December 11th, 2016

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

Before the recent cold front blew through with its high winds and rough seas that prevented us from venturing offshore we were surprised and pleased with both trolling and bottom fishing. Spanish mackerel and kingfish were abundant in the 40 to 60 foot depths on high profile structure such as artificial reefs, wrecks and large ledges. It took some moving from spot to spot until the kingfish, mackerel and bonita were found and the use of #1 and 2 planers fo0llowed by large and small spoons trolled at 6 knots to verify that the fish were on or near the particular structure. Once found non-stop action occurred from all three species.
Bottom fishing for red and gag grouper had been spotty on most days, but the drop in water temperature will force baitfish to migrate south and cause the grouper to be more receptive to the baits we present to them. Catch and release, because of the closed season, red snapper fishing in as shallow as 40 feet of water has provided unexpected thrill from these hard fighting fish especially on light tackle. Red snapper are voracious feeders and will swallow even circle hooks. If any fish is hooked deeply, it is best to simply cut the leader as close to the hook as possible and return the fish to the water. The small price of a hook is nothing compared to the future value of a fish. We have caught many healthy fish that have survived well with a hook embedded in them from being previously caught. The hooks will either rust out over time or be rejected by a normal process.

November 27th, 2016

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

Even though water temperatures have dropped below 70 degrees there are still plenty of Spanish mackerel , kingfish, and bonita around to keep both live bait and hardware trollers busy. Many large kingfish are still patrolling the waters along the coast within a mile of the shoreline. These solitary fish are best targeted by either slow trolling large live baits such as mullet, mackerel or ladyfish with stinger rigs or anchoring and chumming by employing a chum bag along with small slices of Spanish sardines and the same large baits. Targeting these large fish requires a lot of patience waiting for a strike. Spanish mackerel can also be caught in the same areas by trolling #1 planers and small spoons. The smaller “schoolie” kingfish and large mackerel are best targeted right now on the midwinter artificial reefs and surrounding hard bottom areas such as South County, Indian Shores and Veteran’s. Once a strike occurs, it pays to hit the MOB button on your GPS and return to the same spot. The kingfish seem to be schooled up in small groups on hard bottom or reef structure.
Red and gag grouper, white grunts, mangrove and Lane snapper have been biting the best for us in the 45 to 65 foot depths with frozen sardines and squid being the bait of choice. We carry live pinfish on every trip and have not had much success with the live bait. This will change as soon as the baitfish in our area migrate south and pinfish will often trigger a strike after the bite slows down on the frozen bait.

November 11th, 2016

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

Along with the great trolling for Spanish mackerel, kingfish, barracuda and bonita another great target has arrived in our waters. On two recent trips we encountered schools of giant bull redfish crashing into tightly compacted bait balls within 3 miles of the gulf shoreline. Frigate birds are the best indicator that these fast moving fish may be in the area. One or two of them do not warrant taking the time to investigate, but if 5 or more can be seen circling or more importantly picking remnants of baitfish from the water’s surface, it is worth the effort to spend the time. Being prepared with a large plug on at least 20 pound tackle is imperative because when these fish are in a feeding frenzy they will strike almost anything. Casting or trolling around the perimeter of the school will produce a savage strike with a memorable battle to follow. Light drag is necessary to prevent a break off on the initial run because of the power of these golden beasts which may reach 40 pounds. This is all catch, photo and release fishing because redfish have a maximum slot limit of 27 inches in state waters and are closed totally in Federal waters (more than 9 miles offshore).
Grouper fishing remains spotty at best in most depths, with 60 feet being the best depth to have success. On a recent trip we encountered red snapper on a ledge in this depth and had to release them because of the closure. Several of the fish were hooked deeply and would have been severely damaged if hook removal was attempted. Cutting the leader as close as possible to the hook gives the fish a better chance of survival. Over the years we have caught many healthy fish that have hooks in them and have lived. Any fish is worth much more than a 25 cent hook.

