Ofshore fishing has been spectacular the past two weeks if the right bait's swimming in the live well. Barracudas made it to the wrecks as well as inshore artificial and midwater artificial reefs. Because of the water's clarity, downsizing tackle to 20-pound test (either spinning or conventional) is best. Using stinger rigs with a 1/0 live bait hook and either one or two No. 6 treble hooks - depending on the size of the bait - will result in hookups that rival those of any billfish.
Some barracudas will jump, often as much as 10 feet, which will make for drag-screaming runs. Others will slug it out just like a large amberjack, staying deep. When slow-trolling baits on the wrecks and reefs, you should use two. One should be a large thread fin or cigar minnow hooked through the nostril hole and trolled about 75 feet back. The other will be a blue runner hooked just ahead of the dorsal fin and trolled about 50 feet back. Hooking a blue runner in this manner will cause it to swim downward and will help prevent lines from tangling.
The key is to remain over the structure by closely monitoring your depth finder. Last week when over the wreck of Gunsmoke, a school of amberjack came up from the wreck and began feeding on the combination of cut frozen sardines and live threadfins that had been sabikied up at the South County reef. The threadfins had an eye removed to keep them near the surface. The hookup was immediate on the fairly light spinning tackle and the 34-pound jack landed 40 minutes later, a mile away from the point of being hooked. Blackfin tuna can be found behind some of the anchored shrimp boats at depths beyond 100 feet. Not every shrimper has them, but if near one, it is always worthwhile to make a few laps around one trolling live-thread fins, cigar minnows or small blue runners.
We usually start with a stinger rig just in case toothy critters such as kingfish, barracudas or sharks are present. If bonita and tuna are around, we switch to a single 3/0 live bait hook with two feet of 40-pound shock leader. Often the tuna are leader shy, so using light tackle will result in a hookup and a memorable and lengthy battle.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach and can be reached at 727 397-8815 or by e-mail at Luckytoo2@aol.com