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Don't put those stinger rigs away just yet. Though the inshore grouper bite has made it difficult to focus on kingfish, some still are around.
Thanksgiving traditionally falls during the fall run, but lower water temperature might have accelerated the kingfish migration. Some were caught this week by grouper diggers offshore, and several were seen by stone crabbers 8-10 miles out. Wednesday, we saw a monster skyrocket in a school of juvenile mackerel in 20 feet off Sarasota.
The water temperature also has triggered groupers' appetite. Riley Weingart and his party fished off Hudson in 35-40 feet. They wrestled 30 keepers out of the rocks and released many others. Most were caught with live bait, but dead bait can work, too.
Working the edge of the ships channel between Egmont Key and the Skyway, we caught six keepers and a couple of the largest preferred frozen sardines.
Recent cold fronts have scattered schools of bait that had been abundant near our beaches. Earlier this week, we jiggled all the full-grown whitebait and greenbacks we needed at the Skyway Bridge using gold hook rigs.
If the near-shore water clears before the kingfish tournaments, don't overlook the Clearwater hard bottom or Blind Pass drop. Both can be fished by small boaters, and each has a history of producing tournament-winning smokers.
-- Jay Mastry charters Jaybird out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 321-2142.