Tampa Fishing Guide Displays Beautiful Nearshore GrouperIn a typical year, the first cold fronts of significance arrive in October.  After several of these have pushed local water temperatures down below seventy degrees, Tampa fishing guides start thinking shallow water grouper.  During late fall, large schools of threadfin herring will gather relatively close to the beaches. Initially, this activity draws in the Spanish mackerel, kingfish, bonita, blacktip and spinner sharks.  As the water continues to cool, keeper sized gag grouper may become part of the mix, showing up just a few miles off the sand. There may be another phenomenon that is even more important in bringing these grouper closer to shore  however...the annual pinfish migration. Although pinfish seem to be literally everywhere inshore, Tampa fishing guides take note when thier numbers decrease as inland waters cool.  All of a sudden, traps placed in canals and near shore locations that were producing 20 - 30 pinfish a drop are now coming up with just 2 - 3 baits. The migration has begun and the grouper are waiting.

 

Tampa fishing charters target rocky ledges and patch reefs in 15 to 30 feet of water so the trick is to identify these locations. There are really three ways to go about doing this. First, on sunny days when the water is clear, which it often is this time of year, simply drive to an area of dark   bottom. This will put the boat over rock. Once in the area, drive around and use a bottom machine to look for the largest rocks or most pronounced part of aTampa Fishing for Grouper with Diving Plugs ledge.  Understand that a change of 2 - 3 feet is significant enough to hold grouper. Another age old trick for finding hard bottom is to locate clusters of stone crab traps. Stone crabbers make a living finding hard bottom areas. Any area holding several different colored crabbers' traps is highly likely to have some good grouper structure.  Again, get to the area and prospect.  The last technique may be the most effective...trolling deep diving plugs. If fishing in water 20 feet deep, use a deep diving plugwhich runs at 17 - 18 feet or so.  Troll these through areas known to have rocky bottom at 2 - 3 mph. Grouper are aggressive this time of year and will often charge out from under thier rock to torpedo a plug.  As soon as a fish strikes, place a waypoint at that location so that, after the fish is landed, the rock that the fish came off of can be located. Once found, Tampa fishing guides will drop a live bait down to confirm if there are other grouper there. If the answer is yes, then another near shore grouper spot has been added to the repertoire.

With the hard work done and GPS numbers in hand, it's time to go reap the rewards.  When approaching a spot, Tampa fishing guides are aware of the direction of the tide so as to position the boat just slightly on the up-tide side of the spot.  Also, most fishing guides take care not to drive directly over the fish as, in these shallower waters, there's nothing to be gained by doing this. Once properly positioned, doling out some chum will improve the bite by both drawing fish right under your boat and also by getting fish that might not be in an eating mood to have a change of heart.  Dropping a weighted block of chum to within a few feet of the bottom will bring fish directly into the area where baits are.  Also, throwing chunks of cut baits, as well as stunned live baits such as large threadfin herring or pilchards is another great way to convince fish that it is time to eat. These baits should be tossed up current of the boat so that they reach the bottom right under the boat. Popular belief is that it makes sense to drop a "smelly" frozen bait first as, if the grouper are in the area, these baits will get picked apart by smaller fish and draw the grouper in. Although there is certainly some truth to this, it is generally not necessary if you chum.  Additionally, grouper tend to be aggressive at this time of year and will pounce on almost any live bait.  Threadfin herring and pinfish both work but pinfish are probably the preferred bait. 

Grouper Fishing with Live PinfishTackle options vary when fishing for grouper in water this shallow but the standard grouper set up...a six to seven foot conventional rod and reel with 40 lbs test...is a good starting point. Add a four ounce egg sinker, 2 1/2 feet of 80 lbs flourocarbon leader and a 6/0 circle hook and the rig is complete. Do remember that it is law to use circle hooks when bottom fishing. With a fair number of short fish being hooked, it is good practice anyway. Take a 4 - 5 inch pinfish and hook it directly above the anal fin.  The supporting structure for the anal fin makes this a secure place to put a hook. Tighten the drag so that it is very difficult or impossible to pull line off the spool. Lower the bait to the bottom and then reel up a crank or two so that the sinker is elevated and the pinfish is swimming just off the structure. Hold the rod low so that when a grouper strikes, the rod can be lifted quickly to immediately turn the fish away from the rocks.  Just remember to lift up, then reel down...then repeat the sequence. Failure to do so will result in the fish becoming "rocked up". This is when a grouper runs into a hole or under a ledge and spreads its gills, in essence, locking itself into the structure. Tampa Fishing Charter for Fall GrouperThe most common approach used by Tampa fishing guides, once this happens, is to put the rod in a rod holder and release all pressure on the fish (give it slack). In five minutes, or when the line begins to move (whichever comes first), the angler should cautiously reel in all slack line to the point where the rod is low to the water and tight to the fish, A quick upward stroke should then be used.  If the line is still snagged, it should be broken off. If a fish pulls back, reel down and lift again to keep the fish heading towards the boat. 

If grouper will bite on the tackle mentioned above, no other tackle should be used as grouper are incredibly strong for their size and even with this heavier tackle, it is a challenge to get them to the boat. Although not often recognized for being finicky, there are times when grouper will not bite a pinfish as presented above. On numerous occasions, divers have observed grouper shying away from baits dropped with heavy sinkers...instead sitting back in a chum slick eating free floating, naturally sinking pieces of bait and chum.  With this in mind. there is another approach used by some Tampa fishing guides to entice these shallow water grouper to eat.  Use a very heavy spinning rod and reel spooled with 40 lbs test as might be used for tarpon. Attach a long 4 - 5 foot leader of 40 to 60 lbs test flourocarbon with a strong 4/0 circle hook.  Take cut bait chunks made from threadfin herring or larger pinfish and throw them up-tide of the rock or ledge that is being fished. After tossing out 10 or 15 pieces, take a similar piece and cast it in the some spot that the chum was thrown.  Tampa Fishing for Shallow Water GrouperAllow this bait to sink naturally but manage slack carefully. The bait should be allowed to sink at its normal rate but slack line should be reeled in or line mended out so that there is little excess line in the water. This is critically important as the take is indicated by the line appearing to stop or slightly tighten...the result of a grouper coming up and eating the drifting cut bait.  The fish will not make a hard run as it has not felt the hook yet so the angler must be alert for this subtle tightening of the line. Once this is seen, all slack should be eliminated (reeled up) and, rest assured, when coming tight to the fish, the grouper will head for the rocks.  Apply strong lifting pressure and reel down just as when fishing with conventional tackle. Tampa fishing guides will often man the rod when fishing this way as this technique requires definite finesse, both in terms of detecting the strike and also getting the fish headed towards the boat. With fish usually being hooked at an angle away from the boat, they have more line to work with and, therefore, a better chance of getting into the rocks. Transitioning to this method when a known, productive spot appears to be dead will occasionally result in two to three additional hookups on keeper fish. Near shore grouper see a lot of baits and trying new, creative techniques is often the difference between success and failure.

Tampa fishing for shallow water grouper provides a great alternative for "smaller boat" fishermen in the fall, especially when tides are weak and redfishing can be tougher. Coming home with a grouper dinner is just a great bonus. 

 

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