“Gags Gone Wild”

It’s that time of year again. Fall. The bait flees the cooler waters of the flats and hunkers down at the bridges and markers. The tarpon have left town, with our waters in the mid sixty degree mark, and the redfish are schooling up in the troughs, potholes and back waters of Tampa Bay. Trout are out of season (and of course biting great), and the cold weather gear is being dusted off for those cool early morning boat rides to our favorite fishing destinations.

Fall also means great grouper fishing, especially the Gag grouper in Tampa Bay. With the first credible cold front of the year here and gone, the grouper bite has been on fire in the cooler water, with many lucky anglers filling up their coolers relatively easily. Reports of big grouper are being told on all the fishing forums, newspaper columns, TV shows and early morning weekend radio.

Techniques used have varied from trolling to bottom fishing; in some cases people are even catching them on deepwater docks. All have been producing nice fish.

My favorite way to fish for grouper is in the shipping lanes using live bait down deep on the rock piles. There is no need to run offshore to catch your dinner; we have all we need in Tampa Bay. This may be the thinking of many, as the shipping channels have been very crowded every time my friends and I have been out.

When choosing bait, pinfish, grunts and scaled sardines all work, but the pinfish is king in my book; big ones. With a livewell as full as possible, again, I head for the shipping lanes all over the bay and use the depth finder to look for good structure; depressions, and nice rock piles, while also looking for bait in small to medium sized concentrations (you don’t want to have to compete with too much bait) with larger fish mixed in. If one can find all of these in one shot, a grouper dinner just may on your table soon.

Using stout rods and six series reels, fifty pound braid, fifty pound leader and a 4/0 to 5/0 sized circle hook, the grouper have been brought up from the bottom, when the above pieces to the puzzle can all come together. This year after only being out a couple of times, I have to say the reports are true. The grouper fishing is on fire.

On the last trip out, after waking at five in the morning (sucked!), my buddies Todd, Bill and I were at the Skyway Bridge around six thirty catching bait, then running right to our favorite channel. In less than two hours we had three fish over twenty five inches in the cooler, and had been broken off convincingly by four more. With that came the usual array of grouper just under slot and your juveniles as well.

The best part of the day was when I had found out that Bill had never fished before-ever. He had never told me this. Not just fishing in Florida, never salt or freshwater. Getting that first hit from a nice grouper almost pulled him off the boat (literally), as he didn’t know what to expect. After bringing the fish to the boat the look on his face was priceless.

Another friend Joe had been out in 35 feet of water very recently over a very small rocky depression nearshore in the Gulf waters, not more than five miles out. He had a stellar day limiting out with three people on the boat using dead sardines.

Fishing before the fronts will be getting much tougher soon. Go out and get them; if you are lucky enough to head out with some decent bait, fairly nice conditions and a decent location, that should make for a good day. At the very least, getting yelled at by an angry spouse is less likely if there is fresh grouper on the table.

Comins soon I will have my review up for the Strike Tech Live Action Spool reel and a Fall redfish report.