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Offshore report: Aggressive gags cruise the ledges
By Steve Papen, Times correspondent
Published December 21, 2007
Grouper fishing has been outstanding the past couple of weeks. Almost every hard-bottom site has plenty of legal-sized gags and red grouper on it.
We have caught grouper in 28 to 260 feet of water and everywhere between. Live baits often get the larger fish to eat.
Frozen baits such as Spanish sardines, cigar minnows and squid help get the fish into a frenzy. I usually use frozen baits until the first gag grouper comes to the boat, even if it is a short fish. Gag grouper usually travel along the ledges in a pack and bully other fish out of their way. As soon as a gag is caught, switch to live baits to catch the aggressive fish nearby.
Amberjack have also invaded the area. Fish in the 20- to 50-pound range have been common on trips to 120 feet or more. Live blue runners are the best bait, but they have been scarce lately, so we use a variety of the new knife-style jigs - the Shimano butterfly, braid lures, and Williamson jigs. Amberjack usually travel in huge schools, almost anything that is seen and tries dashing away gets chased down.
Because of all the gag grouper, many anglers put snapper fishing on the back burner this time of year. Mangrove, yellowtail and lane snapper are at depths of 70 to 90 feet now, and they feed best on smaller live threadfin herring and scaled sardines. Focus on larger ledges and wrecks at these depths.
A chum block on a downrigger will help bring the fish under the boat. Use lighter tackle and fluorocarbon leaders with 1 to 3 ounces of lead.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 or www.fintasticinc.com.