© St. Petersburg Times, published September 13, 2002
Cooler waters, more fish
Because of shorter daylight hours and heavy rainfall, water temperatures are creeping down. All we need is a cool front to blanket the southeast to drop temperatures further.
Migratory fish start moving during cooler conditions and will attack any bait. Eighty-one degrees seems to be the starting point.
The first arrivals will be jumbo Spanish mackerel and bonito feeding only a mile from the beaches. The macks will be huge (five pounds and better), devouring whitebaits and schools of threadfin herring.
Next will come the long-awaited migration of gag grouper. Shallower rock piles within five miles begin to fill with these tasty bottom dwellers. More follow with each degree the water temperature drops.
Smoker kings will follow behind as they start their southern migration. Once temperatures reach the magical 70s, hold on. It will all bust loose. My guess is mid October.
These past few weeks, we had to cruise out at least 10 miles to escape Red Tide conditions and find fish. Barracuda, cobia, bonito, Spanish mackerel, jack cravelles and a few stray kings kept us busy around the artificial reefs. Slow trolling was the most productive method. Downriggers attracted most of the bigger fish.
Some bottom dwellers have started to move at depths of 50 and 60 feet. We've been able to drag a few nice grouper up from certain ledges that were not producing weeks ago. This tells me some sort of migration has started at these deeper depths.
Ledges holding lots of grunts and small reef fish are where you'll find the grouper. Divers have been reporting some sightings of decent-size gag groupers in as shallow as 40 feet. The fish were close to the small stacks of tiny baitfish that are working east. Their interest in the micro-baits makes it hard to get a bite from a baited hook.
Keep your eyes open for big cobia cruising the surface. Clients have caught some hefty fish in the 40-pound range the past two weeks. Table fare is extraordinary. Their meat, which is mild-tasting and firm enough for grilling, is one of my favorites.
-- Dave Mistretta captains the Jaws Too out of Indian Rocks Beach. Call (727) 595-3276, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org