Gary Shelton Darrell Fry
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By RANDY ROCHELLE
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000
As the gulf water temperature rises into the upper 80s, grouper will move into deeper water. Finding keeper-size grouper in the summer means making runs of 25 to 50 miles offshore. For those who don't have a boat big enough or don't want to burn the fuel, there is another way. Tampa Bay holds grouper year-round. With a little searching, you should be able to run out early in the morning or late in the afternoon and in a few hours return with dinner.
Several methods are used to find and catch grouper in the bay. One of my favorites is to slow-troll a couple of 4-ounce jigs rigged with 8-inch grub tails, using downriggers to keep the jigs a couple of feet off the bottom. If you don't have downriggers, use planners or hard body plastic lures alone or with planners. My favorite colors for the grub tails are pink or chartreuse. If I'm trolling hard body-style baits, I like to use gold, gold and black, red and white, or blue and silver.
It is important to use heavy gear such as 6-foot-6 or 7-foot grouper rods, with reels spooled with 50- or 60-pound test line. You'll also want to use heavy leader, 80- to 100-pound test, to avoid being cut off. When fishing in water this shallow, tighten your drag a little more than you normally would. Good places to start trolling are on the edges of the ship channel and on the south side of the Sunshine Skyway bridge over the rubble piles where the old bridge was. A number of wrecks and rock piles throughout the bay will produce large grouper, although these are harder to find.
When you find areas that hold grouper, remember to log them into your GPS so you'll have them for future reference. It may take time and days of no fish to find these areas. But persistence will pay off in the long run.
Randy Rochelle runs Islander Charters in St. Petersburg. Call (727) 528-1213.
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