Fishing – 01-12-2011

Grouper fishing within 9 miles proves prosperous

Fishers in search of gag grouper didn’t have to travel far last week to find the bite.

Remember, federal waters are closed for gags, which in turn gives one the chance to explore some of the local nearshore reefs and wrecks.

The gag grouper bite seemed to occur in water depths of 40-50 feet. Fishers using frozen sardines are catching limits of fish in short periods.

There are a number of combinations of terminal tackle that can be used when nearshore grouper fishing. When fishing structures in shallow water of 20-40 feet, try using about 3 or 4 feet of 40-pound fluorocarbon with a 3/4-ounce jig head attached. Take a frozen sardine, hook it through the nose with the jig head and send it down.

Also, try rigging a 2/0 or 3/0 circle hook with a 3/4-ounce or 1-ounce egg sinker. Let the sinker sit right above the eye of the hook. Same deal, bait it and send it down. The most typical rig consists of an egg sinker, swivel, leader material and circle hook. In that order. All three of these rigs are applicable to live or dead baits, so try them and see what works best.

Capt. Mike Greig reported limits of gag grouper in water depths of 40-50 feet. Greig is fishing wrecks and ledges to find these tackle busters. Other catches while grouper fishing included some nice flounder up to 20 inches. To round out the trip, Greig has been catching plenty of Key West grunts and quite a few jolt-head porgies. The bait of choice for Greig has been frozen sardines.

“I’m seeing a lot of sheepshead at local docks on the Island,” Greig added. Best baits for these convict-colored fish are shrimp, sand fleas and fiddler crabs.

Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier reported the sheepshead have moved in strong. “Most of them are hanging around the rock structure just off of the pier,” Medley said.

The sheepies have been ranging 2-3 pounds. “They’re catching a lot of them on sand fleas, but pieces of shrimp have been working, too,” Medley added.

Gag grouper are being caught at the pier, where fish up to 28 inches have been reported. Most fishers are using live pinfish, and a few gags were caught on fresh mullet heads.

Capt. Wayne Genthner of Wolfmouth Charters reported limits of gag grouper up to 12 pounds on his offshore charters. He said that due to colder water, he moved out to depths of 45 feet. “The bite is real soft,” Genthner said. “But there’s a lot of them down there.”

Genthner suggested sizing down the leader to 30-pound test fluorocarbon to achieve better results. Genthner’s best fishing occurred in water temps of 54-58 degrees. “Warmer water is good,” he said.

Genthner’s inshore encounters included redfish, sheepshead and flounder. Fishing the canals for redfish produced catches of 30 fish per day. “There’s a lot of flounder around, too,” Genthner added. “But most of them are in the 12-13 inch range.” Genthner suggested fishing “sandy bottom with a little current” to find these tasty flat fish.

Capt. Warren Girle reported offshore fishing for gag grouper and mangrove snapper was “as good as it gets.” Girle said he’s been fishing at water depths around 45 feet just out from the beach. Limits of gag grouper were typical, with the biggest fish measuring 29 inches. Mangrove snapper also were biting, which resulted in daily limits. Other catches offshore included porgies, Key West grunts and triggerfish. “There’s a ton of porgies out there,” Girle said. “We caught 30 of them in one trip.”

Moving inshore, Girle has been catching sheepshead, black drum, redfish and spotted sea trout. “We caught reds up to 30 inches,” Girle said, “but they are scattered.” He suggested finding the schools of mullet. “Sometimes redfish will swim along with the mullet on shallow flats,” he added.

Spotted sea trout were observed in water depths of 3-5 feet, although the bigger trout have been lurking in even shallower water. Girle said that fishing soft plastics with a slow retrieve has been the best tactic for these big yellow-mouths.

Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle said he’s been hearing a lot about sheepshead. “The frozen sand fleas are flying off the shelf,” he said.

Keyes said he likes to rig his sheepshead gear with 20-pound fluorocarbon, a half-once egg sinker and a No. 2 hook. He lets the egg sinker slide right to the eye of the hook. “That way you can feel the bite better,” Keyes said.

Red and black drum also are making for good targets. “We’re seeing good numbers of reds and black drum coming in daily,” Keyes said.

Keyes suggested using 20-pound fluorocarbon leader rigged with a No. 2 hook and a split shot for best results. “Try using a whole live shrimp,” Keyes added.

Spotted sea trout were back in season as of Jan 1 and “drifting the deeper grass flats has been the ticket,” Keyes said. “Drifting helps you cover more area.” Keyes suggested using a 1/4-ounce jig head rigged with a soft plastic for best results.

Tom Cassetty at the Rod & Reel Pier said the sheepies are starting to show more frequently. “They are still running a little small,” Cassetty said. “Most of them are in the 9- to 12-inch range.” Most of the fish are being caught on shrimp, fiddler crabs and tubeworms. Besides sheepshead, Cassetty said he’s seen a few flounder caught on shrimp.

“There’s a ton of pin fish hanging around the pier the past couple of days,” Cassetty said. “We hope they’ll attract some larger fish to the pier.”

Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters said wintertime fishing has been exceptional with some excellent catches of redfish and sheepshead on his charters. “The key to successful fishing is to fish deepwater docks that have barnacles and oysters around the dock pilings and seawall,” Howard said.

“While I was filleting a lot of the keeper redfish, their stomachs were full of crabs and shrimp. Look for this pattern to continue into March.”

Howard also reported seeing sheepshead everywhere there are structures, from deep-water docks to artificial reefs in Tampa Bay. Howard said sand fleas, shrimp and fiddler crabs have been working for him. “With the state size limit being 12 inches, I prefer to have a 15-inch minimum to keep these fine tasting fish. Under 15-inches and it’s hard to get good-sized fillets to eat,” Howard said. “I foresee the sheepshead bite only getting better as we progress into 2011.”

Speckled trout fishing has been good on Howard’s charters, with a mix of sizes being landed. “Jigs rigged with your favorite soft plastic will help you in locating the bigger sized fish,” Howard said.

Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me the Fish Charters reported fishers on his charters were fighting all the big amberjack they could handle. They were catching lots of red grouper and an “outrageous” amount of tasty snappers — which are his favorite at the dinner table.

Charters are bringing in “flag yellowtail, monster mangrove, lane and vermillion snappers, triggerfish and porgies,” McGuire said.

McGuire has been fishing in 115- to 155-foot depths offshore of Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. He is not targeting areas that normally have gag grouper and red snapper, but still found they are in abundance. “We catch them without even trying and carefully release them due to the closed seasons,” McGuire said.

Large live baits are working best for the amberjack and red grouper and sardines are making the snappers happy.

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