June 11th, 2018

Captain’s Corner for June 13 Dave Zalewski 460-9893

Attention has turned to gag grouper and red snapper for many offshore fisherman. Red snapper can be best targeted in waters 105 foot and deeper, with some available in water as shallow as 60 feet, Although the snapper will be found on high profile structure such as wrecks and ledges, we have found most of our fish inhabiting the same swiss cheese bottom as red grouper. It has become standard operating procedure to deploy a stinger rigged flatline with either a live or frozen sardine to entice a strike from pelagic fish such as kingfish , blackfin tuna, or a barracuda when fishing in the deep blue water. We normally put out 50 to 60 feet of line to allow the frozen bait to suspend in the water column. A pleasant surprise has occurred several times when the flatline went off with a powerful surge, and when the fish was landed it turned out to be a red snapper. We are now putting out as much as 100 feet of line and chumming with small slivers of sardine. The bait remains suspended at a much deeper depth than customary and has produced more strikes on some spots that the usual bottom fishing methods.
Spanish mackerel are not as abundant close to the shoreline as they have been, and best results have occurred on the band of hard bottom that is about 3 miles from shore. Look for the dark patches that indicate rocky areas and troll between them until fish are located which should not take long. #1 planers, a sliver or gold 0 or 1 spoon with 30 feet of leader is all that is needed.

February 11th, 2018

Captain’s Corner for February 13 Dave Zalewski 460-9893

The winds finally stopped blowing so hard that we were prevented from venturing offshore last week and we finally were able to enjoy calm seas. Water temperatures were still in the low 50’s offshore at the beginning of the week and this definitely had an effect on the fish behavior offshore. Because the seas were calm we ventured out to the 80 to 90 foot depths to start and it did not take long to realize that this was a mistake. Hoping to find Lane and mangrove snapper along with red grouper, we were disappointed to find a few white grunts and numerous squirrelfish on the Swiss cheese hard bottom that was probably holding fish that were not in a feeding mood because of the temperature. We had to return to the 60 foot depths to produce any noticeable action and the small ledges and hard bottom produced for us. The grouper bite was almost nil, but by spending time on a spot and chumming with small pieces of frozen sardine and squid we were able to return with a nice box of white grunts, porgies ,sea bass, and a few hogfish.
As the week progressed and the water temperature rose a few degrees, there was a noticeable change in fish activity. Learning from the trip to the deeper water, we stayed in the 60 foot depths and returned each day with a mixed bag of great eating fish including a few red grouper.
On the way back in on one of the days we ventured offshore we were greeted by a welcome sight. Blue lights from a FWC patrol boat stopping us to check for state license, Federal permits and fish. The officer was very professional and pleasant and mentioned that he had found on his stops out of season amberjack and trigger fish. Regulations change and it is necessary to keep up with these changes. MyFWC.com and Gulfcouncil.org are the sites to keep one informed of the latest catch and bag limits

January 27th, 2018

Captain’s Corner for January 29 Dave Zalewski 460-9893

The colder than normal water temperatures for this time of year has affected both inshore and offshore fishing. Inshore anglers have their old standby sheephead to provide light tackle action and great table fare. Natural bait such as fiddler crabs, pieces of live or frozen shrimp, barnacles threaded on a 1/0 circle hook, clams and oysters will work after chumming the area will small pieces of whatever the bait of choice is. Artificial lures do not work well for sheephead because they are a grazing type of fish and rely more on scent to locate their prey.
Offshore anglers, when they can get out, have been affected in the same way by the water temperatures which have slowed down the grouper bite to almost a standstill. The standby fish right now are the smaller reef fish. White grunts, porgies, Lane and mangrove snapper have become our offshore targets. These species do not present much of a challenge as far as fight when caught on standard grouper tackle, but can prove a worthy adversary when caught on 12 to 15 pound class tackle such as that used for trout inshore and bass in fresh water. Small circle hooks(1/0 or 2/0) and the lightest weight that will get the bait to the bottom are necessary. Knocker rigs or jig heads can be employed with success. Live or frozen shrimp and squid strips are the baits of choice. When we have received a break between fronts the 60 foot depths have produced the best. Deeper depths do not seem to be holding as many of the prized reef fish and the shallower waters are still murky from the sediment being stirred up by the high seas.

