When most anglers think of bottom fishing for grouper, they usually think that means taking a long run offshore. During late November and early December, grouper migrate close to shore, so a long run might not be necessary. There are times we target them in as shallow as 12 feet of water just off the beaches. In most cases that is only a mile or so from shore. The area from 1 to 6 miles offshore is perfect this time of year. Trolling a large-lipped, hard-bodied lure over just about any hard bottom can locate the fish. Especially productive are areas that are craggy, broken and might contain small ledges or breaks. These types of bottoms are congregation points for schools of grouper. They forage there for something to eat, but they also use it as a protective hiding place to sleep at night. Over the years I've found many locations that produce catches of early winter grouper that defy definition. Many times we would leave the marina with a party of six and would return within the hour after catching our limit. The key is pay attention to water and weather conditions as well as major solunar movements. Bad weather approaching often stimulates a good bite, so it pays to fish a day or two before a front arrives. Don't be surprised to find Christmas week king mackerel. The abundance of baitfish off the beach should keep king and Spanish mackerel around for a few more weeks, as long as future cold fronts don't cool water temperatures too much. Currently, water temperatures are hovering around 70 degrees. Live bait fishing is ideal. While bottom fishing for grouper, keep a free-lined live bait available for a passing king. But don't be surprised should your free-lined bait end up in the mouth of a big grouper and hung under a rock on the bottom.
Larry Blue charters the Niki Joe from Madeira Beach Marina. Call (727) 871-1058 or visit captainlarryblue.com.