January is traditionally when cold fronts come into our area of the eastern gulf. Getting offshore to fish takes a little more planning. There are many websites that assist anglers in picking the right day to make a trip. I usually look at a long-term forecast first, then the evening before my trip I start looking at real-time data such as weather buoys in our area. The two buoys offshore in the west central area to concentrate on are NOAA buoys 42036 and 42099, which both give updates to conditions every 10 minutes. Red grouper will be back on the menu and have been consistent in most depths from 70-130 feet. As the water continues to cool, these fish transition from frisky live baits to large frozen baits such as sardines and tinker mackerel. If temperatures fall into the mid 50s, look for these fish to move back toward deeper water. Typical 4/0-size tackle loaded with 50- to 80-pound outfits will get the job done. Amberjack is next on the list. Look for these bruisers to push to some inshore wrecks and reefs such as the Blackthorn and the TI No. 2 reef. Live baits are key, but artificial lures such as vertical jigs and large bucktails also get the job done. I typically anchor uptide of these types of wrecks and try to pull the fish away from the structure because otherwise they will make a break for the wreck and cut you off. Remember, jacks are big and yield a lot of meat, so a boat-limit is not always needed. When fishing offshore over these wrecks, keep a slow, steady line of chum trickling off the transom. Keep an eye out in the water column for mangrove and yellowtail snapper to rise up in the chum behind the boat. The snapper bite, even in as little as 40 feet, has been scattered but pretty good.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 and fintasticinc.com.