We left the dock Thursday morning with no specific game plan other than travel offshore to depths that were free of Red Tide. Because we figured to eventually bottom fish on a 250-degree heading in at least 80 feet of water and were going over the Treasure Island Reef, we slowed and put out Spanish mackerel trolling gear. No bait was evident when crossing over most of the high-profile structure located there and after 10 uneventful minutes, it was time to move on. The water at South County Reef was discolored from the large amount of Red Tide and did not warrant stopping. Reaching 80 feet and anchoring over some Swiss cheese hard-bottom that held some baitfish, that resulted in immediate action from Lane snapper, white grunts, porgies vermillion snapper, triggerfish and some keeper red grouper among the numerous undersized ones that were released. Whenever the bite slowed, it only took moving to another patch of reef to start the process over. Because of the lack of pinfish nearshore, we were dependent on frozen Spanish sardines and squid. Deploying a sabiki rig with a 4-ounce sinker because of the depth resulted in hardtails and Spanish sardines that triggered bites from some larger fish, including a true black grouper that was 1 inch undersized. The area we were fishing was a few miles north of the mitigation rock piles on the Gulfstream Natural Gas Pipeline and seeing as we had some frisky live baits in the baitwell, we made the move and started slow trolling the stinger-rigged baits. Every rock pile was holding barracuda of all sizes and a few kingfish. It did not take long to go through our live baits, forcing the switch to spoons and plugs that also produced well. It appears many of the pelagic fish have moved offshore in an effort to find habitable water, and we should follow their lead.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.