December 11th, 2017

Captain’s Corner for December 13 Dave Zalewski 727 460-9893

The great weather, calm seas and exceptional fishing that we experienced at the end of November and beginning g of December came to a screeching halt with the cold front that came through. Surface water temperatures plummeted from an unseasonable 71 degrees to 61 almost overnight, shocking both baitfish and there predators. Gulf waters near shore were the color of chocolate milk and not much better 10 miles offshore. When winds and seas subside and we can venture offshore we will be trying some trolling, but expectations will be not be high and we will be concentrating our efforts on bottom fishing in whatever depth the water begins to clear up. Most likely this will be in the 60 foot depths. The grouper and assorted snappers that we will be targeting will be hungry and feeding on anything available. Because of turbid water conditions caused by silt settling in the water, the use of baits that have some smell will be best. Cut frozen sardines and threadfins, squid and cut bait along with heavy chumming with small pieces of the same baits being used will result in success.
After cold fronts come through, there is often debris on the surface. It is the right thing to pick it up and dispose of it on land, and this often ends up with the bonus of a tripletail. When sighted under the object a live shrimp fly lined on a 1/0 circle hook will usually end up in a strike. The next bait of choice is the head of a squid with its tentacles pitched in front of the fish.

November 27th, 2017

Captain’s Corner for November 29 Dave Zalewski 460-9893

In most years we tend to start forgetting about trolling and devote our trips solely to bottom fishing after Thanksgiving. This year has proved to be an exception. Kingfish have been available from 100 yards from shore at the mouths of passes all the way offshore to the 60 foot depths. The larger solitary fish have been hugging the shoreline in search of Spanish mackerel, sardines and blue runners. Trolling any of these baits as slow as you can go with a stinger rig sized to the bait may produce a “smoker”. It takes a lot of patience to target these large fish and we prefer to usually fish further offshore in search of 8 to 12 pound “schoolies” which will be found ravaging the large schools of bait that have not left the area yet. The mid water artificial reefs and wrecks in 40 to 60 feet of water are great places to start, but we have been experiencing the best fishing about a mile away from the structure on hard bottom areas holding the bait which will be either seen on the fish finder or may be revealed by diving birds. Trolling a #1 planer with a #1 spoon along with a #2 planer with a large spoon will quickly reveal if there are feeding kings in the area. Once located using the MOB key on the GPS will allow you to return to the strike zone. Switching to light spinning or bait casting tackle and trolling stinger rigged live baits caught on site with a sabiki to match the hatch will produce more sport than sticking with the planers.
Bottom fishing for both red and gag grouper has been spotty at best for us, but mangrove, Lane, and yellowtail snapper fishing has more than filled the gap for us. 70 and 80 foot depths have not been as productive as the 60 foot depths and on several days we have had to come back into shallower depths to find the targeted snapper along with a few grouper.

October 27th, 2017

Captain’s Corner for October 29 Dave Zalewski 460-9893

The fall pelagic season where we can target Spanish mackerel ,kingfish, cobia, bonita, barracuda and several species of sharks started out great right on schedule around the second week of October with anglers reporting great catches on all species from waters as close as 100 yards from shore to the 70 foot depths. Schools of baitfish could be seen all over with predatory birds from and fish breaking the surface from below feeding heavily in preparation for their migration south as the water temperatures dropped. Strong easterly winds prevented us from venturing far from shore on several trips, but the fish and bait had gathered near shore seeking protection from the violent seas offshore. Both live baiters and hardware trollers reported in with great catches for all the migratory species except for barracuda which are particular in requiring cleaner water than was found close to the beaches. Strong north winds muddied up the water and put an end to the exceptional fishing we were experiencing.
All it takes is two to three days of lighter winds and the sediment will settle out of the water and fishing will return to normal. East winds will cause the baitfish and their predators to return close the shore. West winds will cause them to move offshore to the protection of the near shore artificial reefs such as Madeira Beach and Treasure Island. Bottom fishing, especially for the various species of snapper, had turned on for those downsizing tackle and should return as soon as we can venture to the 60 to 80 foot depths.

September 27th, 2017

Captain’s Corner for September 29 Dave Zalewski 460-9893

Offshore gulf fishing has pretty much returned to normal after the high winds and rain from the recent hurricane that thankfully spared us from a direct hit. Waters were silty for awhile but north and east winds quickly cleared the majority of the water column which allowed us to target pelagic (trolling) fish such as Spanish mackerel, barracuda, bonita with a bonus of a few kingfish. The larger Spanish mackerel have been concentrated on hard bottom areas from one to three miles offshore. It has not been necessary to seek out feeding birds to find the mackerel. Deploying lines out as soon as hard bottom with a few bait stacks of bait are seen on the bottom machine has resulted in often non stop action. The mackerel have been smaller on the near shore and mid- water reefs along with bonita and numerous blue runners. Using fresh caught nose hooked blue runners on a stinger rig sized to the bait presented will result in drag screaming action from barracuda which are now feeding heavily in anticipation of there migrating from the area once the water drops to 72 degrees.
Bottom fishing has begun to recover for those having some patience and using squid and sardines as their primary bait along with heavy chumming with small slivers of cut bait. Divers are reporting 6 foot or less visibility in waters as deep as 100 feet caused by sediment slowly filtering down the water column. The bottom fish still have to feed and the use of baits with smell will result in a greater chance of success.
Deploying a flat line while bottom fishing while chumming will result in some surprises at this time of year. Kingfish, mahi-mahi, blackfin tuna, Spanish mackerel and a cobia may end up in your chum line on any day.