October 27th, 2016

Captain’s Corner for October 29 Dave Zalewski (727) 460-9893

The water temperatures have dropped to the magical 74 to 76 degrees caused by the shorter days and cold fronts sweeping through the area and kingfish, Spanish mackerel, cobia and shark fishing is now as good as it gets. Strong easterly winds prevent us from targeting favorite areas such as the shipping channel especially from markers 5 and 6 westward, the 10 Fathom wreck, South County artificial reef and the natural gas pipeline in the 70 foot range, all places that are holding large numbers of fish. All is not lost when the wind blows because this causes the baitfish that the predators so hungrily seek to move close to shore seeking protection from buffeting seas. Some of the best Spanish mackerel and king fishing will be found within a mile of shore and often times within 100 yards from shore near any of the entrances to the gulf. Trolling small spoons behind a #1 planer or a 4 to 6 ounce trolling sinker may produce non-stop action. Deploying a large gold spoon or plug and having some patience will usually result in a strike from a kingfish. Troll 2 or 3 rods with a mixture of baits to target both species.
Anchoring, putting out a chum bag and chumming with either live baits or small slivers of frozen sardines or baits caught with a sabiki will draw hordes of mackerel to the boat. Casting locally made hard twitch baits on light tackle will produce exciting visual action.
Sharks of all sizes will be attracted by the chum and feeding activity and putting out a filet of mackerel either directly on the bottom or suspended from a balloon will result in some bonus action.

October 11th, 2016

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

After cancelling 5 straight days in a row because of weather, we ventured offshore anxious to see what we would find on Tuesday. With the northeast wind sea conditions were great from the shoreline out to 3 miles and then the seas started to build because we were no longer in the lee of the shore. As is our custom we deployed 2 lines with #1 planers and small gold and silver spoons as soon as the Intercoastal depth reached 10 feet leaving John’s Pass. It is a no wake zone and idling speed between 5 and 6 knots is the ideal trolling speed. Six Spanish mackerel and one ladyfish were landed before we reached the bridge and the gulf. Trolling south towards Blind Pass produced spotty action from mackerel and the thought crossed my mind to return to the bay side of John’s Pass, but the charter party wished to go offshore as far as reasonable with the wind and sea conditions. Treasure Island artificial was the next target, and the Spanish mackerel were larger and more plentiful. Switching one rod to a #2 planer and a larger spoon produced much larger fish along with a kingfish. The highlight of the reef was a 25 to 30 pound blacktip shark which inhaled a stinger rigged skipped ballyhoo and put up a memorable battle on 20 pound class tackle.. Madeira Beach artificial reef was the next spot we tried and it produced Spanish mackerel and a barracuda.
Bottom fish were targeted for the rest of the trip 3 to 5 miles north of the reef and using squid and frozen sardines. White grunts along with a keeper gag and a keeper red grouper along with a kingfish, that inhaled a live hardtail on a flatline, while we were anchored added to the catch. Sea conditions would have been miserable further offshore because with a strong east wind the seas build up the farther one goes.

September 27th, 2016

Captain’s Corner for September 29 Dave Zalewski 727 460-9893

2016 has been a strange year for offshore fishing in the Gulf of Mexico for many of the species that we target. In the spring king fish season is considered to be the entire month of April and the first two weeks of May. Not only the kingfish are here in force, but the other pelagic species such as Spanish mackerel, cobia, bonita and barracuda take up residence for the summer. We have been able to target kingfish on the wrecks and at the end of the shipping channel on a daily basis until Hurricane Hemine blew threw. Spanish mackerel fishing was spotty all summer and has just now come on strong. The same for barracuda which seem to have followed the mackerel into our area. Bottom fishing has been spotty for both red and gag grouper, requiring a lot of stops to put some keepers in the box. Downsizing to 12# class spinning or bait casting tackle has been the key to providing non stop action for white grunts, mangrove, Lane, and vermillion snapper.
Normally the fall kingfish season starts around Columbus Day (October 10), but this year we may be in for a wait before they began their southward migration. Water temperature in the gulf was 85 degrees, a far cry from the 76 degree temperatures that they prefer. Because conditions have been so different this year, we are making every trip into the gulf prepared to both bottom fish and troll. Trolling on the wrecks and artificial reefs on the way to the 90 foot depths we are bottom fishing in may produce some welcome surprise results.

September 11th, 2016

Captain’s Corner for Sept 13 Dave Zalewski

Hurricane Hermine lest us with poor conditions near shore in the Gulf of Mexico. The Spanish mackerel fishing which was the best of the summer before the storm came to a grinding halt near the beaches. Dirty water and a change of salinity due to the freshwater run off drove the mackerel from the beaches. We tried the areas that had been producing so well with little or no success and had to venture out at least 9 miles to find favorable conditions. The hard bottom areas north of South County artificial reef are harboring large quantities of Spanish sardines, hardtails and threadfins, which in turn have made that area a prime place to target the mackerel and bonita which are gorging on the baitfish. Spoons and small hard bodied lures trolled behind #1 planers or trolling sinkers are the baits of choice. Trolling at between 5.5 and 6 knots allows anglers to cover more ground and present the baits properly. Once a strike occurs, it is useful to punch the MOB button on the GPS and return to the spot and troll in a figure 8 pattern.
Both red and gag grouper fishing has been spotty since the hurricane, but will return within a week or two. White grunts and mangrove snapper have been active in the 50 to 60 foot depths and can be best targeted by downsizing tackle to match the smaller fish.. The start of the fall kingfish season is only a month away. Now is the time to check guides, drags, make up stinger rigs, redo connections on bait well and bilge pumps and “Be prepared”.

