Good Catch: Grouper action better in deepest near shore waters

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Every Friday morning, Captain Dylan Hubbard of Hubbard's Marina joins Good Day to fill viewers in on his fishing forecast as we head into the weekend. Here is his fishing report for September 27, 2019.


The big news this week is there are clearer waters and plentiful bait fish. We have had some huge flood tides bringing lots of nearly crystal clear waters into our passes and mouths of our bays. Plus, along with that clearer water, we have been seeing huge numbers of live bait, like glass minnows, greenbacks, and even some threadfins closer to the gulf.

These large areas of live bait have some very actively feeding predators following them around and hanging out below the schools. We are seeing lots of snook, redfish, whiting, mangrove snapper, and even a few tarpon, pompano and some sheepshead. Plus, the jack crevalle schools occasionally erupt in feeding chaos around these big schools of bait too. 

The mackerel seem to have pushed out a bit this past week, and we haven't seen the numbers around John's Pass lately but the Skyway area still has plenty and some of our local piers like pier 60, gulf pier, and pass a grill still has mackerel action. 

The snook this week have been active, but they are a little earlier in the morning than they have been due to the change in the tides. Within the last few weeks, we have had an outgoing tide just before sunrise and the bite was hot up until sunrise. This week, the tide has shifted and it's nearly slack around sunrise so the bite is best a few hours prior to sunrise lately.

The majority of what we have seen caught locally were the more schoolie-sized snook in the 20 to 35-inch range, but I did see one monster caught inside John's Pass on a dead ladyfish soaking on the bottom around the docks. The big girl snook are super opportunistic, lazier feeders right now since the water is still very warm. They love taking a nice chunk of ladyfish, mullet or even big pinfish cut on the bottom.

Brian Harris, our bait manager, caught a few snook, that were at least 40 feet long, this week around the area using this ladyfish cut on the bottom method in a few local passes like Pass-a-Grille, Blinds Pass and John's Pass, alike. Keep in mind, however, that those larger baits soaking on the bottom bring a little less action but when you get hit it's going to be a larger fish -- perhaps even a tarpon or shark, occasionally, when fishing large baits in this manner.

If you're looking for more action, using live shrimp or greenbacks around the grass flats, passes, or docks where the water is moving, is a great idea. There are still snook on the beaches too and this clearer local water thanks to the lack of rain and nice weather makes it really easy to sight fish with larger live shrimp or lures. On the beach, you want to use light stealthy tackle like a 4 to 5-foot piece of 15 to 20-pound floro and a 2ot circle hook without any weight to give the most natural presentation possible. 

The redfish are really schooled up lately around the mouth of Tampa Bay and along the beaches and,  sometimes, can be found cruising through the passes. They are geared up for their spawns near shore and, when you come across a big school, they are ready to eat as long as you don't spook them by chasing the school, or using your motor too close.

The easiest way to spook the school is by shifting gears on your outboard engine, that knock of the lower unit is incredibly loud underwater. I like to gauge the wind, current and conditions and ‘coast' into an area going slow in forward then just shut off the motor in gear when you want to slow down. Using a trolling motor or a push pole is the best idea when moving around the shallower waters trying to present baits to one of these great fishing opportunities.

Live pinfish are still a great option for these hungry redfish, but live shrimp or greenbacks will work as well. Around the passes, we are seeing them around the docks and lights of the bridges around the bottom. They seemed to be mixed in below the hungry and active snook too making it a great time to target the fish before sunrise in the passes.

The whiting action around the beaches, and even just inside the passes, have been great this week. They are easy to catch, and pretty good eating fish fun for the whole family. You can use nearly any type of tackle set up to get them on shrimp. The trick with the whiting is a live shrimp or piece of shrimp on a 2ot hook, but you want to make sure you have it weighted to the bottom. Around a 0.5 ounce lead just past the breakers will get you in the whiting hot zone with around 15-pound leader.

If you aren't comfortable tying a line to line knot you can even use a swivel with an egg sinker on top, but if you do the line to line knot put the egg sinker above the leader to keep it away from your bait. These fish will come take the bait and make it fun for the whole family while out on the beach. Plus, while out there, there's a chance for some ladyfish or even perhaps a redfish or snook, if you are lucky.

Mangrove snapper still swarming around the bridges, jetties, docks and mitigation sites around the mouth of the bay. While the water is warm these aggressive snapper feed well even in the shallower inshore waters. Once the waters cool off, the mangrove snapper action definitely dies down quite a bit. Get out and go get some while the getting is good. Small pieces of shrimp or cut green back and light tackle make it easy and fun to target these guys at the start or end of the tide around the structures inshore. 

