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Date of Issue: December 31, 2008

Gag grouper catch still great in Gulf

Fishing pic
That's a big amberjack!
Larry Bethke of Bradenton caught this nice-sized amberjack while fishing with Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me The Fish Charters. The fish was caught in about 165 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico on a live pinfish.

The “catch-and-release” prefix to seatrout can be lifted later this week, as trout season reopens Jan. 1.

Spotted seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus) have dark gray or green backs and numerous black spots on the back and tail. They grow to about 4 pounds locally, and are found inshore near seagrass beds. There is a 15- to 20-inch slot limit on spotted seatrout, with a four-fish daily limit, but you may possess one more than 20 inches.

Offshore fishing action continues to be terrific for grouper. Gags, especially, are thick in the Gulf of Mexico and near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa Bay. Good gag action is within 15 miles of shore. There are also some good reports of snapper and a few amberjack being caught in the Gulf.

Backwater fishing for sheepshead, redfish and a few catch-and-release snook is also good.

Capt. Sam Kimball out of Annie’s Bait & Tackle on Cortez Road said he’s putting his charters onto grouper, snapper and kingfish, but “we’re slaying the gags” in the Gulf, he said.

At Island Discount Tackle at Catchers Marina in Holmes Beach, reports include some snapper and gag grouper catches coming from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge area of Tampa Bay. There are also some good-sized redfish and catch-and-release trout being caught from the seagrass flats in the bays, with a general assessment that fishing is pretty good, even with some blustery days.

At the Rod & Reel Pier, reports include fair catches of sheepshead and small grouper, but fishing is a tad slow at the pier of late.

Rocky at the Anna Maria City Pier said fishing isn’t too bad there, with nice catches of bonita and flounder coming to the dock, as well as some big sheepshead and bonnethead sharks.

Capt. Zach Zacharias of the Dee Jay II out of Parrot Cove Marina in Cortez said he’s putting his charters onto mangrove snapper, bluefish, pompano, ladyfish, redfish to 25 inches in length and sheepshead to 3 pounds. He’s been fishing out of Anna Maria Sound, Palma Sola Bay and northern Sarasota Bay.

Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me The Fish Charters said his customers have been bringing in limit catches of gag grouper to 22 pounds, with excellent results in 60 feet of water or deeper in the Gulf. Live pinfish are the bait of choice. He’s also catching limit catches of large red grouper and amberjack to 60 pounds, plus yellowtail snapper, mangrove snapper, porgies, tile fish and barracuda to 5 feet in length. Capt. Larry also got the “weird catch of the week” honor for several African pompano, a rare species this part of the Gulf. He added that he took Larry Bethke of Bradenton and Kelly Quin of Anna Maria Island out on a Christmas party Dec. 20, and while he was fighting an African pompano, a 9-foot mako shark hit the fish under the boat. “It was approximately 200 pounds of serious shark, and it got hooked in the corner of the mouth with 30-pound-test monofilament leader and 25-pound-test line,” he said. “An hour and a half later, I was still fighting this beast, and everyone else stopped their fishing to help maneuver the boat around. The mako gave us two spectacular jumps, and pulled the boat for a mile. I started putting more pressure on him to either get him closer to the boat for a photo or break him off, so everyone else could get back to their holiday fishing. Finally, he broke off, unfortunately before we got a photo; it was still exciting sport's fishing entertainment!”

Good luck and good fishing.

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