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Date of Issue: December 17, 2008

Gag grouper bite great offshore, in Tampa Bay

Fishing pic
Good offshore catch
Rob Long, left, Joe Long and Amelia Stone are pictured with a portion of their catch of gag grouper, snapper and a big kingfish, all caught in 50 feet of water offshore of Anna Maria Island in the Gulf of Mexico. The group was here “on holiday” from Liverpool, England, and went fishing with Capt. Larry McGuire.

Fishers have always been keen weather watchers, and last week proved a good example of when to fish and when to wait it out at the dock.

Early in the week saw warm temperatures, moderate winds and great fishing. Later in the week, the cold fronts brought rain, high winds, slowing the action.

On good days in an early winter chill, though, offshore fishing is generally regarded as phenomenal for grouper. The big, tasty fish are moving closer to shore as water temps dip, and they seem hungry. Limit catches are reported by most of the offshore captains.

Redfish and flounder are a good bet in the bays, plus a few skittish catch-and-release snook and equally shy catch-and-release trout. Snook season closed on Dec. 15 until Jan. 31, and trout remain closed through December. But sheepshead are also getting big.

Capt. Mark Johnston out of Annie’s Bait & Tackle on Cortez Road said he went offshore with Capt. Sam Kimball and found grouper fishing to be fantastic. “It’s just ridiculous,” he said. “We’re getting limit catches on every trip.” The pair are fishing in 50 to 80 feet of water in the Gulf, with the action coming wherever there is a hard bottom or ledge. Clear water is also important for a good catch, Capt. Mark added. Other catches include lots of mangrove snapper and gag grouper to 20 pounds, caught with live pinfish. In the backwater, they’ve been fishing in Palma Sola Bay, Anna Maria Sound and near Longboat Key for redfish and black drum. Best action is coming from near deepwater docks. They’re also reeling up some nice-sized flounder.

Danny Stasny at Island Discount Tackle at Catchers Marina in Holmes Beach said water and weather has been rough for fishers, but there are still redfish and sheepshead to be caught, plus ladyfish on the seagrass flats in the bays. Snook are in a transitional period en route to their winter homes and don’t seem to be biting, he added.

At the Rod & Reel Pier, reports include sheepshead and mackerel, but the cold weather has kept most people away from the dock.

Rocky at the Anna Maria City Pier said the cold has kept most fishers off the long dock, but those who did dip a line last week caught flounder, sheepshead and some small bonnethead sharks.

Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me The Fish Charters said that “this is probably the best time to catch gag grouper. As our water temperature drops, grouper move closer in for the winter and they bunch up on the rock piles, ledges and hard bottom areas and they have a ferocious appetite.” He is also putting his charters onto limit catches of red grouper, mangrove snapper, amberjack, sharks, triggerfish, porgys and even a few kingfish and Spanish mackerel. He’s finding the best action in less than 65 feet of water, with live and cut bait both working great.

Good luck and good fishing.

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