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Date of Issue: December 24, 2008

Gags still great catch offshore, snapper, reds in bays

Fishing pic
Big grin for a great gag grouper
Leslie Wallace from Indiana, Pa., caught this big gag grouper on a pinfish in about 80 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico while fishing with Capt. Larry McGuire. She and her family also caught amberjack and snapper.

Gag grouper action offshore in the Gulf of Mexico continues to be exemplary. The best fishing is moving close to Anna Maria Island — within 15 miles from shore — and big fish are being boated by most charter fishers on almost all trips.

Pompano catches are spotty in the passes and off the seagrass beds near the inlets, particularly Longboat Pass.

Redfish are probably the best bet in the backwaters, followed by some big flounder on the sandy potholes in the grass meadows.

Sheepshead also are scattered near any structure in the bays and Gulf, with fiddler crabs working well as bait.

Capt. Sam Kimball out of Annie’s Bait & Tackle on Cortez Road said his offshore trips are producing unbelievable catches of gag grouper. Anywhere from 10 to 20 miles out in the Gulf is the catch range, with fish coming in up to 15 pounds.

Capt. Mark Johnston of Annie’s said his inshore catches are producing limit catches of mangrove snapper to 17 inches in length, with best results coming from the Longboat Pass area. He’s also putting his charters onto black drum, “but it’s snapper, snapper and snapper right now.”

Danny Stasny at Island Discount Tackle at Catchers Marina in Holmes Beach said redfish have been a good catch in the bays in the past week, with Sarasota Bay seeing lots of schooling spotties. A few pompano are being caught on the seagrass flats, he said, plus some catch-and-release trout. Flounder are coming off the sandy potholes in the flats as well. Offshore, gag grouper action is very good right now, with the big fish moving to within 15 miles of Anna Maria Island. There also are a few fishers targeting gags by trolling plugs near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa Bay. Weather has been good, Danny said, and fishing is pretty good.

At the Rod & Reel Pier, reports are pretty much isolated to some sheepshead coming to the dock.

Jesus Rosario at the Anna Maria City Pier said catch-and-release snook are a popular target for pier anglers, especially in the mornings. A few redfish also are being caught, plus sheepshead to 16 inches as well as lots of little striped fish. Mullet also are running thick past the pier, Jesus said.

Norm Moore at Corky’s Live Bait & Tackle on Cortez Road said pompano are being caught off the seagrass beds near Longboat Pass, and whiting are coming to the hook off the beaches. Sheepshead are also responding well to fiddler crabs as bait near any structures or docks in the bays, he added.

Dave Johnson at Snead Island Crab House said fishing action has been slow of late, with a few mangrove snapper snapping up the bait near the Skyway.

Capt. Zach Zacharias on the Dee-Jay II out of Parrot Cove Marina saidthat after two months of near-winter-like weather, it’s become more Florida-like, with sunny days, light winds and air temps in the mid 80s. His trips put his clients onto redfish, sheepshead, black drum, grouper, mangrove snapper and a handful of flounder, fishing near docks, seawalls and similar high structure areas using shrimp and fresh cut bait. “The deep grassy areas of Sarasota Bay, Palma Sola Bay and Anna Maria Sound gave up bluefish, spotted sea trout, pompano and ladyfish,” he said.

Capt. Mark Howard on Sumo Time Fishing Charters said he’s been catching redfish, flounder, ladyfish and large catch-and-release trout on Cottee jigs while working the lower tides on seagrass flats in the bays. He’s also seeing and catching more sheepshead, and has found grouper have moved to nearshore rocks and reefs. Capt. Mark’s tip for grouper is to chum the fish with dead bait, then switch to live bait to “get the big ones to chew.” He’s also catching nice-sized mangrove snapper.

Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me The Fish Charters said, “’Tis the season to catch gag grouper. We are catching limit catches of gag and red grouper up to 20 pounds, lots of varieties of snapper, monster amberjack, cobia, sharks and a few kingfish.” He’s finding that live pinfish work the best as bait. He also plans to begin targeting more cobia, kingfish and blackfin tuna in the weeks ahead as long as the weather cooperates.

Good luck and good fishing.

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