Finally, a weekend during which the weather cooperated. Saturday, in slick, calm conditions, we gathered bait to ensure an early start Sunday. Pinfish were schooling in 45 feet off St. Pete Beach. We caught four and five at a time on gold hook rigs. A few full-grown Spanish sardines and greenbacks were mixed in.
Sunday we took advantage of light wind and calm seas to make a 52-mile trip to 128 feet. While most of the American red snapper we caught and released were on a combination of dead sardines and squid, the majority of larger fish preferred live bait. A 6 1/2-pound mangrove snapper was the largest of a dozen we ended up with, all more than 4 pounds.
Downsizing tackle in clear water made a noticeable difference. B.J. Young's 15-pound gag grouper was the largest caught. Thirty-pound test did the trick, and a 50-pound fluorocarbon leader seemed to help. Though we did not catch any legal size red grouper, we did manage a couple keeper black grouper.
If you go offshore, make certain to have an adequate anchor for that depth. I was disappointed that mine, which normally performs flawlessly, was slightly bent and dragged the bottom. We had to reanchor a couple times before getting it right, no small task on your anchorman in that depth.
Ralph and Jason Gell proved you don't need to travel far to catch grouper. They had a handful of keepers among the 14 they caught along the edges of the shipping channel inside the Sunshine Skyway bridge Saturday. No. 3 planers and a couple leaded jig heads with soft plastic curly tails are all the bait necessary when using this technique.
Jay Mastry charters Jaybird out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 321-2142.