July gave boaters an opportunity to cool off by snorkeling our clear Gulf waters and put some tasty scallops in their coolers. Scallop season has been very productive and I expect the numbers and size of the scallops to increase as we move through the season. Grouper season also opened the July 1st and anglers are catching good numbers of quality grouper throughout the entire region.
Thirty to 50 feet of water is holding both red and gag grouper near rocky structure. Live pin fish and frozen thread fin on a traditional bottom rig is the preferred rig. Conventional tackle works best when setting up over top of structure. Fifty- to 60-pound monofilament line with a 60- to 80-pound leader is usually enough to pull these hard fighters from the rocks. Use a 2- to 4-ounce weight to get your offering down and the required 5/0-7/0 circle hook to prevent gut hooking undersized fish.
As a inshore guide, my trips stay within 9 miles (state waters). These warm waters have many shallow water rock piles that will hold quality gag grouper. Fishing these rock piles in 8-14 feet of water requires different tactics. Anchor 50-70 feet up current and use heavy spinning tackle to cast your baits to the structure.
I like to free line my pin fish, white bait, or frozen thread fin to the rocks. Add a 2-ounce weight to get the bait down if the current is too strong. Chum the area between you and the rocks to bring the fish out, but be ready for a hard fight when one of these bruisers doubles your rod over and makes a run back to cover. Fifty-pound braided line on a 50 series reel tied to a 60-pound leader is my preferred set up.
Good luck out there and tight lines!
Capt. Keith Tomlinson runs Bulldog Fishin Charters out of Hernando Beach. Contact him at www.bulldogfishin.com or (352)238-3581.