Go deep to avoid the effects of red tide

Published September 23, 2005

The Red Tide continues to impact our coast. Nearshore bait and fishing is sparse, but fortunately for us we normally fish deep and have been successful from 120 out to 160 feet.

Guide Andrea Yeager fished the Bill Currie Offshore Division this past week and had two really good days. Her biggest challenge was finding live bait. After many attempts at the traditional areas like the Egmont Channel and nearshore reefs and wrecks, they finally found some live bait in 130 feet over a ship wreck.

Randy Comans and Craig Lahr filled out Yeager's team. They caught many American red snapper, mangrove snapper and gag grouper in 160 feet over a small ship wreck. Most of their fishing was due west of John's Pass.

Yeager had to switch to squid because she could not get live bait or frozen sardines past the red snapper. She also reported that the Gulf didn't clear up until they hit 120 feet of water more than 30 miles out. Strong tides had them using 8-ounce weights to get the baits to the bottom. They used circle hooks exclusively and reported excellent hook-up ratios.

The red snapper were 15 to 20 pounds, and the gag grouper were close to 20 pounds. Because of the tournament's rules, only Yeager could fish. They did allow everyone to bait fish, and squirrelfish were the most successful live bait for the gags, followed by squid.

Fishing for multiple species requires many sizes of tackle. We prefer 30-pound tackle and fluorocarbon leaders for snapper. A green glow-bead placed just before the hook attracts the snapper and consistently outcatches other types of tackle.

Snapper fishing is tricky. A proven technique is not to set the hook but to reel as fast as you can. This method doubles your hookups. After being outfished five-to-one by Mike Hubbard for two years, I finally changed to his technique and I am pleased to tell you it works.

Fifty- to 60-pound tackle handles grouper, amberjack, blackfin tuna and red snapper.

When you anchor over your bottom-fishing spot, make sure you place a couple of live baits off the transom on flat lines. Tuna, cobia, kingfish and sharks often visit your baits. When you reel a fish up from the bottom, it generates a chum slick that attracts other fish.

As we transition to fall fishing, the opportunities to fish in blue water off our coast will be few. Between hurricanes you may have the opportunity to get way offshore and pick up some wahoo, tuna and dolphin. We always try to make sure we have a five-day window of good weather for a trip that far offshore.

The shrimp fleet will start working its way south in October. With the shrimpers come the blackfin tuna and kingfish. Expect to see kingfish show up along this coast in early October. If we still have Red Tide, however, the migration may stay offshore.

Planning an trip 50 to 60 miles offshore requires a lot of attention to detail. Always leave a float plan with someone you trust and make sure your vessel is equipped for such a trip. We carry ample supplies, extra water and emergency gear like EPIRBs, life rafts and satellite phones.

After you get offshore you are on your own and must be able to handle emergencies. A good supply of medical equipment is also a must. Make sure that you have checked the marine weather. Don't fool with nature.

Larry "Huffy" Hoffman charters out of John's Pass, Treasure Island. Call 727 709-9396 or e-mail him at huffyl@tampabay.rr.com