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On: Fri, Jul 18, 2008 at 12:56PM | By: Florida Marine Times

I don’t know about ya’ll, but if I don’t get out offshore ever so often I tend to get slightly unpleasant. By UNPLEASANT I mean depressed, tired, moody, sick, and somewhat “completely unbearable,” as my wife might put it. I know that might sound a little crazy, but I love my offshore fishing. I can be on this pollutant-ridden land mass most call home for only so long before having to escape to the never ending expanse of blue water that cements the little bit of sanity left in us! Anyways, at the risk of sounding like a complete psycho, I am going to let you in on secret prescription for those days that are too rough to go offshore or, better yet, days when your wallet is not feeling quite fat enough to burn 200gal. of fuel at around four bucks a gallon. What I’m talking about is post-winter time Grouper and Snapper fishing in the bay on bridges, public reefs, reef balls, and those public numbers that come on your GPS that we all look past. As you have probably heard, the Snapper here in the bay from north of the Skyway all the way to Boca Grande Pass and further are described best as, EVERYWHERE! I am not talking about those little 5–8 inchers with occasional 10s either. I am talking about 2, 3, and 4lb (if not bigger) mean red hungry swarms of ferociously violent piranha-like Snapper ready to attack and kill anything that dares cross their bait-forsaken path! OK, maybe that was a little much, but they are big and do show up in these large red-looking boiling masses of 50–200 fish that sit behind your outboard like a scared school of pilchards offshore, and that's not an exaggeration.

In case you were not aware, as of last month we are once again legally allowed to anchor up within the previous limit of 100' of the Skyway bridge. I for one have definitely been taking advantage of this new allowance. When the bridge was previously off limits for anchoring it, for the most part, deterred a lot of weekend warriors as well as everyday regulars from fishing the bunks and rocks. So as you would expect, this little break gave all of the local fish plenty of time to recover and rebuild there numbers. The Snapper, Grouper, and Grunts, as well as the other little rock lovers, are now ready for round 2. I have had multiple 50 fish days and haven’t gone home empty handed yet! -tip- Keep the small baits you catch fresh. Most live wells are not able to support the small fragile sardines, threads and shiners. But it’s good to throw some of the bigger ones in to keep alive. What I do is fill a five gallon bucket almost full of the bait, layering ice in between every 5 or so inches, so the baits stay fresh.

As far as bait goes all you need is a ¼" mesh cast net to fill a five gal. bucket full of fry bait from the flats or from around the bait piers. Although that will suffice, some live pens and big shiners always pick up the slack when things are slow. When you’re figuring where to set the hook you should take the tide, lunar phase, and water temperature into consideration for the best action. On those faster tides you probably want to keep it a little shallower or on the back side of whichever way the tide’s moving, so you can fish the area that’s void of tide behind whatever you’re fishing, which is usually where the fish are holding anyways. If you have a bottom finder now would be a good time to turn it on. The Snapper are hanging off the bottom anywhere from 2-10 ft. They show up as a decent size ball usually holding around a good piece of rock or structure. When the water is clear though you can actually see them holing up in the water column. -TIP- Find your own piece of bottom. I can almost guarantee that if you take the time to drive around a little and find a piece of good bottom that’s up the Egmont Channel, or at least away from the obvious spots everyone fishes, you will find a better bite as well as better quality of fish. Also when you find those stray patches of bottom, they tend to hold more keeper Grouper.

The Skyway bunkers have been good steady producers, but do have a lot of downsides. When you’re fishing the bunkers you’re automatically vulnerable to break offs because of the way they are built. That sucks, but what is worse is when you get a 4lb Snap off the bottom and then watch one of those cuddly dolphin come steal your hard-earned work. The dolphin have been pretty bad, no matter where you anchor, and the best thing you can do is just reel fast and make the fight as short as possible, quickly releasing the fish as close to whatever you’re fishing as possible. If your boat allows you to get close enough, and you have good confidence in your anchor, then I recommend getting as close as possible to whatever you’re fishing without jeopardizing your safety. Now that you’re anchored and situated it’s time to get down to business. Start off slinging chum around you like there is no tomorrow. After you get the attention of the fish from your one-minute chum frenzy, take it down a couple notches.

Remember STEADY CHUMLINE and also you just want just enough to keep the fish’s attention. Also it’s good to keep a big rod handy since it’s not entirely unlikely for a lingering Ling or a curious Tarpon to show up. This is definitely the time to bust out that secret number you, and supposedly no one else, have. Also, there are countless artificial reefs and reef ball sites that are all available to the public that are starting to hold good fish. Look for structure (ex: bridges, hard bottom and sunken boats left over from the hurricanes, limestone ledges left from dredged-out channels…)! Just about every piece of random structure I have run across in the last two months and stopped to chum at has had some amount of Snapper. All I can say is don’t overlook anything, and keep your eyes open. As always, Good Tides, Trever Flatsman


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