June 27th, 2017

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

This is turning out to be a strange fishing summer. Barracuda, which normally arrive in numbers and take up residence on most of the artificial reefs and wrecks in mid-May and provide memorable light tackle catch and release sport fishing have been noticeable by their absence. Mackerel fishing has also been spotty with small schools of fish rather than the large quantities that often provided non stop action for those either trolling small spoons and plugs or live baiting them. Perhaps it is this lack of prey that has kept the barracuda ,the apex predator away.
Normally we like to spend part of our trips trolling and part of the trip bottom fishing. Starting out trolling on our way to offshore ledges and hard bottom areas to target benthic species. Grouper fishing in the 80 to 100 foot depths has been hit or miss lately, but the snapper fishing has been excellent. Lane snapper have taken over in many of the areas targeted for red grouper at this time of year. Along with the Lanes are yellowtail and vermillion snapper along with the ever present white grunts, often called gray snapper in our area.
The key to catching these colorful, tasty fish is the downsizing of tackle to 12 to 15 pound class or even lighter if you are comfortable with that. Fresh water bass tackle is ideal. 1/0 or 2/0 hooks, with chunks of squid or sardine can be fished in 3 ways. A “knocker” rig can be used where a sliding egg sinker is allowed to rest against the hook, a 2 hook snapper rig with a dipsey sinker underneath, or a conventional gulf rig with a sinker either swivel or sliding above a 2 foot leader. All work, but we are leaning towards the knocker rig for mangrove snapper and the 2 hook rig for Lanes and vermillions.

June 11th, 2017

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

On ¾ or full day trips we give our charter clients the option of doing some trolling and bottom fishing, bottom fishing only or trolling only. Most like to do some trolling on high profile structure such as artificial reefs and wrecks on the way to the deeper depths to go bottom fishing. Trolling lately has not been up to the level we experienced at this time last year. Spanish mackerel have been scattered, barracuda in short supply and the kingfish have seemed to have left the area. The schools of baitfish that we are used to seeing have been nonexistent and that may be the reason that trolling has been off. Every day is different offshore and tomorrow may very well be the day that the bait and their attendant predators show up in force.
We have been concentrating our bottom fishing efforts on the 70 to 100 foot depths and have been well rewarded with a variety of bottom fish. Lane, yellowtail, and vermillion snapper in numbers are found on the swiss cheese hard bottom areas in depths deeper than 80 feet. The key to coming back with a colorful box of these great eating fish is to downsize tackle to as light as possible. 12 to 20 pound tackle, the same as used for fresh water bass fishing is ideal for these fish . Small 2/0 or 3/0 circle hooks, as light of a swivel sinker as possible to get the bait to the bottom or a light knocker rig, where a sliding sinker is allowed to butt directly to the hook is all that is needed. Squid strips or chunks of Spanish sardine is the bait of choice. Grouper also inhabit these same areas and will take the same baits when attracted to the feeding commotion. It is a test of knots, angler skill and luck to land one on the light sporting tackle, but it is often done because of the type of bottom which does not have structure that the fish can wrap itself around.

May 27th, 2017

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

Hopefully the windy days and rough seas are behind us for a long time. Kingfish are usually pretty much gone by this time of year, but this year may prove to be the exception . We have been able to successfully target them in the 60 to 70 foot depths where we have been bottom fishing for red grouper, white grunts, mangrove and Lane snapper in several ways. Once we have anchored on a spot and begin bottom fishing, deploying a frozen Spanish sardine on a flat line is standard operating procedure along with using a pair of scissors to cut small slivers of sardine to not only chum up the snapper that will be on the spot, but also to entice any kingfish or Spanish mackerel that may be lurking nearby .Once the bottom bite has begun it pays to drop a sabiki rig to the bottom no matter what the depth to catch live hardtails or Spanish sardines. These are also deployed on another stinger rigged flat line. Using the two flat lines allows more of the water column to be covered. The live bait swims near the surface, while the frozen one will sink in the water to a deeper depth.. Once we are done bottom fishing on a spot, we deploy spoons or plugs using # 1 and 2 planers and spend a few minutes trolling directly over the spot we have fished in a figure 8 pattern.
Now is the time to be on the lookout for mahi-mahi which will show up while bottom fishing especially in the 90 foot depths. They will often follow a hooked fish from the bottom or simply appear swimming around the boat. We have found that it is best to chum with slivers of sardine, because these fish are usually smaller and will soon fill up if large pieces of chum are presented.. Once they have started feeding on the chum place pieces of sardine the same size as the chum with light tackle and a 1/0 or 2/0 hook tied directly to the line without leader or swivel.

