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Learning to fish GOM / Tampa / St Pete

Old 08-18-2020, 08:46 PM
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Default Learning to fish GOM / Tampa / St Pete

All you Tampa/GOM fisherman... Help a rookie out. What are the tips/tricks for catching fish offshore? I cant seem to figure it out for the life of me.

I'm new to the area and have been venturing further and further out. I've tried deep dropping and free lining live bait (threadfin, pinfish) and have only caught lizard fish and small reef/trash fish. I've deep dropped and free lined dead bait, squid, dead shrimp, live shrimp.... same results.

Last weekend I tried to scout out some bottom structure on my plotter between 100 and 120 feet. We trolled a variety of deep dive lures from 25-40ft for a few hours and had 5 bites (3 catches, one took the lure, one spit the hook). We were trying for grouper and kings and ended up with two Bonita (one monster actually) and a large barracuda. Dont get me wrong, we had an absolute blast and this was the best catch day I've had yet, we just didnt get what we went out for.

What am I doing wrong? What does it take to get on the grouper and kings? Just keep doing what I'm doing until I find some spots? Maybe I need to do a better job of setting up and reading my sonar. It is just set to the standard settings right now. (Garmin 8616, GT54UHD transducer).

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08-20-2020, 09:11 AM
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This time of year the fish are deep. Fall (like october timeframe) as the water cools off, the bite should start to heat up again. Think of our GoM as a desert, in this desert are oasis. Oasis in the GoM can either be 1)Hard bottom; 2)Live bottom; 3)Ledges; 4)Natural reefs; 5)artificial reefs.

4 and 5 are well known and get fished hard. I won't talk about those. They can be found on most charts you buy. What you want is the stuff not published - the hard/live bottom, preferably with ledges. Limestone is the "bedrock" here in florida. It extends out into the gulf >100 miles if not more. It is characterized like "swiss cheese" it has natural holes and crevices. These hold life. Nothing grows in the sand and soft shell out there other than lizardfish.

How do you find it? You need to become intimate with your bottom machine. You need to discern hard bottom from the sand and soft shell. Hopefully you know what the term "tails" mean when I speak of in sonar terms. On most bottom machines, generally speaking with average gain and power settings, a hard bottom has a larger "tail" than soft bottom. Soft bottom will absorb the sonar energy and thus not produce a "lively" return (absorbs more energy than it returns - weaker echo). Hard bottom reflects most of the energy sent into it, thus yielding a "lively" return (stronger echo). Here's a generalized little video showing this:

20bimini told you about zoom. Yes. Must be using it. You need to drive around and look at your graph. When you see the characteristics of hard bottom, mark it. We'll come back to the "how to" fish it in a second.

Drifting. this is the best technique, IMHO, to aid you in fishing and finding good hard/live bottom. You need to learn how to drift (unless you have a Rhodan and can spot lock). Even with a Rhodan, some days you need to anchor the boat on a spot. Being proficient at drifting will make you a better anchor setter for getting over your spot. Drifting is affected by wind and current. You need to determine how it is affecting your boat at that moment. Here's two methods to try.

Method 1 "Jug Method": I use markers made by Suremarker. They are made right her in USA. I have tried old Clorox jugs, the square plastic guys, just about everything in between. Suremarker's work the best. Not cheap, they run like $149, but are well worth the money. When I see the tell tale hard bottom on my graph, I chuck over a marker. I'm usually at idle speed when I do it, although not required. I then stop the boat's motion and sit. I pay attention to the marker. Which way are we going in relation to it. I look at the compass to see the direction we stabilize in the drift. Once I figure out what way I am drifting in relation to the marker, I can set up drift thru the marker (don't drift over it obviously). I get up wind, up current and see how it goes. The goal is to drift right by the marker. I can do this in one pass because I've been doing this a long time. It takes beginners several attempts, don't get flustered. Once you get the drift, get up current, get lines in drift thru your marked spot. Noting the compass heading, look to the 180 deg off from that, that is the drift heading. That helps.

