Water temperatures have reached 70 degrees offshore, causing confusion for fish and fishermen alike. Before the recent cold front, we were catching many undersize kingfish (24-inch minimum fork length), with a few keepers mixed in. Now most of the fish are keepers between 24 and 31 inches. We are targeting the area from the South County artificial reef south to the shipping channel using Nos. 1 and 2 planers with medium and large gold or blue spoons. During normal trolling season, which typically begins in mid to late March, we like to start with planers and hardware to determine if kingfish, mackerel and bonita are in our targeted area. We then switch to live baits caught on site to match what the fish are feeding on to provide a more sporting way to catch them. This method should be working now, but it has not. Spoons and plugs trolled at 5.5 to 6 knots produce many fish. It has been frustrating to catch numerous live baits and find the fish unwilling to strike them. Grouper fishing still remains spotty in 60- to 90-foot depths, but there are many species to fill the gap. Mangrove, lane and vermilion snapper, along with white grunts, provide nonstop action and great table fare for those switching to light tackle. A two-hook snapper rig with 1/0 or 2/0 hooks with squid or pieces of sardine work best. Triggerfish and red snapper, both closed to harvest, have been providing exciting catch-and-release action on the light tackle. Red snapper are voracious feeders and often swallow the hook. If the hook cannot be easily removed, cut the leader as close as possible to the hook and release the fish, giving it a chance to reject the hook. Giving that fish a chance to survive is worth much more than a 25-cent hook.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.