It’s as simple as looking at a chart or running out of the channel inside Steinhatchee marker 13 to realize why our offshore fishing is so good. While we don’t have lots of close-in deep offshore water, we do have an abundance of limestone outcroppings, ledges, and offshore springs. All attract gag and red grouper, American red and mangrove snapper, king mackerel, cobia, sheepshead, and of course, black sea bass and ‘Florida snapper’. Or…just be present at the Sea Hag when our offshore guides come back on almost any afternoon!
‘Numbers’ are plentiful, and many are carefully guarded secrets. Below, you’ll find a listing of popular public numbers that, although busy on some weekends, usually produce good angling results:
Marker is no longer there, some debris
Marker is no longer there, some debris
The best offshore fishing spots are always the ones you find on your own. Use these numbers as reference, and using your depthfinder (You did read the instruction book, didn’t you?), look for new ‘personal’ spots while fishing the public ones.
It’s not just location, location, location that catches offshore species–technique, bait and tackle count! While there are hundreds of opinions, the basics for grouper are stout rods, beefy reels, heavy line and terminal tackle–as well as a strong back. Penn 114’s and strong 6-foot boat rods do just fine. 50# line is a must (80# if you’re after the ‘big ones’!). Power Pro or other braided Spectra lines will give you an advantage when feeling the bite, particularly if there are snapper nearby. Monfilament lines are cheaper, but stretch, don’t get as deep when trolled, don’t ‘telegraph’ the bite as well, and usually need to be replaced each season (Spectra lines last many seasons.). Big spinning reels (Shimano BaitRunners) are fine when rigged on longer rods, but are really best suited to snapper or sheepshead fishing. You never know when that 20-pound-plus grouper will eye your snapper bait! Trolling rigs usually involve the same tackle, sometimes using downriggers or planers to get the bait down deep.
There are probably more bait and terminal tackle choices than rods and reels for offshore fishing. Serious bottom fishermen always do their best to catch or purchase live bait. Except in the wintertime, pinfish, pigfish, spots and other assorted baitfish are always available for netting (or catching with Sabiki rigs) on the nearshore flats. Or, buy some really super-fresh ones from the Sea Hag. We’ve designed a state-of-the-art bait tank and water circulation system to ensure the best bait (pinfish and shrimp) money can buy. Some anglers prefer to ‘start’ the bite using fresh, frozen baits. Squid, Spanish sardines and threadfin herring are a good choice, but if cigar minnows are available, they’re the best.
Bottom fishing is probably the most popular method of grouper and snapper fishing on the Big Bend. It’s a great feeling to successfully anchor on a great piece of bottom and have the fish start eating right away. If you want this to happen, proper rigging of good terminal tackle is essential. Choose leaders that are strong enough for the species you’re targeting (80-100# for grouper, 40-50# for big snapper.), weights that are adequate to keep the bait on the bottom (Sometimes it takes an 8-to-12 ounce sinker!), and the proper hook (J or circle hooks both work fine, if they’re big enough.). Many anglers swear by ‘knocker’ rigs and sliding sinker rigs for good hookups, while others prefer using bank sinkers below their baits. Most insist that the most important part of the equation is keeping the bait on the ‘spot’.
Kingfish are sometimes present when you’re bottom fishing over active rocky or live bottom, so always put out a live, free-lined bait. Blue runners or big pinfish rigged with 4x stinger treble hooks are perfect for this type of fishing. Just go about your bottom fishing, put your kingfish rod (Many anglers use lighter tackle for kings. A Shimano TLD20 or 30 with lots and lots of 20# line is adequate.) in the holder, and hope a big king skyrockets with your bait.
While winter means grouper (both red and gag) closer to shore in 30′ of water, it also means the availability of big spawning sheepshead. The big females overrun almost any area of structured bottom. Fish with ‘knocker’ rigs or 3/8 oz. jigheads baited with live shrimp, Gulp! shrimp or fiddler crabs on light tackle. Some of these fish reach 10 pounds or more and are great eating, but please only take what you know you’ll eat (…and take the time to clean!) The limit is a ridiculous 15 fish per angler and most folks don’t need that many fish. Remember, these are the spawning stock and their survival means more fish next year!
Unless you’re WAY, WAY offshore in the Big Bend, you probably don’t need to worry about fancy trolled arrays of teasers or high-speed runs. Here, it’s more the business of slow-trolling big lures (Mann’s Stretch 30’s) or stinger-rigged live blue runners for grouper or kings. Yes, we do see an occasional wahoo or sailfish, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. A big plug trolled at the proper depth (just above the bottom) is deadly and is also a great way to ‘prospect’ for new numbers.
If you’re just learning to fish our area, we highly suggest that you read our Fishing Reports and consider engaging one of our offshore guides to get the basics. You certainly won’t learn his numbers, but a day with a professional guide can be very valuable. And, if you find that your tackle box is low on supplies, we’ve got a great selection in our Ship’s Store.