© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2003
Water temperatures are climbing. Each cold front has a more southerly draw of warm tropical air ahead of its passage, rewarding us with warm temperatures.
Grouper digging has started to get back on track. Better reports have poured in from captains working in 40-70 feet.
Undersize reds, gags and scamp can be caught on just about any ledge or rock pile at these depths. Trying to put keepers in the icebox can be difficult, but work these depths, sort out the small fish and a few big ones can be nabbed.
Some days produce half a dozen keepers, others two or three. This isn't much to brag about, but it beats January's unproductive grouper bite.
Live pinfish have become the bait of choice for bigger gags.
Grunts, sea bass and porgies have become more aggressive. Drop a couple of squid chunks for instant results. These smaller reef fish are a great addition to the few grouper, since their fillets are mild and just as delicious.
The reason for such low productivity inshore is not just the cold water. The bigger fish are spawning offshore.
The bottom fishing will get better when the spawn is over. Mid March and April always bring some of these hefty gags back to shallow water, and they will be hungry after swimming great distances from deep in the gulf.
The kingfish run likely will start early this year. By March anglers will be able to enjoy the screaming runs of giant mackerel and the astounding tugs of huge gag grouper.
-- Dave Mistretta captains the Jaws Too out of Indian Rocks Beach. Call (727) 595-3276, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .