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Fishing Report for the Florida Panhandle

Capt. Alex Crawford
December 16, 2003
Carrabelle - Saltwater Fishing Report


Ring in the new year with a celebration. First, celebrate and toast to the pure, unadulterated joy of just being alive. Then, celebrate by taking time out to plan an offshore adventure into the beautiful Gulf of Mexico for some serious grouper fishing.

Grouper continue to be one of the most popular target species, primarily for two reasons. First, they offer anglers a true sporting challenge by putting up a really hard fight. Pulling up a giant, winter copperbelly grouper is akin to raising the Titanic. Secondly, many will claim that there is no fish better at the dinner table, with its mild, but delectable flavor. Ask any dedicated offshore fisherman and chances are he will tell you that groupers are the prime target. Itís that innate hunter/gatherer, bring home the bacon mentality that drives us. It is no small wonder, when grouper fillets at your local grocery sell for $15 per pound. Thatís more than filet mignon and lobster. Plus, everyone knows that consuming more fresh fish is a healthy lifestyle decision.

Winter grouper grabbiní has become an obsession. While your friends are sitting in a tree stand freezing their ears off, you chose to satisfy your fishing passion cranking up big bubba groupers. They are a reliable species in the Gulf and one does not have to run far or look hard. Gag grouper spawn in the Gulf January through March and live on coral reefs and limestone ledges. GPS reef numbers are readily available.

The Florida record gag grouper stands at 71 pounds, the world mark is 80. Best baits include big, live pinfish, squirrelfish (sand perch), hardtails, mingos and grunts. Excellent cut baits are pogies, mackerel and quality squid.

Stout gear, minimum 30 pound class is mandatory to pull big bubba out of his coral home. Eighty pound leaders and large circle hooks work well. The key with big fish is to use heavy sinkers so you are directly vertical on the fish. And on the bite, get several quick turns on the reel handle in order to get your fish off the bottom before he can rock you up. This is the number one reason my anglers lose good fish. Remember to be aggressive, hook sets are free in this life, have as many as you would like.

Living on the same turf as Mr. Grouper is his smaller cousin, the black sea bass. Fortunately, sea bass also spawn from January to March in the Gulf. Large spawning males are distinctive with the large hump, forward of the dorsal fin. These fish are decked out in their brilliant spawning colors with turquoise on their humps and iridescent dorsal spines. Some would argue that seabass are every bit equal to groupers in their table quality. So, double your fun while grouper fishing. If the grouper bite slows and the current is ripping, send down squid tentacles on smaller sticks. Sea bass are eager eaters who fight hard on light tackle. Grab a few for the box and remember to include them in your New Yearís dinner party celebration. Life is tough, play hard and celebrate every chance you get!

Till next tide, tight lines and solid hookups,

Captain Alex Crawford

Proud Member Florida Outdoor Writers Association

Proud Member Florida Guides Association

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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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