Picture: Jim White from Gainesville with a 26 inch Gag grouper caught with Capt Matt Mitchell this week
Hot sticky south Florida summer conditions require getting out on the water early and getting done early to avoid as much of the sweltering heat as possible. Water temperatures by mid afternoon have been hovering right around 90 degreeŐs which basically shuts down any kind of shallow water fishing. Even during morning charters the deeper water including the passes and deeper grass flats in the 6-8ft range have been the most productive areaŐs to catch fish.
Big schools of the small fry sized shiners and threadfin herring have begun to show up all over the sound as is usual for this time of year. These small white baits have been the best choice for fast paced fishing action on snapper, trout, ladyfish, and mackerel. Downsizing to a 1/4 inch mesh cast net makes it easy to load up on this little bait which basically catches everything that swims. Around most shoals and passes you can locate this bait showering and flicking on the surface. Just drift into it and make a few throws to load up the livewell. Switch it up to smaller rods and lighter terminal tackle to cast these tiny baits. This little bait will get the fish feeding when they just donŐt want to eat the larger pinfish and grunts.
Deeper grass flats from Fosters point to Cabbage key have been a good choice to catch plenty of keeper trout. Small pinfish and grunts fished under a popping cork in depths from 6-8ft caught lots of larger trout for the first few hours most mornings. Mixed in with the trout have been small blacktip sharks which are always fun to catch. As conditions continue to stay hot there is more and more floating grass around, this is typical as some of our grass dies off during the heat of the summer and can be found floating around the sound often in large patches.
By mid morning my goto bite this week was fishing for Gag grouper in the passes. Hooking pinfish and grunts on a heavy enough jig head to drop straight down to the bottom caught us lots of Gag grouper. Most of these grouper are under the 24 inch minimum size but if you are patient there are a keepers. These Gag grouper hit a bait harder than any other fish that comes to mind and make for non stop action during the slower tides when everything else has stopped biting. While drifting the passes keep a eye on the sonar looking for good bottom structure while keeping baits close to the bottom. Once you catch a fish put a mark on the chart plotter and return to this same spot. Its crazy how many grouper you can catch off one rock pile or hard edge. Our big grouper of the week measured just over 26 inches although we had a few bigger ones on that ran back into the bottom structure before breaking off. Heavy gear is a must if your going to get one of these hard fighting fish up.