By DAVE MISTRETTA
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 4, 2003
Even with the arrival of warmer weather, grouper digging offers few bragging rights. Water temperature remains in the mid to upper 50s out to 20 miles. Fish can be found on numerous rocks and ledges in 50-60 feet, but they aren't hungry. There is hope if we see more days when the air temperature rises above 70. Grouper metabolism increases with every degree the water temperature rises, producing larger appetites.
When the seas allowed me to venture farther out into the gulf, catches were more productive. At the 100-foot mark (about 30 miles from shore) water temperature teetered around 60 degrees. That slightly warmer depth provided a few hefty gag grouper reaching weights of up to 18 pounds. Big mangrove snapper and oversized porgies were added to the box as well. Frozen sardines, squid and small pinfish got most of the attention. We targeted the bigger ledges that held schools of small 4-inch Spanish sardines and cigar minnows.
Large flounder have made a strong appearance. This time of year, anglers can capitalize on great catches of these tasty flat fish while bottom fishing. Reports have come from all depths with most of the fish weighing 3-5 pounds. These bigger fish, commonly called doormats, congregate by the hundreds on many offshore structures during January and February. They prepare for an annual spawn and are impervious to cold weather, so appetites are endless.
-- Dave Mistretta captains the Jaws Too out of Indian Rocks Beach. Call (727) 595-3276, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .