November is the start for some inshore fun fishing as gag grouper move into the canals of Tampa Bay. The change in weather opens the door to different types of fishing. Big reds move into the deeper flats, snook start their migration into the creeks and rivers and breeder speckled trout roam the deep waters off the bridges and edges of channels.
November is my “let’s do something different month” and I spend at least part of my charters trying to catch gag grouper by trolling in the canals from lower Tampa Bay to Clearwater Beach. First, the incoming tide is best and you need to troll the canals that hold at least five feet or more of water at low tide. Second, study your area first as not all canals hold fish. Find the ones that have structures, builders dump rocks and left-over concrete rubble around the docks as protection against erosion. Over the years, these structures become artificial reefs or feeding stations for all species, attracting small bait fish, crabs and shrimp. This also makes a great stopping ground for grouper during the Fall and Winter months.
There are many manufacturers of great trolling lures for grouper. We all have our preference, and mine happens to be Rapala X-RAP and YO-Zuri F series. These lures work best between 6 to 15 feet of water–perfect for trolling docks. The speed you troll depends on the depth of water, hull design and size of engine. When trolling, it’s better to go by RPM than by speed. When you get your first strike make a mental note of your RPM and stick with it, since a change in tide movement or wind could affect your speed and you might need to change your RPM accordingly.
Try keeping the lure as close as possible to the outside edges of the docks and watch the tip of your rod because you will want the lure to bump onto the bottom once in a while, and this tells you you’re on target. I always troll with two rods and each one has a different color lure–some days blue works and other days they only touch green back ones; so, my recommendation is to always carry 4 or 5 different colors and fish them until you find the one that works for the day.
Some days are better than others and the water temperature has a lot to do with the bite. The cooler the water temperature, the better the bite.
Work an area more than once. Sometimes Mr. Gag just didn’t get there in time for a meal and your second run through gives you a second shot of landing a prize catch. Another good area is along the sides of channels leading into the canals where the grouper will stage up and work their way in with the tide.
I caught plenty of flounder, redfish, trout and some big snook while trolling for gags. The best part is that you can start trolling early, catch your fish and be back at the dock in time for the football game. Sometimes, we get an unexpected surprise like a big red grouper, some redfish and even a large snook.
My favorite tackle:
Rod: OKUMA CEDROS #S-701Ma 7’0”
Reel: OKUMA #6000 AZORES Spinner
Line: Fins Windtamer 40-pound test braided line.
Leader: Soft Steel 40-pound test fluorocarbon at least 3-foot long.
Lures: YO-ZURI F series and Rapala X-Rap