By RANDY ROCHELLE
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 4, 2002
The shallow water grouper bite is on. Gags can be found holding on ledges and rock piles in as little as 15 feet. This is great news for most, but it can get a bit crowded in close, especially on weekends. If the seas are calm and you don't like a crowd, point the bow west and head deep.
On a recent trip we made a stop on a wreck in 112 feet about 5 miles southeast of The Mexican Pride and found it loaded with amberjack and snapper. Just a short run south to hard bottom we found red, scamp and gag grouper along with lane and mangrove snapper. The best bite was on small pieces of cut sardines. Our biggest grouper, a 15-pound gag, found a 2-inch long tail section of a frozen Spanish sardine to his liking.
This is a great time of year to hit spots in 80-120 feet that aren't getting beat up every other day. The lack of fishing pressure has the fish inhaling just about anything in front of them. Wrecks aren't getting hammered either, making it easier to find some keeper-size jacks. Wrecks in as little as 90 feet are producing amberjack to 30 pounds; just have a well full of blue runners.
If you don't mind crowds take a mix of live and frozen bait and it shouldn't be hard to box a few nice gags. Pay attention to what baits the fish feed on and try to match the size and type. As the water cools the bite will slow so be patient and give them a bit more time to eat the bait.
-- Randy Rochelle runs Islander Charters in St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 528-1213 or by e-mail at Islandercharters@ij.net.