August 27th, 2017

Captain’s Corner for August 29 Dave Zalewski 460-9893

Trolling for Spanish mackerel, catch and release bonita, barracuda and the occasional kingfish allows us to keep the boat moving and provide some relief from these dog days of summer. The shipping channel from markers 7 & 8 shoreward towards shore have been the “goto” area for Spanish mackerel and the various species of sharks that inhabit local waters in the summer. This year has proven dramatically different with greater success being achieved by fishing from markers 5 7 6 westward. The key is finding a set of markers that is holding large amounts of bait. This can be often done by visual surface observation, but much better is paying close attention to the sonar when going around a marker. If the bait is deep, catching their predators is a matter of presenting your offering at the depth the bait is seen. Trolling hardware may require the use of a #2 or 3 planer. Live bait trolling may call for large trolling leads or downriggers. Mackerel seem to hit throughout the water column, but the kingfish that we are catching are inclined to stay deeper requiring the use of the #3 planer set up.
Grouper fishing remains spotty with the gap being filled by Lane, mangrove, and vermillion snapper. 1/0 hooks using either the conventional swivel sinker with a long leader or a knocker rig employing the smallest weight that will reach the bottom has been the key to success. Our best grouper catches have occurred in areas where bonita can be seen crashing into schools of small baitfish. Using the sonar to insure that hard bottom, not necessarily a ledge , is the key to success

August 11th, 2017

Captain’s corner for August 13 Dave Zalewski 460-9893

Because of the heat a lot of our charters are opting for an early leave and a half or ¾ day trip. Because of time constraints which limit how far we can run offshore, most of our ½ day trips are spent trolling for Spanish mackerel, bonita, kingfish and barracuda. Trolling at between 5.5 and 6 knots keeps the air flowing and provides for a comfortable time on the water. All of the near shore artificial reefs such as Madeira Beach and Treasure Island, along with the mid water reefs such as South County and Indian Shores provide an opportunity for non stop action when fished properly. Terminal tackle selection should consist of #1 and 2 planers with a ball bearing snap swivel attached to at least 30 feet of 40 or 50 pound monofilament leader with a spoon that matches the size of the baitfish in the area. If baitfish are not visible, starting with a 00 spoon on the #1 planer and a 0 or #1 spoon on the #2 planer is a good starting point.
Many anglers make the mistake of going to the published GPS co-ordinates of an artificial reef and staying close to them. All of the reefs have material scattered all over the permitted areas. The near shore reefs are 2000 feet long by 300 feet wide which provides a large area. The mid water reefs are a ¼ mile square around the center with large high profile structure scattered all over the area. Invaluable information on the reefs can be found at www.pinellascounty.org/reef.
On our longer trips we have been starting out trolling on the mid water reefs and then continuing to the 70 foot depths in search of grouper and the various snappers. Grouper fishing has been spotty at best, with mangrove, Lane, and vermillion snapper along with white grunts providing the best action by downsizing tackle to either 2/0 or 3/0 hooks and lighter leaders.

July 11th, 2017

Captain’s Corner for July 13 Dave Zalewski 460-9893

The Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared” holds true for fishing at any time of the year, but especially now. One never knows what may show up when bottom fishing in the 80 to 90 foot depths where we have been concentrating our efforts on grouper and snapper. Mahi-mahi have shown up on several occasions and the key to catching them on our coast is having one or two light spinning rods in the 12 to 15 pound class rigged and ready with 2/0 long shanked gold hooks. These mahi are not large, but are voracious feeders and often will swallow a short shanked hook making removal difficult in the heat of battle. Often times one will strip a bait off the hook another will strike the flash of the bare gold hook. When they show up, circling the boat, the impulse is to throw chunks of chum into the water to keep them around. Chumming is necessary, but it should be done with small slivers of frozen sardine or squid. They have small stomachs and can be filled up quickly. Once they start feeding using slivers of bait on the hook the same size as the chum will produce non stop action. At present there are no recreational size or bag limits on dolphin in the Gulf of Mexico. It is easy to get carried away by the activity and forget how many fish are in the cooler. We have set a boat limit of 5 fish per person and when that number has been caught, either stop fishing for them or practice catch and release.
Trolling has finally turned on mackerel, bonita, and barracuda along with a few scattered kingfish which should have arrived in full force mid-May have arrived all along the shipping channel from markers 9 and 10 westward and on the artificial reefs.