It's been super hot for fishing lately, and the fishing is just as hot. Now that a gag grouper harvest is allowed, the southern shores of Tampa Bay are the place to be.
For many of us, fishing is a great way to have fun, and it's an opportunity to put some great eats into the cooler. Gags can be quite large, yet they eat well at almost any size you'll find locally. For me this is what it's all about.
It's best to fish early, beat the heat and avoid the afternoon storms. If you're fishing live or dead bait, moving tides really help. Anchor up-tide of structure that you know holds gags. Along the ship channel edges that can be mean most any place.
Start getting those grouper interested by using dead baits like sardines and even squid. Some decent chumming will get them going, and those dead baits may be all you really need.
You did bring pinfish, right? After fish seem interested, sink live pinfish to the bottom and get ready to hang on.
Sure you can use live threadfins and white bait. I just think they move around quite a bit for warm water gags to really get interested in the chase. Pinfish just seem to work best for me.
You must use circle hooks when using live bait for gag grouper. It's a reef fish and current regulations require their use.
That means when the line moves you do NOT strike back. Slowly reel up any slack and just keep reeling. That circle hook is designed to kind of roll over and hook up on the lip of your fish.
If you set the hook, a circle hook will not roll over and do its job but just come right out of the fish's mouth.
Win that battle at the start. The first move of a hooked gag is to head back down to structure and hide. If you let them get down, they will saw off your leader on the structure and you lose.
Tight drags and stout rods work. Pull, pull, pull and don't let up until you're sure that your fish is in the water column. After that you can relax, enjoy the battle and prepare for your table reward to come aboard.
If the tide isn't moving well, I like to troll with large jigs or drift and bounce them off structure. That can provoke a reflex attack, even if fish are not actively feeding in a moving tide.
The best time to fish is when you can get out. So get out there and .
Catch 'em up!
Larry Malinoski, aka the FishHawk, is one of three Ruskin-based fishing guides and charter captains who share this column. He can be reached at (813) 469-7251 or firstname.lastname@example.org.