Method 2 "Technology Method": So you marked a spot now not with a marker, but using say the MOB feature on your plotter. Great, now you need to drift thru it. Basically the same as above except now, your only reference is compass and your plotter. Turn your tracks on if not already. Zoom in to a useful range screen (I use the closest range screen I have). Stop the boat motion. let the boat drift. Note the direction of the drift. Once that is established, drive up the line three or four boat lengths. Stop motion of boat, hit MOB and let the drift happen again. You'll draw another line. Also take note of the reciprocal heading on your compass. That second line you draw is the drift direction line. Now drive up wind and current from your marked hard bottom spot along a transposed line that you just drew. You stern should be pointing mark when you stop. Usually 3-4 boat lengths is sufficient for distance. I again, can do this in one pass, until you get it down, it will take a couple of tries to get it right.

To add to the methods above - purchase a Drift Sock. One that is appropriately sized for your boat. You deploy it to control the speed of your drift and the angle your boat is on during the drift. You don't want everyone bunched up in a corner. Deploying a drift sock will allow you to adjust your hull angle so you can expose more area to be fished.

Now that you have a method to drift we can get lines in and look for fish. All sorts of different rigs to use. We use the venerable knocker rig. I use 8/0 - 9/0 Owner circle hooks with anywhere from 4-8oz eggsinkers. The weight we use depends on the speed of drift and how deep the water we are fishing is. Bait has been mentioned already. You've got to get that bait to the bottom and keep it there.

I drift through a marked spot and don't get a keeper, catch lizard fish, etc. I move on. I don't try to get a bite going. Nothing there I want. If I catch a keeper, we drift the spot again. I will only take a couple of keepers off the spot. It then gets logged in my book as a "good spot" to come back to at a later date. I never, ever overfish a spot.

Another way to go about it is blind drifting, I get out to the water depth I want, set up a drift, and then drop lines. See what we catch. Keep an eye on the bottom machine too. We catch lizard fish = soft bottom. Keep going. Get baby groupers. Keep going. Get a keeper look at the bottom machine (this will help you identify what hard bottom looks like as well), mark the spot, again I use a Suremarker. Now set up a couple of drifts thru that spot. Take a couple more keepers, but never over fish it. Mark the coordinates of the spot, enter it into the book and continue on.

Big thing to remember out there is that the fish you want are not hanging out on sand and soft shell bottom. You must be able to find the hard/live bottom to catch the grouppas and other reef fish we target here.

PM if you have questions. Lots more to talk about but just can't type it all. I'm available to help on boat as well. Normally I offer up mine, but we just sold it. Shopping for another, bigger boat.
Old 08-18-2020, 08:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Supergumby5000 View Post
Maybe I need to do a better job of setting up and reading my sonar.
Probably some of this. You need good bottom.
Old 08-19-2020, 04:17 AM
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Start off on the local marked reefs. Pinellas #2 is huge. Look at how your bottomfinder shows relief as well as hardness. The two things you need to find the fish we catch here.

Cut bait....squid, threadfins, spanish sardines will always catch something. If you are catching grunts, there are grouper around. Move up to palm sized live baits once the grouper move in on the grunts. Don't move to all live baits....have someone still fishing bigger cut baits....you want that scent in the water. Cut up the grunts. I have caught grouper with grunt slabs when they wouldnt eat anything else.

Fish the pipeline. S curve over it looking for structure.
Old 08-19-2020, 08:58 AM
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Sometimes Red Grouper bottom doesn't show as a big ledge or relief. Try drifting some areas 95-125 ft with Squid, dines, Pinfish, etc.

I have a couple spots that show nothing on the sonar, but they produce some big groupers. Lot of swiss cheese bottom out there.

Good luck

Last edited by DEBTICATED; 08-19-2020 at 09:52 AM.
Old 08-19-2020, 09:02 AM
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Spend 10 times as much energy learning to read your fish finder than you do anything else. Unless you happen upon someone who wants to share hard-earned loc. #'s, of course. But I wouldn't waste the time waiting, lol.

