The past few weeks have offered a bounty of species. Trips to depths of 75-90 feet are still producing quality gag grouper and red grouper. Usually this time of the year, the water in these depths is so warm that the fish migrate offshore in search of cooler water. This year is different. Divers are reporting a strong thermocline and much cooler temperatures on the bottom than on the surface, so the fish still think it’s spring and should stay around. Trips to depths of 120-150 feet have produced quality red and gag grouper, and we have been doing well with mangrove and yellowtail snapper. The key to the snapper is the tackle; it is typical to have to downsize to as little as 15-pound fluorocarbon leader. Because these snapper are a schooling fish, look for fish shows to be stacked well off the bottom, usually near a rolloff or above a ledge. Cut sardines should be all you need; because they are soft, the hook-to-bite ratio will be better than with live. We have also seen many mahi in these depths. Depths of 170-220 feet produce probably the most consistent bottom fishing for this area. These are also the perfect depths for vertical jig fishing. Speed jigs are quite effective in them because the strike zone for grouper and snapper grows as you get deeper. A fast retrieve usually draws a reaction strike from these fish. The bulk of the larger amberjack have made their way offshore from the usual fall haunts to the deeper wrecks and springs in depths of 150 feet or more. Last week we stopped by a wreck in 165 feet. After a bit of live chumming, the school of 30- to 50-pound jacks was swimming under the boat. Everything that was put in the water was smashed within seconds. These fish are large, and a couple should produce more than enough meat for everyone, so take only what you can eat and release the rest. Also, releasing them in deep water usually requires them to be vented in order for them to have a good chance of survival.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 and fintasticinc.com