February is here, and that means it’s time to get back to doing what we all love–catching fish! Red grouper to be more specific. They are in season and should be prime for the picking since their emergency closure last July. Weather will most assuredly limit your trips, so I suggest you take advantage of every fishable day possible. That means, if its flat calm and beautiful Wednesday the 14th, I hope you are 30 miles offshore with baits in the water.
Our starting point will be somewhere in that area around 90 to 100 feet of water. If you get out much deeper than that, it’s a constant battle to get baits down through the schools of red snapper that are always thriving on the same hard bottom, along with not being allowed to target them past 20 fathoms. You can start a little shallower, say 75 to 85 feet, but you will probably have to work a lot harder to get that boat limit. The deeper you go the bigger they get. We have found that 100-foot area to be a nice sweet spot, with quality fish and very little red snapper by catch.
The Central Gulf Coast has acres upon acres of live bottom loaded with red grouper. If the drift is slow enough, that’s always the best way to cover ground. When you roll over a spot where you get a few good fish, mark that on your machine. I guarantee that’s where the best potholes are. Diving gives us the luxury to see exactly what the bottom looks like. It’s either hard limestone with lots of sea fans and cracks in the stone, or hard sandy bottom with holes that go down to who knows where. Your fire truck reds will stay right next to these holes and cracks, so you need to get your baits close. The more area you cover, the more holes you will drift across.
The best part, when you red grouper fish, is constant action and quality by catch. Porgys, lane snapper, trigger fish, mangrove snapper and hogfish all inhabit the same bottom. For my palette, I would take any of these over a red grouper for my fresh catch meal. We will typically designate 2 or 3 clients fishing with big chunks of squid or live baits for the reds and 2 or 3 clients fishing light combos with shrimp for the by catch. We have found this to be the best way to maximize what you will put in your fish box. Just switch it up, as you go from spot to spot.
If you want to play with big AJs, throw a few of the porgies into your live well and hit any of the wrecks on the way in. Doesn’t matter the size of your bait. Big jacks will destroy these guys, usually well before they make it to the bottom. You can’t keep them, as they are protected until August, but boy what a great way to top off your trip.
You won’t get many days to fish in February, but the ones you do get will most likely be ones you won’t forget.