The sheepshead are starting to get more and more prolific around our inshore docks, jetties and seawalls and as the water cools down and the cold fronts start, the sheepshead action will really get hot. These guys are tons of fun to catch, very hard to fillet, but they are so good to eat. Like the mangrove snapper, small pieces of shrimp are a great bait for these guys right up against dock pilings or jetties or even bridges around the area with minimal weight just to keep your bait tight to the structure. Cut oysters or clams also make killer sheepshead bait, but many of the pros will use fiddler crabs or even barnacles for sheepshead bait. 

Near shore
We had some great near shore action again this week with plenty of mackerel, a few kingfish on the surface and even a few nice mahi mahi, plus, on the bottom, some nice lane snapper, a few mangrove snapper, yellowtail and hogfish.

We always have tons of the grey snapper or white grunts and porgies too. The black seabass have been cooperating here and there for us along with a handful of red grouper near shore too. The best action for the lane snapper and other snapper species seems to be around 60 and 100 feet of water. The hogfish action is best around 30 and 70 feet of water on live shrimp.

Mackerel seem to be just off the beaches up to around 10 and 12 miles from shore. Kingfish are just starting to show up but we're finding a few here and there from around 25 and 30 feet all the way throughout the near shore waters -- and offshore they are even more prolific.

Mahi mahi are strange to be seeing near shore inside of 80 and 100 feet of water this late in the year, but the water is still very warm which allowed us a few mahi this past week on our 5 and 10 hour trips and the private charters too.

During the half day fishing trip yesterday, we caught one of the largest mahi mahi we have seen caught on a 5-hour, half day in a few decades. It was traveling with another nice-sized mahi but the second one wouldn't feed for us. Surprisingly, this nearly 38-inch mahi hit a threadfin on a stinger rig that we were soaking for kingfish or mackerel. For a mahi to hit wire is super strange, not only was it super late in the year for this fish, but this was awfully shallow around 4oft, and then to top it off, it hit a wire leader meant for kingfish. Great example of never knowing what you may catch while deep sea fishing, and also why it pays to have a flat line rod out while bottom fishing this time of year. 

It's a great time of year to go trolling around near shore with some number one or two planners and some 4 to 6 inch spoons around 12 to 18 feet behind the planners with around 60lb mono between them. Along with the planners, I typically add a Rapala X-Rap or two in the spread along with one or two shotgun lures straight out the back further back off the stern with some feathered skirts or bubble jet skirts.

When trolling for kingfish and mackerel you want to shoot for around 5 to 9kts, and I find around seven knots is a great speed to start with. Watch your speed and if you aren't hooking up, try speeding up a little or slowing down a little bit until you get that hit you need and then keep that same speed to catch more. 

Also, you want to stagger the lines behind the boat to ensure when you make a slow turn, you don't get the trolling lines tangled up. The idea here is to create a ‘spread' to mimic a bait school following your boat. When the fish hear the motor and see the prop wash they then see the spread of lures, and they think it's a school of bait following the boat, and they can't help but come up and attack the trolling lures.

The offshore bite was a little tough this week for grouper. They seem to be biting a little better in the deepest near shore waters compared to the offshore waters. Around 80 to 120 feet seems to be a great area for some red grouper action and a few gags.

However, our 12-hour extreme trip did pretty well this past Wednesday landing some 30-pound gags and a few smaller gags. Plus, a few red grouper too, and plenty of big vermillion snapper and a handful of mangrove snapper.

All this action was around 150 to 190 foot of water, and they found some active pelagic top water action with the plentiful bait action offshore. The blackfin tuna cooperated for us on a few offshore private fishing charters this week, but there's been lots of big kingfish around too, but they haven't been as willing to hit our flat line baits.

The 39-hour trips catches those kingfish trolling often, but we haven't had one of those in a while due to one of our boats being up in dry dock. Amberjack have been tough as of late, but were still hunting them on all our offshore trips.

Our biggest problem as of late are the plentiful and aggressive sharks. After working hard all day preparing for a jack bite with big baits and big vertical jigs, when we finally find them ready to eat, a big shark will grab one of our fish and then the bite shuts down, and they don't want to eat any more bait or lures.

As the water cools the sharks will become less prolific and aggressive and the amberjack will become more prolific and aggressive. We're hoping for a good push of jack action before their season closes at the end of October.

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