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Date of Issue: December 26, 2007

Grouper great out in the Gulf; reds inshore

Fishing pic
The Flying Fish Fleet crew of Capt. John Labash, Capt. Brian Alcorn and Mate Jamie Keebler - "the elf" - brought in a limit catch of grouper and snapper while fishing 35 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico off Anna Maria Island.

Although a cold front was expected to blow through the region during the weekend, fishing last week was more of a fall-summer style. Whitebait was everywhere from off the beaches to nearly all over Tampa Bay, with only a cast or two of a net to produce enough bait for a day.

Offshore action for grouper in the Gulf of Mexico is extraordinary. Lots of gags and a few reds are being caught about 12 miles out from shore, plus reds and some snapper. Kingfish are also out there and hungry.

Look for lots of redfish in the backwaters, catch-and-release snook and trout, plus flounder, tons of mackerel and the beginning of the sheepshead season.

Capt. Sam Kimball out of Annie's Bait & Tackle on Cortez Road said grouper fishing out in the Gulf couldn't be any better. He's mostly catching gags about 12 miles from shore, he said, as well as mackerel, bonita and some kingfish. The kings are hanging around so long because apparently they like the relatively warm water temps in the Gulf, but the weekend's cold front will probably drive them away. Capt. Mark Johnson, also out of Annie's, said his inshore fishing for catch-and-release snook is good, but filling the coolers for his charters are redfish, sheepshead and mackerel.

Capt. Mark Howard on Sumotime Charters said that with the unusually warm weather, he's finding plenty of whitebait available off the beaches. "Just look for the diving birds, pelicans and terns, and the bait will be under them," he advised. "Throw the net a couple of times and you will have all the bait you need." He's finding that mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish, trout and small sharks in about 4 feet of water over seagrass flats in the bay. "Anchor up and chum up with shiners and you should have all the action you want," he said. He added that one customer pulled in fish for three hours "until his wrists got sore." All fish were released. Other action from Capt. Mark includes sheepshead.

Bill Lowman at Island Discount Tackle at Catchers Marina in Holmes Beach said grouper and snapper action is excellent offshore now, with limit catches coming in on every trip. Inshore action is macks and reds. Trout are hard to find, but since the season is still closed, it doesn't make a lot of difference. The trout season opens Jan. 1, by the way.

Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel Pier said mackerel are the main catch for pier fishers, but there are also catches of small flounder, whiting, sheepshead and bonita. He also a lot of bait working around the pier and throughout Tampa Bay and on the seagrass flats. 

Jesus Rosario at the Anna Maria City Pier said mackerel are best bet for anglers there, plus bonita and sheepshead.

Dave Johnson at Snead Island Crab House said there are good reports of black drum coming from the Manatee River, and he's seeing a lot of mangrove snapper around the docks at the crab house. There are also a lot of mackerel and mangrove snapper around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, he added.

At Tropic Isles Marina, reports include good-sized redfish and sheepshead.

Capt. Zach Zacharias out of Parrot Cove Marina in Cortez said he went out "with the express purpose of targeting flounder and was pleasantly surprised. Decided to forego live bait and opted for CalJigs with a root beer shad tail with a chartreuse tail. Killer! Actually boated dozens of flounder on a low incoming tide in Palma Sola Bay and Anna Maria Sound just before the big cold front." He said he worked the lures in the current very slowly, allowing the jig to rest on the bottom briefly, and "the flatties would nail it on the jump-up. A bycatch of some really nice speckled trout, numerous ladyfish, redfish and whiting." He said that most of the flounder were small, but several were in the 15- to 16-inch.

On my boat Magic, we've been catching our limit of redfish, almost all within the slot limit. We've probably caught 2,000 redfish this year and, with the exception of a few 30-inch fish, all have been within the 23- to 25-inch range, making them 3 years old - the spawn of fish that survived the red tide in 2004. We're also catching mangrove snapper to 18 inches.

Good luck and good Fishing.

Capt. Mike Heistand is a 20-year-plus fishing guide. Call him at 723-1107 to provide a fishing report. Prints and digital images of your catch are also welcome and may be dropped off at The Islander, 5404 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, or e-mailed to news@islander.org. Please include identification for persons in the picture along with information on the catch and a name and phone number for more information. Snapshots may be retrieved once they appear in the paper.

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