If you have the patience to hunt these guys down, I will offer up the same great strategy that seems to work for me. To start off, I utilize medium lite to medium size fishing rods. Our weapons of choice are the Green Stick made by Kris Green. These custom fishing rods can be purchased at ST. Pete Fishing Outfitters. I prefer a 10 to 15-pound rod rating, but you can go with what will give you the most confidence. As usual, the line of choice is 15-pound braid attached to a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader. What I feel is the most critical component of my setup is the use of a ¼ ounce Mission Fishin jig-head.
Now that we have talked about the setup, let’s get to how to find them. I’m going to suggest you search around the Skyway area for the natural bottom–there’s no need to look for the biggest rock pile. I tend to have my biggest rate of success when I fish the beginnings and ends of each tide. When fishing these areas and using this type of rig, you will also hook up with a fair amount of mangrove snapper and Key West grunts. The water depth I am looking to fish is in 25 to 30 feet.
Save some of your hard-earned money. There is no need to buy the biggest shrimp at the bait shop to catch these guys. Regular or hand-picked shrimp work just fine for this application, but make sure you bring plenty of them. As a rule of thumb, I typically make sure to bring 15 dozen shrimp for my clients when I’m running a four-hour charter. Mitch’s Bait & Tackle and 4th St. Bait & Tackle always have great looking shrimp!
When you’re out there hoggin’, try to bring a 4/0 reel lined with 80-pound matched with a stout rod. You’re going to want to drop a 3 to 5-ounce sinker (depending on current) with a dead bait to the bottom. My personal favorite here is to have a butterflied Key West grunt attached to the business end. Make sure you lock the drag down and then simply set it in a rod holder. You may just happen to pull up a nice red grouper or a possibly a nice gag grouper. If you put these tips to use, you’ll set yourself up for some great cold weather fishing and some of the best tasting fish you can get!