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Grouper warm up in a hurry

By DAVE MISTRETTA

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 15, 2000


Because of warmer weather, water temperatures have become more tolerable for fish and anglers. The past several weeks, three layers of clothing were needed to brave blustery winds and seas.

The warming trend has been caused by the jet stream easing to the north. Enjoy the weather now, because as soon as the jet stream swoops toward us, we will switch back to winter mode.

Ten days ago, with water temperatures as low as 60 degrees, it was a struggle to get grouper to bite. Metabolisms of all fish species slowed, decreasing their appetites. But as each day passed, temperatures climbed about 1 degree.

At about 65 degrees, gag grouper fishing developed into some of the best we've had all year. Even with the new restrictions in size (22 inches total length), 20 or more keepers a day have been common. These aggressive appetites allowed us to bring some monster fish to the docks. Fifteen- to 18-pound gags were not unusual, with an occasional 20-pounder mixed in.

Inshore waters have eased up to the mid-60s, while offshore depths have climbed as high as 68 degrees 10 miles out and 74 degrees 30 miles out.

An added surprise to the grouper bonanza: giant schools of bull reds loitering over ledges and rock piles. Thirty- to 40-pounders have been gobbling up baits. Once a giant red fish grabs the line, others follow, creating great action.

Huge red drum are breeders that rarely enter our bays. They can be found in the gulf all year, but we seem to have the largest concentrations in the winter months. Thousands of these fish ease their way north from one rock pile to another in preparation for a spawn. These massive schools can be located visually, creating an amber color in the water. Numerous anglers reported sightings of these schools in all depths this week.

- Dave Mistretta captains the Jaws Too out of Indian Rocks Beach. Call (727) 595-3276, or e-mail sales@jawstoo.com.

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