Winter bottom fishing usually targets gag grouper in the 20- to 40-foot depths. Catching mangrove snapper or large triggerfish is a bonus.
This year has marked a change in tactics. Whenever the weather conditions allowed us to venture into the gulf the past few weeks, we targeted mangrove snapper, triggerfish and lane snapper in the 80- to 100-foot depths on ledges and other structures, rather than the gags. Gag grouper provide the bonus once the snapper and triggers stop biting.
Compared to a grouper, snapper and triggerfish have small stomachs. When targeting grouper we have used 4-ounce swivel sinkers, 2 feet of 50-pound test monofilament leader and 5/0 or 6/0 J hooks. Baits consist of frozen sardines, large pieces of squid and large live pinfish.
To rig for snapper, use a 2- or 3-ounce swivel sinker, 3 feet of 20- or 30-pound test fluorocarbon leader and a 1/0 or 2/0 short-shanked bait hook or preferably a circle hook in the same size with a small, green glow bead on the leader. Sardines should be cut into thirds with the choice bait the tail. Squid pieces should be about 11/2 inches, and small pinfish should be used.
Rod tips should be held close to the water, waiting for a rat-a-tat bite to reel. Once the snapper bite has slowed to traditional grouper, large gag should be lured into the area by commotion caused by the feeding of the smaller reef fish.
- Dave Zalewski charters out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.