Gag grouper season in Franklin County will start 1 April, as it has for years. We are fortunate that the FWC has seen the importance to give our county and a few others the head start on this fishery. With the still cool water temperature, gags will be hanging around structure, whether it’s natural or manmade. The easy areas to fish for them are the artificial reefs established by the Organization for Artificial Reefs (OAR.) These spots are found on their website and some nautical charts. Also, the reef that runs parallel along Dog Island, about 5 miles out, is full of holes and ledges, you just have to find them. When you are cruising from location to location, watch the bottom machine for likely areas that may hold fish. The overall length for gags is 24 inches and you must fish with true circle hooks. True circle hooks are ones where the point of the hook turns to the shaft. A slow retrieve is how the hook sets, so the technique of striking hard is not going to get you hooked up. The best baits are LY’s, Spanish sardines and live pinfish. Another good fishing style is the deep jig tipped with a strip bait.
While fishing the bottom, remember that king fish are here, too, and a drifting Spanish sardine on a flat line can bring some big action. Smaller kings in the 10- to 15-pound range are excellent on the table when broiled, and bigger fish are right for the smoker. Cobia will be on the hunt during the spring migration, so one may slam the drift bait which will light up the action. Spanish mackerel are in the mix and offer some exciting strikes. They, too, are good table fare, but as with Kings, need to be eaten soon after you get them home. Mackerel have a lot of Omega oil in them which makes for a good smoke fish, but turns over time and makes them not as flavorful.
The other usual suspects, like black sea bass, grunts and blue fish round out the fishery. This time of year brings migrating red fish into the area. These fish are the offshore reds that move around and have a lighter color then the resident fish that stay here all year. Dog Island Reef is a great place to hunt the large schools that move into our waters. You just may find a nice cobia swimming along the grass flats on the reef.
This time of year brings a lot of anglers into the area and that means lots of boats. Being a courteous mariner is paramount for a safe and fun time on the water. The law is fisherman in boats must stay 100 feet from another boat and that’s not much to ask.
Good luck out there and be safe.
CAPT. CHESTER REESE
Natural World Charters