by: Capt. Bart Marx
The water and the fishing are headed toward summertime tactics. Yes, you will have to run further offshore out to 75 or 80 feet of water to find some good grouper fishing. If you have a good fish finder with side scan it makes it much easier than the old traditional down scan. I can remember when we would use a paper bottom machine, when you could smell the paper burning you knew that it was working well. Today, we have access to full color and side and forward scan bottom machines and technology has made it lots easier to find structure and fish where you can find hard bottom areas that have some soft corals and plants that will hold small fish which will attract larger fish. One technique to target red grouper is to drift over these types of areas with some version of a chicken rig. The hard bottom can have areas of stone and rock and a chicken rig allows your weight to slide along the bottom keeping your bait very close to the bottom but not on the bottom. If there is current you may need to have extra weight to keep it down, and if the wind is a little stiff you may need more weight. Bank sinkers are good to use, and I have seen them as heavy as 24 oz. Some anglers have a way to use the egg sinkers as well with some extra knots. There are swivels made especially for this type of rig. Some like to use a lighter pound test on your weight so if it gets snagged it can be broken off and save the hook. There are some variables that you can figure out what will work best for you. Back in the day we would carry a yellow Prestone jug with a weight and about 10-foot longer line than the depth we were fishing. And when we would get a bite, we threw the marker, reeled in the fish and went back to anchor up on that spot. With a GPS, we can mark the spot and go back and deploy a trolling motor, anchor lock and look at the side scan to see if there is a better spot close by. By doing this you can build a good set of numbers for yourself and find spots that hold snapper, lanes, or mangroves. And if you find there are some triggers on some of these spots that is usually good hard bottom, look closely in that area for the small ledges. A good rule of thumb is a gram of weight per foot of depth, so 60 ft depth, 60-gram jig. If you are fishing closer to the beach there may be some flounder around the edges of some of the nearshore artificial reefs.