Last year at this time we were successfully targeting Spanish mackerel, kingfish, bonita and barracuda, and on longer trips venturing further offshore to bottomfish. This year because of the water temperature hovering around the 65 degree mark, the trolling option is pretty much off the table except for those who like to catch, photo and release bonita which are a great light tackle sportfish. On the few days that the weather has allowed us to venture offshore into the gulf, we have been running to the 60 foot depths to start and have not found it necessary to go deeper than 80 feet to return with a mixed bag of gag and red grouper, white grunts, Lane and mangrove snapper, along with an occasional hogfish.
Our pinfish traps have been non productive since the Red Tide, which is no longer present, and we have resorted to frozen Spanish sardines and squid along with bait caught on site by sabiki rigs. The use of a sabiki with the bottom 2 hooks tipped with a piece of squid tentacle usually results in a variety of live baits. Small sand perch (squirrelfish) and hardtails can be used whole, with the hook placed above the anal fin to keep the bait actively trying to get away from the pull of the sinker. Larger sand perch may work best when “butterflied” by starting at the head, cutting down each side and removing the backbone. This process makes the bait appear wounded and also provides more scent in the water to entice a grouper strike
Beautifully colored and equally as tasty Lane snapper have become a target of choice when in the 70 foot plus depths. Downsizing to 15 to 20 pound test spinning or conventional tackle with a 2/0 double hook snapper rig baited with squid or small pieces of sardine is the key to success, Instead of putting our kingfish tackle up until next season, we are using it to target the snapper.