© St. Petersburg Times, published March 3, 2002
Before the last cold front, grouper fishing was good in 70-90 feet. Most of the fish were on small ledges of 3 feet or less. Capt. Steve Papen had us dragging pinfish for the big red grouper that follow bait schools. He would mark a stack of bait on the recorder, then drop sardines and live pinfish up-current of the bait and drag them under the school.
This technique produced one or two reds in the 8- to 20-pound range on each stop. The pinfish got hit by the bigger fish.
Last Wednesday's cold front should push the grouper to the taller ledges and structure. Try fishing some of the well-known ledges over 5 feet. Artificial reefs can hold large numbers of fish right after a period of rough seas.
Inshore action in lower Tampa Bay has been fair. The hard part is finding fish in the same spot two days in a row. Areas full of trout one day would go vacant the next.
Drift fishing with jigs helped us find action faster and produced the most strikes. Motor oil, root beer and strawberry are hot colors. Drag the grass piles in 3-4 feet during lower tides and work the first 50 yards of the flat on the higher ones. Most trout are running 1-2 pounds, with a few bigger ones mixed in.
Look for redfish action around oyster bars at high tide. Bait schools are showing up at the piers. Bridges and flats will be their next stop.
-- Doug Hemmer charters out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 347-1389.