It’s enough to make you gag. Assuming “you” are someone who loves gag grouper, that is. We’re three days into the recent regulation changes that, most notably, reduced the daily amount of gag grouper an angler can take from five to one, with a five aggregate limit for all grouper species. The minimum size limit for gags remains 22 inches in total length.
In addition, the gag grouper open harvest season is during their spawning season of Feb. 1 through March 1.
Offshore anglers have pointed out over the past year that grouper numbers are thriving, but their arguments did not change the minds of state and federal fishery managers.
The bag limit on red grouper has doubled, however, to two. The minimum size limit remains 20.
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Although there remains a daily bag limit of five grouper, the majority of grouper kept are either reds or gag, so in essence, the daily bag limit has been reduced to three.
OK, so the grouper numbers have been reduced. You can still find grouper, large and small, from 15 feet of depth to some of the deepest depth of the Gulf.
On Saturday morning, Capt. Ray Markham of Backwater Promotions saw an estimated 30 boats trolling along the edge of the shipping channel, most likely for grouper. In the lower portion of Tampa Bay, there are many small rock piles to target. The Skyway fishing piers also are places to go for non-boaters to attempt to catch a grouper. For someone unfamiliar with fishing the piers, you may benefit by asking a bait attendant about a rig setup and possibly a general spot to release the bait.
The passes lately have been loaded with juvenile gag grouper, although that may not be an indication of the number of those that will grow into adulthood.
There had been cold temperatures that drew grouper closer to shore. It had been an “early” winter, which now has become a warm winter.
For anglers in general, it’s been a day-to-day ordeal. One day, Spanish mackerel were gone. Now they’re back off the beaches gorging on an influx of bait. Redfish have been hit and miss, while trout are the most reliable catch.
It’s open season for spotted seatrout, which have dominated grass flats in 2 feet to 10 feet of water depth.
And what ever happened to snook? They’re around. They’re just not biting often. The only times some anglers target linesiders is when they’re done catching trout and redfish.
Don’t forget about freshwater. At Lake Manatee, anglers have for a month or so been drifting minnows for big catches of speckled perch. And we’re not even yet at the height of what you might call “speckled perch season.” The specks will soon be bedding. Bass, meanwhile, already are bedding.
So there are numerous options this time of year.
“People call me at this time,” Markham said, “and they want to know what’s biting at this time of the year. I say, ‘Well, you’ll have to talk to me the day before because it all depends on the weather.’ ”