The advice above about going out to the readily marked wrecks/structure like Pinellas #2 and then studying your sonar and you'll eventually get a good idea what you're looking for. Lots of people just assume "hey there's water....must be fish", not that that's what you're doing, but it's no different than seeking out that elusive largemouth; just a bigger area to search.
Old 08-19-2020, 09:06 AM
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We have fished the Gulf for over 40 years.Learning how to Distinguish sand bottom from hard bottom is the difference.Not all hard bottom holds big fish, but its where you need to be. Learning the in's and outs your bottom machine is critical.I have 3500 waypoints so I never drift fish,but for learning go out to 100ft plus and drift fish. Eventually you will find some decent bottom and hook a nice fish.Mark the spot and work off that area...There will be more areas close by. The kingfish are quite easy to target but the summer is not kingfish season...March -April and October-November,give or take a couple of weeks.Capt.Mike
Old 08-19-2020, 09:29 AM
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Originally Posted by DEBTICATED View Post
Sometimes Red Grouper bottom doesn't show as a big ledge or relief. Try drifting some areas 95-125 ft with Squid, dines, Pinfish.

I have a couple spots that show nothing on the sonar, but they produce some big groupers. Lot of swiss cheese bottom out there.

Good luck
This^^^

And learn to use your zoom feature on your machine/ I run 4x zoom when looking for swiss cheese bottom. There is a lot more of that type of bottom than there are ledges and rocks out there. If your in a area of flat bottom in 115 feet and then a little lumpy/hard patch at say 113 feet it probably is what your looking for. When zoomed up you will see small shows of fish. That is when I will motor fish to see whats down there. I will send down some lighter tackle with smaller hooks and cut bait. If it's hard bottom you will catch an assortment of smaller fish like lane snapper, triggers, grunts and some red grouper. If the bite is rapid I will send down some larger rigs with a whole sardine, a live pinfish or a slab of cut grunt.

More times than not you will find out fairly quick if there are some keeper grouper down there. If you get some keepers throw the anchor and try to get a bite going.

Some of these areas are small so precision anchoring is a must. A marker jug can really help you shorten the learning curve on your anchoring abilities. After a while with practice your chart plotter will let you get anchored on your spot but that visible marker jug will really help you. You also always want to run your crumb trail on the chart. Really helps you to better understand the lay of the land on these small spots.

These days the small spots are good producers. They don't catch the eye of many and you may have to hit a dozen of them to get a good box but it beats fishing a big ledge that has been fished out resulting in coming home with clean ice.
Old 08-19-2020, 09:51 AM
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Never forget I was fishing with my wife one day and we weren't catching squat. I said let's pull the anchor and drift. She answered "do you think that will do any good?" To which I answered we sure as hell can't do any worse. We drifted about a 1/4 mile and started catching grouper like crazy. Immediately anchored and marked that spot. I still fish that spot to this day but it is exceptionally small, probably 10 x 10 and hard to get on even knowing it is there.
Old 08-19-2020, 12:14 PM
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You attempted to catch grouper at 40 feet in 120 feet of water? You will need to get your baits down at least another 70 feet.
Old 08-19-2020, 12:45 PM
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Just do what everyone seems to be doing, go out on a Saturday and pull up next to every boat you see working a spot. Pretty soon you will have plenty of numbers to work from.

Had this happen two weekends ago, a guy and his girl pulled up 10 yards from me on a spot that produces pretty consistently. Found it last year running to another spot.

Guy pulls up, looks over at me, drops a line down, gets nothing then asks how the bite is???? I told him it sucks, he hits his screen and takes off in the direction of another boat about a mile away!

Take a bottom fishing charter. It will be the cheapest $800 you have ever spent fishing. Tell the Capt. you want to learn how to use the bottom machine, rig baits, tie rigs, etc. Watch and listen. Oh and please don't snake the Capt's numbers!
Old 08-19-2020, 01:22 PM
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Buy the Strikelines charts. Hit some of these and start zooming on your bottom machine.

Light leaders dead and live baits. Drift fish and look for spots. Get a good mate cause you”ll probably be pulling anchor a lot.

Book a charter if you really need some help.

