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Grouper, snapper are top bottom-dwelling targets

Gag grouper fishing continues to be consistent in most depths this month.

On a recent trip we caught quite a few fish in depths from 30 to 40 feet. Most of these fish were taken on live baits, but a few fell for the frozen sardines.

Fishing in these depths requires patience and practice. Most of the ledges in our shallower waters run from the southeast to the northwest. Keep this in mind when scouting for new fishing spots. These ledges may be up to a mile long, so a good bottom machine will assist you in finding the best spots, such as where a ledge may change direction or an area where it drops off into the sand. It might even make a large circle, creating a cove on the bottom.

When any of these areas are located, be sure to anchor directly over them, as these wary fish will not stray too far from cover for a meal. Look for each new cold front to bring a new push of fish into these depths.

Moving farther offshore into depths of 60 to 90 feet, we have been finding more gag grouper mixed in with some red grouper holding on smaller ledges and rock piles. Water temperatures in these depths are warmer than inshore, so the fish have been more cooperative and easier to catch. Again, live baits have been the key to catching most of these grouper.

The snapper fishing in these areas has fallen off a bit, but they can still be targeted with lighter tackle and using small pieces of sardines. Weather will dictate what type of bottom to concentrate on. When conditions are calm and warm, look for the fish to be scattered on the edges of the hard-bottom areas you are fishing. If a cold front has recently passed, the fish should be staged on the high-relief areas of the same bottom.

If snapper is the target, look in the 100 to 140-foot depths. Mangrove snapper have been steady on both potholes and the smaller roll-offs in these depths. Get up early and find whitebaits in the 3- to 4-inch range around bridges and passes. These baits often get the fish in a frenzy. Although these baits are scattered in our area, it is worth the extra time it takes to locate them. The snapper will eat frozen sardines or cigar minnows also.

The tackle should be scaled down to get more action. Longer leaders and smaller leads will assist in catching more of these tasty snappers.

While snapper fishing, I prefer to leave the bottom machine on throughout the bite. These fish will stage at different depths in the water column, so keep an eye on the machine to help you determine where to stop your rig. Remember, red snapper season is closed, so make sure to properly vent and release them if caught, as they are usually found mixed in with the mangroves.

Red grouper fishing is getting much better. During the winter months, these fish migrate inshore with the gag grouper, although the main group will be in depths of 80 to 100 feet of water. Red grouper are much easier to catch than gag grouper because they are not as structure-oriented as their counterparts are. These fish like hard, crunchy bottom and will generally hold on the outer edges of the area, most of the time under large stacks of baitfish.

This time of the year weather can change quickly so make sure to file a float plan, check all of your safety equipment and study your local weather forecast before any trip offshore.

Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 or visit www.fintasticinc.com.

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