This month I would like to talk about bottom fishing. With Grouper and Sea Bass now open, this provides us the opportunity to put some different meats in the box. I hear people all the time say, I don’t bottom fish! Well… I’m here to tell you that you should try it.
Our typical day of bottom fishing starts out with buying some frozen bait at the marinas ships store and then we move on to catching live bait. We rarely leave the beach without live bait.
Frozen Baits: Northern Mackerel, Sardines, and Squid work well on certain species and should always be in your arsenal. I’ve caught more Red Grouper on cut bait then I have on live bait. Sea Bass will eat a jig tipped with squid and once you find them of larger sizes you will be surprised with the amount of table fare you can produce. Note: If you are catching small Sea Bass typically they will all be small in that area, try moving around a bit or fishing further off the bottom, the big boys will come up.
Live Bait: 30 minutes at the dock with a couple of people catching pinfish can make your live well look outstanding. To catch pinfish I use a small long shanked hook and either free line it down or use a small split-shot lead. Last but not least the sabiki rig, it’s great for catching live bait however; I think the Japanese definition of that word means “Gets stuck on everything”… every piece of clothing, nets, lines in the boat, everything! I use them as a last resort but always have them on the boat and no… I don’t like a sabiki rod taking up a rod holder. Note: If you save some of your fish pieces from a previous trip this works well for pinfish bait if not, frozen shrimp or squid will do the trick. If pinfish are not along the docks, work your way out of the port and check the rock jetties and outside the channel. If you are lucky enough to locate Croakers or “Spots” take the time and get plenty… a Grouper loves a big ole Spot! Of course this time of year there are schools of Menhaden present and taking as many as your live well can handle is not a bad thing.
You have your bait and you are headed offshore… where to go is the next question? Almost everyone looks at the Hot Spots map available for offshore fishing. While these will get you started just fine the GPS numbers aren’t spot on and you could lose time or become frustrated because you cannot find that big bulge of fish showing on the sounder. Some of the more popular spots like 8A Reef, Pelican Flats, and the Lead Wreck (Ocean Venus) are pretty easy to find but also get hammered quite frequently. The FSFA/CFOA Reef just inshore of the 20 mile weather buoy is also easy to find and a good place to get you started. I highly recommend putting some lines out and troll the 21 Fathom and 27 Fathom ridges and head North or South zigzagging 20 degrees to the East and West. As you go, mark some spots and you can check them out at your leisure. Do this and you will end up with some nice “Go To” spots for some quality fish.
Gear & Tactics: We use 4/0 to 5/0 set ups with 4 to 1 ratios packed with 60-80lb braid and an 8 to 10 foot shock leader of 100lb mono. We use a reverse Albright to attach the shock leader to the braid and all our other knots are uni’s. Hooks are required to be circle hooks and you need to match up the bait with the hook… we use everything from 6/0 to 10/0 and really you just have to find the ones that work best for you. Our typical rig is either a dropper or a knocker. A dropper on the drift is the shock leader attached to a 3 way swivel with 5-8 foot of 80lb test mono or fluorocarbon to the hook and 2 feet of 20 to 30lb mono attached to a weight heavy enough to reach the bottom (12 to 32oz). Bank sinkers work well by tying a loop to the bottom eyelet of the swivel. A knocker in my book is the weight moving freely on your shock leader to a swivel and the same amount of leader, we use this when we are anchored… This brings up a good point! I’ve had much more success on the hook than drifting inside 180 feet of water. When you are on the hook your baits stay in the same area vs drifting which tends to scatter the fish. If you are coming in from offshore and just want to check a few spots and get that one or two Grouper, or a dozen Sea Bass in the rig then… drift away. If you want to get some quality action and put a variety of species in the box … get on the hook.
Getting a nice grouper to eat usually isn’t the hard part, getting past the Snapper can be a pain. A rocked up grouper can make you sweat, and cut offs are always a possibility. My advice is… big baits and get it to the bottom quick and keep it there. Free spool your line with your thumb and be ready to lock it up and reel, wait… did I say REEL!! The first 10-15 feet is crucial, once you feel that small tug or even get hammered, lock that reel up and reel as fast and hard as you can. If you are successful and you have the fish in the clean water just keep reeling nice and steady and wait for him get stiff due to his air bladder blowing up. One of the biggest mistakes people make at this point is taking long pumps on the rod, you want constant pressure on the fish and taking large pumps tend to make the fish spin, actually de-hooking itself.
I realize that you can’t pick this stuff up overnight but, I worked myself into it over a pretty short period of time by asking a lot of questions. My Wife and Daughter both love to bottom fish and are very successful in their catches. As always, please feel free to ask me your questions when I am around the marina or drop me an e-mail at BrassyHooker.com.
Captain Brad R. Spalding