May 11th, 2017

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

Once the high winds laid down and we were able to venture out in the gulf of Mexico we encountered dirty water caused by the wave action and had to run at least 15 miles offshore to find fishable water. WE were greeted by schools of kingfish, Spanish mackerel, and bonita along with their predators sharks and barracuda. Trolling # 1 and 2 planers with different sized spoons allowed us to find the concentrations of fish that tended to stay on higher profile structure such as artificial reefs, wrecks and the go to spot; the west end of the shipping channel. At times aggressive sharks would shred hard fighting bonita as they were reeled in. Having a 4/0 reel and a 50 pound class rod ready with a large circle hook and a length of steel leader and immediately deploying what is left of the bonita will often result in an immediate hookup for the shark or his brother who are looking for the rest of their meal that was taken from them. It is best to have the drag backed off in anticipation of the long run a shark will make when first hooked and it doesn’t hurt to have a rod belt handy for the angler who will be in for a long battle.
Schools of bonita have shown up from just outside the passes going into the gulf all the way to 20 miles offshore. Although they are not considered to be the best of table fare they provide great catch and release sport fishing action. They are often finicky feeders and will ignore the usual trolling spread presented to them. When that occurs they are usually feeding on Sargasso fish or glass minnows, both of which are very small. Switch to a 00 spoon or even better, a small saltwater streamer fly which will “Match the hatch”

April 11th, 2017

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

After last weeks brutal winds that caused 5 straight days of charter cancellations it was a relief to head offshore. Water temperatures were right, hovering around 71 degrees on Sunday, but water clarity certainly was not. Stops on a near shore artificial reef and a mid water one produced only two token mackerel that must have bumped into the spoons. Water clarity cleared up dramatically in 60 feet and the bottom fish co-operated well with nonstop action from red grouper, white grunts, triggerfish (which are catch and release because of the season closure until Jan 1), porgies, and yellowtail snapper with a few red snapper mixed in (also catch and release until June 1.) Two small hook (2/0) rigs with the sinker on the bottom produced some of all species and most of the smaller reef species. Water clarity was probably still not the best on the bottom so we chose to fish with frozen squid and sardines because reef fish in the gulf feed not only by sight but also by smell. Chumming with small slivers of sardine and squid helped to get the activity started.
Tuesday was started by trolling small spoons behind #1 planers about a mile offshore north of Blind Pass because the water had began to clear. Spanish mackerel were present with enough strikes to keep it interesting. Venturing west to the St Petersburg Beach Artificial Reef produced a few more mackerel because of better water clarity. Every fish caught there was at the center of the reef which is home to a 205 foot long sunken barge. Pay dirt was hit at South County Artificial Reef where we found ourselves alone surrounded by schools of baitfish frantically trying to escape hungry mackerel. Again small spoons behind #1 planers produced, but more sporty fishing occurred once we switched to light spinning tackle using a small trolling sinker and the small gold and silver spoons.

March 11th, 2017

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

We like to say that March 17th (St Patrick’s Day) signifies the beginning of kingfish season. This entire winter has been unlike most because there have been enough kingfish to target on a daily basis. Last weekend the waters erupted with kingfish from the shipping channel north to Clearwater with many boats reporting limit (2 per person per day) catches. Trolling spoons and plugs behind planers or trolling sinkers proved to be more effective than slow trolling live bait, but this will soon change with live bait slow trolling to be the method of choice.
Spanish mackerel are on all of the near shore artificial reefs, those 5 to 7 miles offshore, such as St Pete Beach and Madeira Beach Reefs. Mixed in with the Spanish mackerel which, must be at least 12 inch minimum fork length , are numerous juvenile kingfish which closely resemble their cousins the Spanish mackerel. A juvenile kingfish’s lateral line will have a significant dip when compared to a Spanish mackerel whose lateral line will be almost straight. In addition the dorsal fin of a small king will be more gray or white, while a Spanish will be black or very dark in color.
Bottom fishing in the 65 to 70 foot depths has been excellent for all of the snappers and white grunts. Red grouper have been spotty with many shorts being caught before a keeper is put in the box. 2 hook snapper rigs with the sinker on the bottom and squid strips have produced yellowtail, vermillion and Lane snapper in these depths.

