We are fortunate to have plenty of grouper species in Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Today, I got the chance to fish Tampa Bay for one of my favorite, Gag Grouper. When some anglers on the west coast of Florida think of where to find grouper, they think of heading 20 to 30 miles offshore to a hole or a ledge. Every time I have tried to head that far offshore on my boat as soon as I start heading out of the pass from Tampa Bay into the Gulf of Mexico the boat turns by itself and tells me, “Not today.” In my many years as a charter fishing captain, I have learned to trust my boat.
This week’s Captain’s BLOG post will tell you about some of my favorite in-shore and near-shore spots and what I use to catch nice keeper gag groupers.
The Skyway Bridge Shipping Channel in the mouth of Tampa Bay is loaded with keeper size Gag Grouper. When fishing the shipping channel using monofilament line I’ll troll a #4 size planer. If I am using braided line, I go to a #3 planer. The reason I switch planers from one to the other is because I have learned by using mono the line stretches and by the line stretching you need a bigger planer to go down deeper. When using braided line the line doesn’t stretch and it cuts threw the water making the planer dig deeper. Both work well. It’s all the preference of the angler.
The bait of choice for me is the Kingfish spoons. I like to put a Gold spoon on one side then a Silver on the other. Depending on the strike, I will change to just one color. I also use plugs and Jig heads with a grub tail. The bigger the Grub tail the better. The color for me doesn’t matter, as long as I have a dark color on one side and a light color on the other. Depending on the strike, I make changes during the day.
My favorite place on the Skyway shipping channel is between Channel Marker Red 4A trolling to 6A then come back on Green marker 5A to 3A. I will troll back and forth. The magic depth of water that I like to troll is between 30 feet to 32 feet of water.
Another great productive place to catch big numbers of Grouper at the mouth of Tampa Bay in the Gulf of Mexico is off Anna Maria Island better known as “Bean Point”. I use the same lures and spoons as used in the shipping channel. I like the incoming tide but they will eat as long as the tide is moving.
When you hear a Captain catching Keeper grouper in 10 to 12 feet of water in the bay, most likely they are fishing the Port of Manatee channel. There, I use strictly live bait. The bait of choice is pinfish. When you go down the port of manatee channel keep an eye on your bottom machine. The water will go from 40 feet deep to 10 feet deep in less than 3 yards away, once you get out of the channel. That’s a big drop off.
Anchoring off the channel depends on which direction the tide is flowing. If there is an incoming tide, I will anchor on the West side of the channel and if it’s an outgoing I will anchor on the East side of the channel. The trick to fishing there is to have your bait right on the drop off. So you want to anchor on the shallow water and throw your bait right on the drop off. There are plenty of BIG keeper grouper there. I got my limit in 2 hours. We caught 4. The smallest Grouper was 30″. We also caught a 33″ that came out 10 yards away from where we caught a 34″. I was fishing in 32 feet of water. All the fish but one hit the gold spoon. The other fish ate the silver spoon.
Like I previously stated, there are plenty of keeper grouper in the bay. Don’t be afraid to try new things while out fishing. Anyone on the right day with the right tide can go and catch keeper grouper in the bay. I have seen a 13 foot whaler trolling the channel and hooking up some nice Gags.
Be aware there are some areas near the Port of Manatee that are restricted and require a special permit. Manbirtee is the man-made island right outside Port Manatee that has an oil pipeline running to it. It is illegal to get within 1500′ of the island. Federal penalties include up to 12 years prison and $32,000.00 in fines if you are caught within the zone without a permit. The port offers a class once a month that teaches you about the area and provides you the right credentials to be able to fish this area.
I hope this insight and these tips help you have success on the water. Good luck and have fun fishing.
If you have any questions about catching grouper in Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, feel free to Contact Me.
Captain, The Spanish Sardine Fishing Charter