Bottom fishing in depths of 120-150 feet has been pretty easy. Red grouper have been the main target. They are stacked on every roll-off and pothole in these depths and are ready to eat. Typically, the larger fish will be the first to eat. The biggest problem when fishing these depths is those pesky red snapper. We have caught at least one true 20-pound-class fish on every trip since the deep waters (beyond 20 fathoms) opened on the first of the month. The trick to targeting only the grouper has been using big live bait such as grunts and large pinfish. Frozen sardines have been the standby for red grouper, but these smaller, soft baits usually get inhaled by the snapper well before they reach the bottom. Artificial baits such as large bucktails and butterfly jigs have been getting even the pickiest fish to bite. These baits draw a “reaction strike” from these fish. Drop the rig to the bottom and work it upward in a pretty fast motion to mimic a baitfish trying to get away. Red grouper are about the most aggressive of the grouper and will hit these baits not because they are hungry but because they can. During the next few months we can expect many other offshore species such as wahoo, mahi and tuna to move into the bait-rich shallows in these same depths. More times than not, the use of a flatlined bait off the stern will pay off. A quick stop at the markers in the shipping channel will do the trick, securing sardines and cigar minnows.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 and fintasticinc.com.