Old 08-19-2020, 01:50 PM
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It's just a matter of having a good sonar and understanding how to read it. Some of our best spots are small patches of hard bottom in large areas of sand. You have to spend your time finding the spots or get a radar and steal other people's hard work.
Old 08-19-2020, 07:32 PM
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Subscribed. I’m having similar challenges.
Old 08-19-2020, 07:44 PM
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Find the structure, then find the fish show. Some ledges run for miles, but not all of the structure will have fish on the same spot. Nevertheless, there ain't no red grouper bottom, that species should be closed. And if you are running out to 100+ feet, you ran right over the fish. Try fishing in 35-65 and see if that doesn't make a difference. Don't forget your descending device. https://www.tcpalm.com/story/sports/...st/3177174001/
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Old 08-20-2020, 09:11 AM
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This time of year the fish are deep. Fall (like october timeframe) as the water cools off, the bite should start to heat up again. Think of our GoM as a desert, in this desert are oasis. Oasis in the GoM can either be 1)Hard bottom; 2)Live bottom; 3)Ledges; 4)Natural reefs; 5)artificial reefs.

4 and 5 are well known and get fished hard. I won't talk about those. They can be found on most charts you buy. What you want is the stuff not published - the hard/live bottom, preferably with ledges. Limestone is the "bedrock" here in florida. It extends out into the gulf >100 miles if not more. It is characterized like "swiss cheese" it has natural holes and crevices. These hold life. Nothing grows in the sand and soft shell out there other than lizardfish.

How do you find it? You need to become intimate with your bottom machine. You need to discern hard bottom from the sand and soft shell. Hopefully you know what the term "tails" mean when I speak of in sonar terms. On most bottom machines, generally speaking with average gain and power settings, a hard bottom has a larger "tail" than soft bottom. Soft bottom will absorb the sonar energy and thus not produce a "lively" return (absorbs more energy than it returns - weaker echo). Hard bottom reflects most of the energy sent into it, thus yielding a "lively" return (stronger echo). Here's a generalized little video showing this:

20bimini told you about zoom. Yes. Must be using it. You need to drive around and look at your graph. When you see the characteristics of hard bottom, mark it. We'll come back to the "how to" fish it in a second.

Drifting. this is the best technique, IMHO, to aid you in fishing and finding good hard/live bottom. You need to learn how to drift (unless you have a Rhodan and can spot lock). Even with a Rhodan, some days you need to anchor the boat on a spot. Being proficient at drifting will make you a better anchor setter for getting over your spot. Drifting is affected by wind and current. You need to determine how it is affecting your boat at that moment. Here's two methods to try.

Method 1 "Jug Method": I use markers made by Suremarker. They are made right her in USA. I have tried old Clorox jugs, the square plastic guys, just about everything in between. Suremarker's work the best. Not cheap, they run like $149, but are well worth the money. When I see the tell tale hard bottom on my graph, I chuck over a marker. I'm usually at idle speed when I do it, although not required. I then stop the boat's motion and sit. I pay attention to the marker. Which way are we going in relation to it. I look at the compass to see the direction we stabilize in the drift. Once I figure out what way I am drifting in relation to the marker, I can set up drift thru the marker (don't drift over it obviously). I get up wind, up current and see how it goes. The goal is to drift right by the marker. I can do this in one pass because I've been doing this a long time. It takes beginners several attempts, don't get flustered. Once you get the drift, get up current, get lines in drift thru your marked spot. Noting the compass heading, look to the 180 deg off from that, that is the drift heading. That helps.

Method 2 "Technology Method": So you marked a spot now not with a marker, but using say the MOB feature on your plotter. Great, now you need to drift thru it. Basically the same as above except now, your only reference is compass and your plotter. Turn your tracks on if not already. Zoom in to a useful range screen (I use the closest range screen I have). Stop the boat motion. let the boat drift. Note the direction of the drift. Once that is established, drive up the line three or four boat lengths. Stop motion of boat, hit MOB and let the drift happen again. You'll draw another line. Also take note of the reciprocal heading on your compass. That second line you draw is the drift direction line. Now drive up wind and current from your marked hard bottom spot along a transposed line that you just drew. You stern should be pointing mark when you stop. Usually 3-4 boat lengths is sufficient for distance. I again, can do this in one pass, until you get it down, it will take a couple of tries to get it right.

