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GROUPER, REDFISH AND SHEEPSHEAD SLURP UP OFFERINGS

Winter weather and cold fronts have dominated our fishing opportunities recently.

Fishing has been outstanding to excellent if you can get offshore. Grouper, snapper, amberjack, trigger fish and white grunt are cooperative.

Not all cold fronts are alike. Some bring rain and light winds. Then you have some like the last front, which brought big winds and cold temperatures to our coast. The offshore water temperature can be as low as 50 degrees this time of year. Fortunately for us, the temperature has stayed in the low 60s.

Grouper gathering

There is no shortage of grouper and many of the gags are pushing 18 pounds. Sam Maisano of Go Fast Charters said the grouper bite has been great all day southwest of John's Pass in 60 to 100 feet of water. He has even caught cobia. Maisano said the best results have been in 65 feet of water 26 miles southwest of John's Pass.

Amberjack are over wrecks and springs as shallow as 80 feet. The deeper you go, the bigger the amberjack. The Pipeline with all its mitigation locations is yielding grouper and snapper as well as amberjack. If you go to 100 feet and deeper, you may get some blackfin tuna bites.

Fishing in the gulf is all about structure. Hard bottom, reefs, wrecks and springs are the key. Most of the reefs and springs and the Pipeline have good numbers of keeper fish ready to feed. Get good live bait and travel 20 to 50 miles offshore.

Big reds abound

Flats guide Ray Hirschman reports most of his success has been in the early morning when it is still dark, in and around the dock lights in the Treasure Island area. Redfish have been hitting live pinfish, which Hirschman gets from his live bait traps. One of the things about reds this time of year is that most meet the legal limit, a.k.a., dinner.

The sheepshead are biting, too. Hirschman uses 20-pound-test line with a No. 1 "J" hook baited with a sand flea harvested from one of the beaches. He washes the fleas in fresh water and freezes them in fresh water. The fresh water keeps the sand fleas from turning black and produces some great sheepshead action. Most of his sheepshead have been 2 to 3 pounds, but he has caught a few close to 8 pounds.

One of the potential catches is the 30-pound drum that are also found mixed in with the sheepshead. Hirschman said on a few occasions he had to work his way through some drum up to 40 pounds while trying to catch dinner on 20-pound line.

Larry Hoffman charters out of John's Pass, Treasure Island. Call (727) 709-9396 or e-mail huffyl@tampabay.rr.com.

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