GPS Gets You There, But Look Around

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By Capt. Mel Berman, 970-WFLA

There’s no doubt that marine electronics have increased the mortality rate for many popular  ocean species. It has in fact elevated the game of many anglers who heretofore were not at the top of their bottom fishing game. Yet, even with these amazing computerized devices, it is important to still take a look around.

I recall a time when someone petitioned me for some productive numbers in about 100-feet of water off Anclote Key.  Knowing that those distant spots wouldn’t be hammered on a regular basis, I agreed and provided him with some special coordinates that had produced for me. Then, off he went some 50-miles into the Gulf anticipating a great mother lode of hefty grouper. Yet, after three hours out and three hours back, my friend arrived back at the dock a really unhappy camper.

”I ran right to those numbers you gave me, anchored up, and we didn’t catch squat,” he complained. “Did you think of turning on the recorder and looking around a bit,” I responded. “Well, no. We just zeroed out the course computer and dropped the anchor.”

This winter season is “grouper prime time” in Florida. But you can’t simply fish by the numbers.  

Thanks to the advent of advanced marine electronics, even the novice grouper digger can make a beeline for all the honey holes.  While it is true that GPS and loran before that would take you right to a likely set of grouper rocks, to really setup right on them, you’ll need to see what’s going on below.

Fish have fins, and they don’t always stay in the same place. And you could head for a beautiful “break” and find nobody home. It is not uncommon for gags to forage up and down a big ledge and when you show up, they could be anywhere in the neighborhood.

One very effective technique that seasoned grouper-diggers practice is to take a heading for some GPS destination. But when they get to within a mile or two of their coordinates, they slow down, put out a couple of baits on planers or downriggers and troll the rest of the way. 

In almost every instance, they never make it to their final GPS location. If an area has a known set of rocks, pocked marked hard bottom or ledges, chances are that whole area would be similarly structured, holding many fish. This technique is also the way many skilled grouper anglers find new spots.

Once you hook a fish trolling, mark that spot with a jug. Then do a “180” and troll back the other way. Chances are good that you will pick up another grouper – and when you mark that second spot, just set up in-between both markers. You should be right over the hungry school of fish.

As for what to ‘drag’ behind your planers or downriggers, I have always had a great deal of success trolling big plugs such as the Long-A Bombers,  larger spoons like the Clark’s #5 Spoon Squid, or with strips of mullet on a skirted jig such as the Sea Witch. With downriggers, you also have the option of trolling jigs and other smaller baits.

But whatever you do, don’t depend solely on your GPS to get you to your fish haven. They are great inventions that have been a real boon for all offshore anglers. Just remember, these devices will only get you in the neighborhood – you need to “knock on a few doors” to see if anybody’s home.