To add to the methods above - purchase a Drift Sock. One that is appropriately sized for your boat. You deploy it to control the speed of your drift and the angle your boat is on during the drift. You don't want everyone bunched up in a corner. Deploying a drift sock will allow you to adjust your hull angle so you can expose more area to be fished.

Now that you have a method to drift we can get lines in and look for fish. All sorts of different rigs to use. We use the venerable knocker rig. I use 8/0 - 9/0 Owner circle hooks with anywhere from 4-8oz eggsinkers. The weight we use depends on the speed of drift and how deep the water we are fishing is. Bait has been mentioned already. You've got to get that bait to the bottom and keep it there.

I drift through a marked spot and don't get a keeper, catch lizard fish, etc. I move on. I don't try to get a bite going. Nothing there I want. If I catch a keeper, we drift the spot again. I will only take a couple of keepers off the spot. It then gets logged in my book as a "good spot" to come back to at a later date. I never, ever overfish a spot.

Another way to go about it is blind drifting, I get out to the water depth I want, set up a drift, and then drop lines. See what we catch. Keep an eye on the bottom machine too. We catch lizard fish = soft bottom. Keep going. Get baby groupers. Keep going. Get a keeper look at the bottom machine (this will help you identify what hard bottom looks like as well), mark the spot, again I use a Suremarker. Now set up a couple of drifts thru that spot. Take a couple more keepers, but never over fish it. Mark the coordinates of the spot, enter it into the book and continue on.

Big thing to remember out there is that the fish you want are not hanging out on sand and soft shell bottom. You must be able to find the hard/live bottom to catch the grouppas and other reef fish we target here.

PM if you have questions. Lots more to talk about but just can't type it all. I'm available to help on boat as well. Normally I offer up mine, but we just sold it. Shopping for another, bigger boat.

Last edited by Phins360; 08-20-2020 at 09:21 AM.
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Old 08-20-2020, 09:55 AM
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Excellent write up Phins360!
I use “tracks” on my chart plotter to see my drift. Works great.
Here is an older thread that describes the “tails” he mentions when finding hard bottom
What my bottom machine looks LIKE!! <---UPDATED
Old 08-20-2020, 10:46 AM
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Old 08-20-2020, 11:37 AM
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Originally Posted by Phins360 View Post
This time of year the fish are deep. Fall (like october timeframe) as the water cools off, the bite should start to heat up again. Think of our GoM as a desert, in this desert are oasis. Oasis in the GoM can either be 1)Hard bottom; 2)Live bottom; 3)Ledges; 4)Natural reefs; 5)artificial reefs.

4 and 5 are well known and get fished hard. I won't talk about those. They can be found on most charts you buy. What you want is the stuff not published - the hard/live bottom, preferably with ledges. Limestone is the "bedrock" here in florida. It extends out into the gulf >100 miles if not more. It is characterized like "swiss cheese" it has natural holes and crevices. These hold life. Nothing grows in the sand and soft shell out there other than lizardfish.

How do you find it? You need to become intimate with your bottom machine. You need to discern hard bottom from the sand and soft shell. Hopefully you know what the term "tails" mean when I speak of in sonar terms. On most bottom machines, generally speaking with average gain and power settings, a hard bottom has a larger "tail" than soft bottom. Soft bottom will absorb the sonar energy and thus not produce a "lively" return (absorbs more energy than it returns - weaker echo). Hard bottom reflects most of the energy sent into it, thus yielding a "lively" return (stronger echo). Here's a generalized little video showing this:
https://youtu.be/Fcd1pvH-0gY

20bimini told you about zoom. Yes. Must be using it. You need to drive around and look at your graph. When you see the characteristics of hard bottom, mark it. We'll come back to the "how to" fish it in a second.

Drifting. this is the best technique, IMHO, to aid you in fishing and finding good hard/live bottom. You need to learn how to drift (unless you have a Rhodan and can spot lock). Even with a Rhodan, some days you need to anchor the boat on a spot. Being proficient at drifting will make you a better anchor setter for getting over your spot. Drifting is affected by wind and current. You need to determine how it is affecting your boat at that moment. Here's two methods to try.

