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Fishing Report for the Florida Panhandle

Capt. Alex Crawford
February 12, 2007
Carrabelle - Saltwater Fishing Report

GET IN BETWEEN THE HIGHS AND THE LOWS

The real secret to catching winter groupers is to build enough flexibility into your fishing schedule so you can select a comfortable day to go offshore. Granted winter tends to have more low pressure systems that highs, but if you are dedicated to studying your online weather models, you can find an occasional fishable day offshore.

That is exactly what we did this past Saturday and we were rewarded with some nice eating fishes. The winds were Northwest at 5 to 10 and the seas were barely one foot. We were thrilled to grab the day and head offshore in pursuit of gag groupers and other good eating critters. We left the dock at eight with a warm sun in our faces. The air was in the high sixties by lunch and Spring was in the air along with all of the yellow pine pollen.

We had no live baits, but I bought a box of good squid and 10 pounds of sardines and cigar minnows. There were also some leftover, freezer-burned mullet.

The trip originated from Carrabelle, so we headed due south from the East Pass sea buoy out to about 50 feet of water. This area is covered with coral and limestone ledges. The bottom machine lit up bright red, telling us we had found hard, live bottom. We saw fish hugging the bottom and marked them with our orange Bandit marker buoy. In my excitement to get set up on the great show on the bottom, I forgot to change out my anchor. I dropped my heavy Danforth and not my reef anchor. Big mistake Captain, because later we hung it in a coral head and spent 30 minutes getting it out. But, luckily I was able to retrieve it. Buying new anchors is not fun, kinda like flushing cash money down the toilet.

As we came tight on the anchor and sent baits down, I realized that the current was just rippiní. Good sign! We immediately noticed that something was stealing our baits as fast as they reached bottom. You guessed it, when I looked at the color sonar, I discovered a huge school of grey trigger fish under the transducer. Since triggers are such great eating, we changed out to small 1/0 live bait hooks and small pieces of squid. If you send a bait down with triggers around, just set the hook two or three times aggressively after you hit bottom. Normally you will hook up a nice trigger. Grey triggers must now measure twelve inches at the fork of the tail, not overall length. There isnít much meat on small trigger fillets anyway.

The triggers quit for a while and the big grunts attacked our squid. The bigger grunts are sometimes called white snappers because they are in the snapper family and are excellent when fried golden brown and served with an ice-cold beer. But Iíve digressed again, what about the groupers?

We moved a short distance down wind and current and set up again on the best show that we saw drifting back. I fired down a big squid and it all at once it started walking slowly. Donít ask me why, but sometimes groupers will inhale a bait and at other times they just mouth it and swim slowly away. The trick is to be patient, the grouper will eventually try to swallow it. With a circle hook, when you have come tight to the fish, just start reeling and the hook will set in the corner of the jaw. The drawback to this tactic, is that the fish will rock you up in his coral home. Fishing on coral reefs produce groupers, but you will lose some hooks and leaders. For you adventurous types, keep some air and your BC onboard and swim down and have a little conversation with big bubba grouper. Donít forget good gloves and your thick wet suit in winter.

We caught beaucoups of short gags, before the keeper fish started to bite. We ended this wonderful mid-winter day with enough fish for dinner. We took the fillets to a local restaurant and for a reasonable price they fried them up and served them golden brown with a few sides, plus the obligatory frosty brews. There was even leftovers for the next dayís breakfast. Ever try grouper, triggers and eggs?

We were extremely fortunate to have found a perfect winter day to go offshore. And we were happy with our modest catch, there was plenty to go around. With flexible schedules and some weather planning, you can replicate this same trip. It was sort of a trial run in preparation for spring fishing trips. It wonít be long now, so get your fishing tackle ready.

Till next tide, solid hookups and tight lines,

Captain Alex Crawford

(850) 697-8946

Proud member Florida Outdoor Writers Association

Proud member Florida Guides Association

Website: www.topknots.com

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Captain Alex Crawford is a full time guide who has fished the Florida Panhandle offshore for 26 years. He specializes in grouper and snapper trips with light tackle on live bait. Custom trips for companies with multiple boats will be arranged. Inshore trips targeting specific species and custom eco trips are available for birding, gator watching, shelling, picnics and barrier islands. Contact Captain Alex for a fun and productive trip on Florida's Forgotten Coast.

Contact Info:

Topknots Charters
P. O. Box 1029
Carrabelle, FL 32322
Phone: 850-697-8946
Alt. Phone: same
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