By ROB GORTA, Times Correspondent
Published December 7, 2007
Baitfish have moved in right our gulf coast beaches. I have never seen such a strong showing of scaled sardines. These hardy baitfish are usually located in the trough formed by the waves right off the beach. Pelicans, terns and seagulls will also give away the location of these favorite baitfish. I use a 12-foot, quarter-inch mesh cast net so I can fill the baitwell quickly. Farther off the beach you can find the larger bait - threadfin herring. Pelicans and gannets diving from a higher altitude will give you a good indication of where to start looking for them. If you cannot see the bait on the surface, use a bottom machine to locate them in the water column.
Chum 'em up
With the livewell full of baits, anchor in the 20-foot drop, a couple of miles off the beach. I start chumming with live bait cast some free-lined baits into the chum area. Wire leader is a must to keep Spanish mackerel, kingfish and sharks from cutting through the leader. Bonita and an occasional cobia can also be caught. Having plenty of bait to keep the chum slick and feeding frenzy going is key to the success.
Reds on the flats
Redfish are easy to find with the cooler water temperature, but use caution in approaching these fish in shallow water as it is especially clear this time of year on the flats. Redfish are easily spooky if you move too aggressively. I take my time and set the boat up wind of fish so I can make a long cast in front of the school. If the cast is going to land in the middle of the school, I will stop the throw short in midair, then reel in to make another cast. If the tide is high enough, reds will stay in the same area, if it is too low, they will move when a fish is caught. A scaled sardine on a 1/0 circle hook under a weighted cork has produced well this past month. The weighted cork helps in making a longer cast with smaller baits.
Go slow for snook
Believe it or not, there are still schools of snook along the beach and passes. I think they may stay there if the general weather pattern stays unseasonably warm. Because of the clear water, I downsize my leader from 30-pound test to 25 pounds and switch to a smaller hook. Patience is a must. If the fish are there and I do not draw any strikes, I leave and fish for something else, then come back later and try again. At one point during the day, snook will go into a feeding spell. The trick is to be there when they want to eat. Chumming live bait will often turn snook into a frenzy, but if terns show up and start diving on the chum, the snook will turn off.
Grouper in the channel
Grouper fishing inside the Skyway Bridge is starting to turn productive. Trolling plugs or large jigs on a downrigger along the shipping channel is the best place to start. A large planer can be used if you do not have a downrigger. Heavy tackle is needed to get fish off of the bottom once hooked. The shipping channel is rocky and loaded with holes that the fish can get in. Stay clear of any ships going through. If you hear five short blasts of a ship's horn, that is a danger signal and the ship wants you to move out of the way as soon as possible.
Rob Gorta charters out of St. Petersburg. Call him at (727) 647-7606 or visit www.captainrobgorta.com.