figured the grouper would be out near the bait to feed and that fishing there would give us the best chance of pulling the fish up before they could reach nearby snags.
Before the first bait hit the bottom, a fish grabbed it and took off, backlashing the reel. Fortunately, the tangle was not enough to stop the reel from functioning, and by cranking line over the snag we were able to land a 14-pound gag.
From then on, it was a mad scramble to get a bait on the hook and get it to the bottom. As soon as it did, the rod would slam down and another big grouper was on. Before long, we had reached our limit of grouper, ranging from 10-16 pounds. There were no undersized fish caught.
After a round of high-fives, we pulled anchor and headed home with the fish still biting like mad. We had enough and saw no reason to subject any other fish to the risk of decompression ailments.
A look in the cooler when we got back showed just what we expected: lots of small Spanish sardines regurgitated by the fish. At the cleaning table we found some of the grouper to be absolutely stuffed with them. They definitely were working the bait school near the structure, and we had happened by at just the right time.
Just one gag pulled hard enough to make it back into the cover and break the line. As it ran, it pinned the rod firmly down on the gunnel and simply could not be stopped. To experience grouper action like that and lose one rig truly is amazing. Had we anchored directly over the structure, things would have been different.
All of the fish were taken on dead sardines and cut mullet. Since live bait has been scarce in cold inshore waters, we did not even bother to try for any.
The tackle was fairly standard: 4/0 reels spooled with 60-pound monofilament, 6-ounce sliding sinkers and a 3-foot leader of 100-pound mono tied to a 7/0 hook.
Ed Walker charters out of Tarpon Springs. Call (727) 944-3474 or e-mail infolighttacklecharters.com.