© St. Petersburg Times, published August 11, 2002
Two tropical systems and an early cold front have made running far offshore difficult. Though the grouper bite inside 20 miles has been slow, there's still some fun to be had.
On days you can't make that long run offshore, target ledges and rock piles in the 30- to 70-foot range. Ditch that grouper gear and grab your snapper rods. Twenty- to 30-pound tackle matched with 2/0 to 3/0 live-bait hooks tied to a 4-foot length of 30- to 40-pound mono leader and 1- to 3-ounce slip sinkers work best. Hook a small piece of squid or other cut bait and drop it to the bottom. Cut grunt makes good bait; the fish won't steal it off your hook as quickly and the same chunk can catch two or three fish.
When you feel the bite, don't set the hook, just reel as quickly as you can. Do this for a couple of hours, and before you know it you'll have a cooler full of bottom fish like grunts, sea bass, porgy and snapper. While most grouper will be small, keep a live pinfish soaking on the bottom just in case that big one's down there.
While these aren't bragging fish they make great table fare, you won't burn much gas to find them and you don't have to spend all day on the water, which is a plus this time of year.
-- Randy Rochelle runs Islander Charters in St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 528-1213 or by e-mail at Islandercharters@ij.net.