August 26th, 2016

Captain’s Corner for August 29 Dave Zalewski 727 460-9893

On recent trips offshore to bottom fish in the 60 to 80 foot depths we have been pleasantly surprised by several different species. Yellowtail and Lane snapper have been almost a daily part of our catch when targeting red grouper over the flat “Swiss-cheese” bottom. Part of the success for catching these desirable species is the downsizing of tackle. To 2 hook dropper rigs with the sinker on the bottom and circle hooks no larger than 2/0. Both of these snapper have small mouths and require a hook much smaller than those employed for grouper. A strip of squid or a piece of sardine just large enough to hide the hook is our preferred bait.
Small mahi-mahi have shown up several times while we are bottom fishing. The key to catching them is to be prepared with a light spinning or bait casting rod with a 2/0 long shanked gold hook attached directly to the line. Chumming with very small slivers of sardine will keep them near the boat without feeding them to the point where they eat their fill and leave. It is exciting visual fishing when they show up and they will often hit the bare gold hook if it has been stripped of bait
Cobia have been also striking our bottom baits while bottom fishing with tightened down drags. If a cobia is hooked back off the drag so the fish has a chance to run and tire itself out. Smaller ones can be horsed to the boat, but large ones require a loosened drag to successfully bring them to gaff. The ones we have been catching have been in pairs with one large female and a smaller male. The second free swimming one can easily be hooked by placing almost any type of bait in front of it. Cobia have to be at least 33 inches minimum fork length.

August 11th, 2016

Captain’s Corner for August 13 Dave Zalewski 727 460 9893

Spanish mackerel have finally shown up in quantity in the gulf. Up until recently the only anglers that were successful targeting them were those fishing Tampa Bay. Once the mackerel arrived so did their predators which include barracuda, sharks and kingfish. Fishing for kingfish has been extremely good for this time of year with many fish taking up residence at the western end of the shipping channel, mid-water artificial reefs and wrecks, and many of the mitigation rock piles on the natural gas pipeline. Barracuda, one of my personal favorite fish to target, because of their ability to put on an aerial display when hooked like a billfish and also their slugging it out with an angler staying deep and slugging it out like an amberjack will be found at the same spots as the kingfish and mackerel.
Shark fishing has not been as good as in past years close to shore because of the lack of mackerel. Now that they have arrived, hammerhead, blacktip, and bull sharks can be targeted near any entrance to the gulf by chumming with frozen chum and having some patience. Mackerel filets, bonita, and whole butterflied mackerel are all excellent shark baits and should be deployed throughout the water column by use of balloon floats. Heavy tackle is not required for many of the sharks targeted because of the lack of structure where they are caught and downsizing tackle provides for some memorable battles. Be prepared by having a float ready to release the anchor and chase the fish down when the big one decides to take the light tackle bait.

July 26th, 2016

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

In over 30 years of charter fishing in the John’s pass area I have never been able to specifically target kingfish in July. Normally we put aside the kingfish gear around Memorial Day and do not bring it out again until mid October. In past years summer trolling targets have been Spanish mackerel, bonita and barracuda. Spanish mackerel fishing has been good for those seeking them in Tampa Bay and poor for those of us who fish offshore in the gulf. Bonita, not considered to be good table fare because of their dark bloody meat, are available in good numbers where quantities of bait can be found. Barracuda have finally shown up at the markers along the shipping channel and on most of the mid water artificial reefs.
We have been catching most of our kingfish by slow trolling live sardines and hardtails caught on site where we are fishing. “Matching the hatch” has been critical, on many days bait caught inshore and brought with us has failed to produce and we find it necessary to sabiki bait from around whatever structure we are near.
A good game plan if targeting the shipping channel is to start at markers 7 and 8 and work westward until a set of markers is found that is holding bait by either seeing it on your depth finder or using a sabiki to see what is there. Once bait is found, kingfish should be there also.
We deploy 2 stinger rigged flatlines when bottom fishing. One is baited with a frozen sardine and allowed to sink in the current. The other is baited with a bait that is caught on a sabiki no matter what depth we are fishing. In the deeper water we have found using a 4 ounce sinker helps to keep the sabikis stretched out and free of tangels