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By STEVE PAPEN, Times Correspondent
Published September 7, 2007
In the past 10 years, red snapper fishing in our waters has really taken off. Some say it's because of the pipeline that runs from Tampa Bay to the northern gulf, where these fish are plentiful, and it acts like a highway for these fish. Others claim these fish have always been here, but fishermen were just not venturing to deep enough waters. Either way, these fish are here now in such numbers that they are almost a nuisance. These snapper are one of the most dominant species in waters deeper than 150 feet and have been known to take over a ledge or wreck with such numbers that they drive off other fish, including gag grouper and amberjack. In the past few weeks we have been seeing more and bigger red snapper than ever before in waters as shallow as 90 feet. These large schools of reds will eat almost anything presented to them. Remember, the larger fish will be found higher in the water column, so a small lead and a longer leader will give you an advantage.
Red grouper fishing has become almost as consistent as the sunrise. Concentrate on areas of hard bottom and low-relief structure. A school of red grouper may appear as smaller fish on your bottom machine and are sometimes overlooked or mistaken for bait at the bottom of a small roll or break. These fish are not as finicky as their counterparts (gag grouper) and will take most any offering, including squid or sardines. Remember the red grouper limit (20 inches minimum length) is one fish per person per day, so if you target only the larger fish have a venting tool to make sure the fish that are released have a better chance for survival.
Zoom in for gags
Gag grouper have been a little more difficult to keep track of. These fish are a much more particular about water temperature and can be found in the deep waters of the gulf this time of year in depths of 150 to 300 feet. There will always be some resident fish in the shallower depths, but the main migration will be found in the cooler, deeper waters. We have been finding fish in areas with small ledges and breaks with plenty of bait. One major key for success is having live baits for these deeper trips. Live bait will continue to outproduce frozen baits until the water temperature falls into the upper 60s to low 70s. Lighter and longer leaders have also been necessary because of the crystal-clear water in most depths beyond 100 feet.
Snook in the passes
Snook season is opened last Saturday, and no one told them. Usually these fish show up under every light in the area the week before and vanish on opening day. Passes such as John's Pass and Blind's Pass have plenty of these fish, and they are willing to cooperate and feed on most rising and falling tides. An old tactic that is still effective when fishing these areas is to concentrate on the last hour of the falling tide and pin a pigfish to a larger rig and work around the fenders of the bridges. Other tactics include free-lining horse minnows and larger threadfin herring under lights in the passes and the shadow lines of the bridges.
Mangrove snapperenter the bay
Huge schools of these snapper have taken up residence in the nearshore waters, including inside Tampa Bay, most of them in the 1- to 2-pound range, but fish in the 3- to 4-pound class have not been uncommon. Live baits and plenty of chum have been the key to getting the bite to turn on. Jetties and rock piles near the larger passes have also been holding large numbers of mangrove snapper, although these areas require slightly heavier tackle because of the rocks.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 or www.fintasticinc.com.