December is my favorite month of the year; not just because of the Christmas holidays, but because gag grouper are at their peak for copious catching! These bad boys tend to migrate and move into the 'hood; what I mean by that is, closer into the gulf, where they are easier to snag. Look for them anywhere there are rocks, ledges, or structures. This goes from the Tampa Bay shipping channel to 250 ft offshore. Personally, I fish for them for 40 to 130 ft, and on some day catch a limit without traveling farther than 60 ft. That all boils down to less travel time, and more quality fishing time!
On the days I don't have a charter, I'll still go out fishing because it's just THAT good in December. A valuable tip for catching them, is to start out with some frozen sardines and a squid combination; it gets a magical scent going on down in the water. That will have them coming in, and once they do start biting, drop down a live pinfish, sandperch or even a grunt for dessert...at that point, all you need to do is be ready! When that monster grouper hits you, it's like being hit by the Rock on WWE Smackdown; he will bruise you and abuse you! Your rod will bend over, and that's when you need to start cranking the reel as hard and fast as you can, raising it up. Otherwise, he will take you down into the rocks and break your line. My personal term for that kind of action is “taking you to school;” on a few trips, i've seen guys bent over the side of the boat, rods bent almost around the bottom of the boat when that big grouper hits and they lose control. My first mate and I always try to assist someone before the situation gets that extreme. It's much like lifting heavy weights... sometimes you just need a spotter.
With plenty of large red grouper, monster mangrove snapper, not to mention the cobia and kingfish (if we have a warm winter), it's definitely an adrenaline rush out there! So far, both cobia and kingfish have still been available. Always keep that flat line out while you are bottom fishing, because you might be rewarded, and even hook a blackfin tuna or wahoo when you are out deeper (120-160 ft, or more). Chum blocks also always help.
Amberjack will be moving in closer and feeding better as the water temperature cools, but they're out of season until January. Remember to watch the rule book very closely, because regulations are always changing. During this month there could be a front moving through every week, and you need to be ready to fish in that window of opportunity. There's usually a few calm days in between, and you might just have that awesome fishing trip of a lifetime you've always dreamed of! Now is the time to come and get that Christmas present-- a big gag grouper! Have a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!
Capt Larry McGuire
Located at the Cortez Fishing Center Bradenton Fl.