Method 1 "Jug Method": I use markers made by Suremarker. They are made right her in USA. I have tried old Clorox jugs, the square plastic guys, just about everything in between. Suremarker's work the best. Not cheap, they run like $149, but are well worth the money. When I see the tell tale hard bottom on my graph, I chuck over a marker. I'm usually at idle speed when I do it, although not required. I then stop the boat's motion and sit. I pay attention to the marker. Which way are we going in relation to it. I look at the compass to see the direction we stabilize in the drift. Once I figure out what way I am drifting in relation to the marker, I can set up drift thru the marker (don't drift over it obviously). I get up wind, up current and see how it goes. The goal is to drift right by the marker. I can do this in one pass because I've been doing this a long time. It takes beginners several attempts, don't get flustered. Once you get the drift, get up current, get lines in drift thru your marked spot. Noting the compass heading, look to the 180 deg off from that, that is the drift heading. That helps.

Method 2 "Technology Method": So you marked a spot now not with a marker, but using say the MOB feature on your plotter. Great, now you need to drift thru it. Basically the same as above except now, your only reference is compass and your plotter. Turn your tracks on if not already. Zoom in to a useful range screen (I use the closest range screen I have). Stop the boat motion. let the boat drift. Note the direction of the drift. Once that is established, drive up the line three or four boat lengths. Stop motion of boat, hit MOB and let the drift happen again. You'll draw another line. Also take note of the reciprocal heading on your compass. That second line you draw is the drift direction line. Now drive up wind and current from your marked hard bottom spot along a transposed line that you just drew. You stern should be pointing mark when you stop. Usually 3-4 boat lengths is sufficient for distance. I again, can do this in one pass, until you get it down, it will take a couple of tries to get it right.

To add to the methods above - purchase a Drift Sock. One that is appropriately sized for your boat. You deploy it to control the speed of your drift and the angle your boat is on during the drift. You don't want everyone bunched up in a corner. Deploying a drift sock will allow you to adjust your hull angle so you can expose more area to be fished.

Now that you have a method to drift we can get lines in and look for fish. All sorts of different rigs to use. We use the venerable knocker rig. I use 8/0 - 9/0 Owner circle hooks with anywhere from 4-8oz eggsinkers. The weight we use depends on the speed of drift and how deep the water we are fishing is. Bait has been mentioned already. You've got to get that bait to the bottom and keep it there.

I drift through a marked spot and don't get a keeper, catch lizard fish, etc. I move on. I don't try to get a bite going. Nothing there I want. If I catch a keeper, we drift the spot again. I will only take a couple of keepers off the spot. It then gets logged in my book as a "good spot" to come back to at a later date. I never, ever overfish a spot.

Another way to go about it is blind drifting, I get out to the water depth I want, set up a drift, and then drop lines. See what we catch. Keep an eye on the bottom machine too. We catch lizard fish = soft bottom. Keep going. Get baby groupers. Keep going. Get a keeper look at the bottom machine (this will help you identify what hard bottom looks like as well), mark the spot, again I use a Suremarker. Now set up a couple of drifts thru that spot. Take a couple more keepers, but never over fish it. Mark the coordinates of the spot, enter it into the book and continue on.

Big thing to remember out there is that the fish you want are not hanging out on sand and soft shell bottom. You must be able to find the hard/live bottom to catch the grouppas and other reef fish we target here.

PM if you have questions. Lots more to talk about but just can't type it all. I'm available to help on boat as well. Normally I offer up mine, but we just sold it. Shopping for another, bigger boat.
Excellent instructions and write-up.
Old 08-20-2020, 12:13 PM
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Originally Posted by tarpononecharter View Post
Excellent instructions and write-up.
Thanks man.

To add to my above post, forgot to tell him, use fluorocarbon on your leaders for knocker rigs. Grouppas have excellent vision. So do snappers. You'll get better results with Fluro over straight mono or braid for your leader on the knocker rigs.
Old 08-20-2020, 02:33 PM
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A very thoughtful and insightful post, sponge that up OP, that's a bunch of GOM hours speaking. Reminiscent of Will's post on FS, basically writing a Mango how to clinic.https://forums.floridasportsman.com/...uestion#latest

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