Changes abound after a recent Florida Fish Wildlife Conservation Commission meeting in Key Largo. This is what I learned.
Trout, snook, gag grouper and red snapper are closed for harvest. Starting in 2012, trout season will be open all year. Snook and gag grouper are scheduled to re-open in late summer.
Presently there is no harvest of gag grouper and will not be any, anywhere, until at least July. A February meeting will finalize any future season. Most hammerhead sharks are protected. Florida will match federal regulations and allow the harvest of four red grouper per day beginning Dec. 23, and then close February and March.
Red grouper are the only local grouper open, and you can catch some in South Shore waters. I landed at least a dozen this past year and threw back many shorts. Remember, unlike gag grouper, red grouper only have to be 20 inches long.
Recently I heard of a 9-pound red that was caught off the Little Manatee River by fishermen in a small skiff. If they can do it, you can too.
My method to target local red grouper is to fish away from bay structures. Seems I find more reds out in open waters, while gags hang around structures. Watch for small worms when cleaning them. People say those worms don’t bother you when cooked. Let me tell you, I’m not eating worms.
Stopped by Shell Point Marina and saw numerous dock customers fishing from the shoreline. Most use some form of slip-sinker rig with shrimp on the bottom around dock structures. Many black drum are being hooked with some too large to handle near the pilings. A few have been landed, along with many nice snapper and sheepshead.
Julie Stephens helped her 2-year-old granddaughter, Paige, deal with a nice sheepshead hooked off the bank. The little girl was full of interest in why the rod was tugging so much. Quickly, she wasn’t the only one, since a sheepshead nearly her size was pulled from the water. These fine-eating fish are active in local waters right now.
My method for catching them is to use a rod holder. Sheepshead often play with their food before eating it. At first tug, they don’t have much in their mouth, so when you tug back, there’s nothing. Wait. If your rod is in a rod holder, you just might use up enough time getting to it for the fish to have a good swallow. Now rod movement might give you a hook set.
Catch ’em up.