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High priority is staying tuned to bottom machine

Published May 4, 2007

[Times photo: David A. Brown]
One of the sea's strongest fighters, the amberjack provides wreck fishermen with a tasty target that hits a variety of baits and puts up a monstrous battle. The dark facial streak indicates an aggressive mood.

Red snapper fishing is excellent on most ledges and rock piles in depths of 90 to 180 feet. Areas of bottom with high concentrations of bait seem to be the key to finding the larger schools. Like most snapper, they are aggressive when on the feed and will usually take a bait well before it reaches the bottom.

A good bottom machine will assist anglers in finding these schools. While running to your offshore spot, try to tune your machine so the bottom can be seen in as much detail as possible. Look for rolls in the bottom or ledges with fish showing on the topside of them. When these areas are located, hit the man overboard button on the GPS. Now that the spot is located, turn around and take a closer look. If the spot looks good, try a drift drop. This technique will sometimes pay off big with grouper and red or mangrove snapper and sometimes will produce smaller fish such as vermilion snapper or scamp and triggerfish. Either way this is an effective technique to find new areas to fish.

Amberjack continues to be unpredictable from spot to spot. Some of the wrecks offshore that are usually full of these bruisers are barren, and others that generally produce little are full from top to bottom. In recent years, the vertical jigs that are used to catch amberjack have improved so much that most times they outproduce live baits. Large white bucktails or 4- to 8-ounce knife-style jigs have been working best. These fish are averaging 20 to 30 pounds, so only take what you will eat and let the rest live as just a couple of these will feed an entire family.

Red grouper are starting to show in most of their summer haunts. Areas of hard bottom in 90 to 110 feet of water are producing larger-than-normal reds, often in the 15-pound range. One method that works well is fishing the edges of the bait stacks. Most of these fish will stay away from these towers of sardines and only get in the middle of them when they are feeding.

Look for the gag grouper on smaller bottom this time of year. These fish travel more than the red grouper and may sometimes be found on the same type of bottom but predominantly will be in areas that have more relief, as they are much more cautious than their cousins. Ledges and rolloffs in the deeper water have been holding more and larger gags, and these spots will continue to do so throughout the summer. Live baits are the key to catching gags and will outproduce dead bait most of the time.

For the first time in a while, the shrimp boats have been working in our area waters. An early start and a trip to the local pass for a cast net session for threadfin herring and horse minnows is a great way to ensure a successful tuna trip. The key is getting offshore at least 30 miles before sun up and scanning the horizon for lights. Since these shrimp boats work primarily at night, they are lit up and can be seen from miles away. Upon arrival, wait for the shrimp boat to anchor and start culling their catch. A steady stream of your fresh live chummers should be deployed and a few larger live baits, such as blue runners or cigar minnows, should be rigged and drifting behind the boat. It should not take long for the action to start and as long as the live chumming does not stop the bite should not stop either. Fishing, using this method should also produce bonito, sharks, king mackerel and even some wahoo, dolphin and sailfish if you are deep enough.

Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 or

[Last modified May 3, 2007, 19:16:06]

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