With winds blowing every weekend, sometimes you just have to make sacrifices to get out during the weekdays.
Last weekend’s trip with my brother, Rob, and his friends was canceled, but the guys were still anxious to get out. I made promises of hungry gag grouper, and lots of them, only fueling the guys’ anxiousness more. They were going to do whatever it took to get out.
So we looked ahead, and saw another cold front coming through Thursday night, leaving a window of opportunity to get out Wednesday.
Wednesday morning arrived, and Rob made a three-hour drive from Lake City. He had two people with him, Jon and Ralph, who each called in sick to work. There is no better cure for those one-day bugs than fishing. This trip had been postponed multiple times, and these guys were stoked.
We launched from the Bradenton Yacht Club around 8 a.m. Our boat of six anglers cleared the Manatee River shortly after. On a side note, I still can’t get used to not seeing the 4-prong range marker on my way out of the river.
After a rather unsuccessful stop for bait at Key Royale, we quickly headed out to Egmont, where pinfish were thick and big, willing to eat our squid-tipped sabiki rigs. With four dozen in the well, we ran west.
Our first stop was going to be 65 feet, a rock pile where we limited out on gag grouper last New Year’s Eve. The depth finder confirmed the rocks, and we anchored on top of them.
Within two minutes, Ralph dropped a large Spanish sardine to the bottom and was agonizing as he struggled to crank up a grouper. With our sarcastic encouragement cheering him on, he won the battle. A 32-inch gag grouper hit the deck. High fives went around, except from Jon, as he was also hooked up.
It was fast and furious. With each frozen Spanish sardine dropped, a grouper was flying over the gunnels. A few small red grouper broke up the sight of larger gags. After 15 minutes, we all switched to large pinfish for bait.
My dad played mate and stayed extremely busy unhooking fish. We had let multiple keeper-sized gags go and were keeping only 28-inch or bigger fish.
When we hit our limit of gags, we decided to move on, leaving a hot bite to search for red grouper.
After a short one-mile run, we ran into much of the same, large, hungry gags. We couldn’t keep them off of our lines and sadly were releasing beautiful gag grouper.
To search for something different, we headed to a wreck in 55 feet. To my surprise, it was loaded with large amberjack, which attacked the few large pinfish we had left.
Amberjack will head a bit shallower as the water cools, so save a few big baits for that reason.
I think it’s a serious shame that this short gag grouper season is coming to an end after Tuesday. I’ve never seen this many gag grouper, and they are everywhere. All reports I’ve seen from anglers share the same observations: tons of gag grouper on rock piles and ledges offshore. We didn’t keep any fish under 28-inches and left them feeding at two spots.
There is finally a window of opportunity with the weather to head offshore and catch gag grouper. Do whatever you have to in order to get offshore today, Monday or Tuesday. If you’re working, call in sick or take the day off -- it’s going to be a while before you can legally keep gag grouper again.
If you do head out, start shallow and work your way deeper; there are plenty of legal fish to be caught without making a long run.