February 11th, 2017

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

Water temperatures have reached 70 degrees offshore causing confusion amongst both fish and fishermen alike. Before last weeks cold front we were catching many undersize kingfish (24 inch minimum fork length) with a few keepers mixed in with them. Now most of the fish are not huge, but are keepers between 24 and 31 inches in length. We are targeting the area from South County artificial reef south to the shipping channel using #1 and 2 planers with medium and large gold or blue spoons. During normal trolling season, which typically begins in mid to late March, we like to start with planers and hardware to determine if kingfish, mackerel and bonita are in our targeted area and then switch to live baits caught on site to match what the fish are feeding on to provide a more sporting way to catch them. This method should be working now, but it has not. Spoons and plugs trolled at 5.5 to 6 knots produce many fish. It has been frustrating to catch numerous live baits and find the fish unwilling to strike then.
Grouper fishing still remains spotty in the 60 to 90 foot depths, but there are many species to fill the gap. Mangrove, Lane, and vermillion snapper along with white grunts provide non stop action and great table fare for those switching to light tackle. A two hook snapper rig with 1/0 or 2/0 hooks with squid or pieces of sardine work best. Triggerfish and red snapper, both species closed to harvest , have been providing exciting catch and release action on the light tackle. Red snapper are voracious feeders and oftentimes swallow the hook. If it cannot be easily removed it is best to cut the leader as close as possible to the hook and release the fish giving it a chance to reject the hook. Giving that fish a chance at survival is worth much more than a 25 cent hook

January 27th, 2017

Captain’s Corner for January 29 Dave Zalewski 460-9893
High winds and rough seas kept us in port for 10 straight days doing boat and tackle maintenance. Over 30 years in the charter sport fishing industry has made me realize that there is no fish worth taking the risk of injury from a boat pitching in high seas. Fishing from a charter or private boat should be a relaxing time on the water. Drags were checked for smoothness by tying the mainline to a fixed object and walking away to check for smooth operation. Most reels have several oiling points, which may be researched by going online for the instruction manual for your particular reel. A drop or two of oil is much cheaper than having to replace the entire handle. Guides can appear to be fine to the naked eye, but may have nicks and cracks in them that will cause rapid weakening of the line and loss of a trophy fish. Running a piece of pantyhose through each guide is the best way to check them. If the nylon hangs up and does not pass smoothly, the guide should be replaced.
Now is also the time to check all bait well and bilge pump connections. If corrosion is evident replace the butt connectors with shrink fit new ones. Flare kits and EPIRBS should be checked for expiration dates.
Water temps are near 70 degrees and that is a good indicator that the kingfish that were here before the cold front passed through will still be around any high profile structure that has clean water and is holding bait.

January 11th, 2017

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

We ventured offshore after being forced to stay in port because of the cold front and strong winds that accompanied it. Leaving John’s Pass the water temperature registered 60 degrees , about 8 degrees lower than we had experienced before the front. Normally we put the trolling gear up shortly after Thanksgiving and take it out and dust it off around St Patrick’s Day. This year has been unusual in the fact that we were targeting kingfish every day with great success once they were located. With the sudden drop in water temperature we were sure that they had left for warmer climes. This was not the case. Trolling #1 and 2 planers with large blue or gold spoons produced many fish just south of the shipping channel on the natural gas pipeline. Many of the fish were undersized and had to be carefully released, but there were enough legal fish along with catch and release bonita to keep everyone busy and happy. We may have kingfish here for the entire winter until the real season starts up again in mid March.
Leaving the kingfish biting, we made the long trip offshore to the 95 foot depths to bottom fish and were rewarded with dismal results as far as grouper fishing. Downsizing tackle to 20 pound spinning class and fishing with 2 hook snapper rigs produced a colorful box of Vermillion, Lane, sea bass, white grunts and porgies. Bottom fishing picked up noticeably in the 50 foot depths and you can be sure that on our next trip we will be stopping in that depth before we go any further offshore.

December 26th, 2016

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

Kingfish, Spanish mackerel , bonita and barracuda and the various schooling baitfish have usually left our waters shortly after Thanksgiving for warmer, more comfortable water in the Keys and further south. This year is a major exception. We are still catching trolling fish on a daily basis by trolling either spoons and plugs or live baits once they are found. South County, Indian Shores, Rube Allyn, and Veteran’s Artificial Reefs are great places to start. Trolling hardware at a speed of 6 knots allows us to cover the area thoroughly by moving from structure to structure which are scattered over a quarter mile square in the case of these midwinter reefs. Once fish are located, they can be fished by continuing hardware trolling or switching to live bait sabikied on site and slow trolled by use of a stinger rig. For anglers fishing the southern part of Pinellas County, the shipping channel is producing from markers 9 and 10 all the way out to the Whistler Buoy, which denotes the beginning of the channel. On many days the fish are staying deep and the use of a #2 or #3 planer is necessary to get the spoons into the strike zone.
Gag grouper season ends December 31 and red grouper fishing has remained spotty at best. There are several other fish to target. Amberjack season opens Jan 1 and they appear to be in good supply over most of the offshore wrecks. Triggerfish will remain closed for the entire year of 2017. White grunts, Lane, vermillion and mangrove snapper all are excellent table fare and are available in good numbers for anglers willing to downsize hooks and sinkers. It is easy to catch a large fish on a small strong hook, and difficult to catch a small reef fish on a large hook.