A little something in waters for everyone

Published March 17, 2007

Though a minor cold front is predicted to arrive this weekend, there is little chance it will slow the hot spring fishing taking place lately. From the flats to the offshore reefs and wrecks there are a wide variety of options available this weekend.


The wait is over and as of Friday anglers again can keep gag, black and red grouper in federal waters (outside 9 miles from shore). Recent reports indicate the rocks and reef along boundary of state waters have not been producing but some good fish have been found inside there. Some clever local anglers decided to go in an uncommon direction looking for gags last weekend. Jeremy Gamble and a few friends spent a day freediving around rock piles in 8 feet off Bayport and speared gags up to 14 pounds.

"We did better than we thought we would in places that few people would ever think to look for grouper," he said.

Unless you have the coordinates to a similar super shallow hole, your best bet for grouper will be out in deep water.

Many anglers are confused with the rapidly changing rules for grouper so here is a breakdown of the current regulations according to myfwc.com: Grouper aggregate limit is five per person. Of those five, only one may be a red grouper. No grouper may be kept for captain or crew on for-hire/charter vessels. The minimum size for gags is 22 inches and 20 for red grouper.

There has been a lot of discussion among fisheries, management officials and recreational anglers concerning the survivability of grouper that are released. A recently completed review of red grouper indicated 10 percent of recreationally caught-and-released red grouper perish over an average of all depths.

The new gag grouper assessment estimates 32 percent of all gags released by recreational anglers do not survive. When this estimate is compared to the estimated total of recreational releases on paper, it produces a huge increase in overall removals from the Gulf. Millions of pounds of gag grouper have been added to the estimated total recreational removals. That has many recreational grouper fishermen crying foul.

"That is absolutely ridiculous," said Capt. Rodney Ristau of New Port Richey. "There is no way 1 in 3 gags that are released dies, positively false. Maybe 1 out of 20 or 25, if that."

Dennis Ohern, director of the Fishing Rights Alliance agrees.

"Those numbers are being questioned as we speak," he said. "The National Marine Fisheries Service was preparing to act on them by cutting bag limits and/or extending the closed season for gags but due to public outcry they are now going to reexamine the data used to come up with those estimates."

Snook and mackerel

On the inshore scene the action has been spectacular. Snook have shown up in large numbers along the mainland shore from Palm Harbor to Aripeka. Pitching live sardines, which also have been abundant, has been producing lots of fish from 18 to 35 inches and a few even bigger. Docks, oyster bars, jetties and mangrove points are good places to start your search.

Spanish mackerel have migrated back into the area and have been found over the deeper grass flats and out in the nearshore Gulf. Watch for diving birds to point out the location of the bait pods, which will guide you to the mackerel.