bigsnapperaAs fall approaches, water temperatures begin to cool, however Tampa fishing on the near shore reefs can be red hot. The real beauty of this fishing is that most of it is within five miles of the Major Hotels on Clearwater Beach, so lines are in the water a half hour after leaving the dock. Mangrove snapper are the targeted species at this time of year due to both their abundance and their excellent food value.  It is not uncommon to start chumming over one of these reefs and have 50 snapper rise up behind your boat ready to eat. The typical size of these fish is one to four pounds but they put up an excellent fight on light tackle and, with a five fish limit per person, go a long way towards putting a good meal on the table for the whole family.  Unweighted pieces of cut bait, identical to those being chummed, are dropped back into the chum slick on light spinning gear to trick these snapper into biting.  Constant chumming keeps these fish in an eating mood and also continues to ring the dinner bell for numerous other species in the area.  Usually, within thirty minutes, other species such as Spanish mackerel, bonita and even an occasional kingfish or barracuda make an appearance.  Also, during fall, gag grouper will push inshore, offering the near shore angler a shot a tasty grouper dinner.  Potentially attracted to the same chum slick as the snapper, these grouper are best targeted by dropping down a medium sized pinfish on a boat rod with 40 lbs test.  Berkley "Big Game Monofilament Line is a good choice. If one's in the neighborhood, the bait is usually eaten in short order.  The angler must respond quickly to any bite as grouper, once hooked, will immediately turn and head for the closest rock pile,oftentimes ending the fight in short order.

Once the snapper have responded to the chum, heavier spinning rods, such as a Daiwa Coastal CLCC701HFS, are rigged up with bigger live baits. These are dropped well back into the chum slick where larger predators may be lurking.  big kingfish1With everyone intently focused on catching their limit of snapper, they are startled by a screaming drag.  One look up into the overhead rod rack reveals a rod doubled over as a mystery fish makes it's first run. It is more than likely a three to five pound Spanish mackerel.  If line continues to leave the reel however, it's a kingfish or bonita...both capable of taking the majority of the line off the reel on their first  run.  It's importnat to tie a quality line to line knot as kingfish commonly get well into the backing on spinning reels. Kingfish can easily exceed twenty pounds and a fish of this size may take 15 to 20 minutes to land on the medium to heavy spinning gear used.  Oftentimes, a kingfish will race away from the boat only to turn around 180 degrees and charge right back at it.  As the dismayed angler reels in what he feels is an empty line, the kingfish speeds by the boat, the angler's line tightens again, sadness turns to excitement and the fight is back on. This is only one of the many reasons why the three most commonly used words by a Tampa fishing guide are "Reel Reel' Reel". Kingfish are average table fare at best.  Spanish mackerel are generally a little better tasting...not only to humans, but to barracuda as well.  Mackerel is an absolute favorite food of barracuda.  If, while fighting a Spanish mackerel, it starts to jump, get ready for some fireworks.  Mackerel rarely jump unless being pursued.  Usually by the second or third jump, the speedy barracuda has done his work, leaving the forward, bloody half of the mackerel on the hook.  With a little luck, predator can become prey however.  If the cuda can be coaxed into eating the other half, the angler may be in for a larger fight than he started with.

big grouper1On some Tampa fishing charters, there is enough activity with the larger predators...mackerel, kingfih and bonita...where the majority of anglers want to start fishing exclusively for these fish.  There is typically at least one angler, however, who likes the rapid pace of snapper fishing and is content to keep snapper fishing.  That's when it happens. At first, the angler believes the line is snagged...until it starts "swimming away".  The pull is slow and steady...and relentless.  It a Goliath Grouper.  At 100 to 400 pounds, it's unlikely that this fish will even be seen, not to mention brought to the boat.  The fifteen pound leader used for snapper is like thread to this beast. However, some Tampa fishing guides carry a rig designed specifically for the angler who thinks that they want to fight one of these gargantuan grouper.  Some of these anglers have second guessed their original decision.   Line testing hundreds of pounds, a 9/0 reel and a rod resembling a telephone pole make up the required rig. Once a Goliath Grouper starts eating hooked fish, it will more than likely eat any whole fish dropped in it's vicinity in the next five minutes.  The bait, usually several pounds in weight, is lowered back down on to reef. The bite is expected.  A solid thump is felt and the rod just bows over. Fish on. Landing these giants is often a team effort, with one angler helping the other to lift the rod.  The drag is set very tight so that the fish cannot get back to the structure...at least that's the plan. If all goes according to plan, the exhausted angler(s?) usually get to view their prize within a half hour. As Goliath's are a protected species and can not be brought onto a fishing boat, they are photographed at boat side and released.

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