The fall migration of gag grouper into the shallow waters of North Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties has begun. Cooler water and abundant bait supply draw the fish in from deeper water to feed. This not only saves on boat fuel bills, it allows anglers to catch the gags with different methods.
Unorthodox techniques: When the fish are on rock piles in less than 20 feet of water, we usually switch our strategy from simple bottom dropping to casting. A 1-ounce weight is usually enough on the line to force unwilling pinfish to go toward the bottom. When a swarm of gags is visible 15 feet down, most baitfish do all they can to stay near the surface. If the gags get really fired up, we eliminate the sinker and let the fish come up and blast baits on the surface. Live chumming with scaled sardines in this situation can inspire grouper to leap out of the water as they feed. It also opens up other possibilities, such as fly-fishing for grouper or casting topwater plugs. Lately, big Spanish mackerel and kingfish have joined in.
Where to look: From Tarpon Springs north, isolated rock patches, rather than ledges, become the most prominent bottom feature. These islands of hard bottom are where gags like to set up residence. The key is finding the ones that are not in everyone else's little black books. This usually means avoiding the biggest, tallest ones and seeking out flatter patches.
Ed Walker charters out of Tarpon Springs. Call (727)944-3474 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.