Grouper fishing in the shallow water of Tampa bay is still hot and some days hotter based on a report we just received from local angler and grouper fanatic Vance Tice. Vance is a professional angler, but not a guide in the traditional sense of the term. For a modest fee (less than half the cost of a typical grouper guide), Vance accompanies local and visiting anglers on their boats, and teaches them what they need to know about how to catch grouper. It was one of those trips that produced this report about limiting out (almost) on big, fat, and tasty gag grouper, and doing it inside the Skyway bridge.
Vance showed up at my house around 2pm today. He had just gotten back and was in the driveway getting out of his truck when I asked him how they had done.
"We would have limited out if we hadn't lost the first monster, and I have to admit I had one curly cue (a lost jig as a result of a poorly tied knot)." The first of three big lost fish, Vance's experienced shoulders told him it was a thirty-incher or bigger that untied that knot. Since Vance didn't need the fish, three of the four anglers on the boat took seven big fish home. As today's cost of foreign grouper goes through the roof, catching that many pounds of fish more than pays for the cost of the expertise. And what you learn you can keep long after the fish had been eaten.
Vance fished on a 22' Sabalo - the same boat (but a little longer) as my partner Captain David Rieumont fishes, it was a good craft for Vance, owner Steve Creasy, and friends Scott Schlatcher and Jason Roundtree. Four guys fishing downriggers, if they're experienced, or well managed, can make for a comfortable and productive day.
"I told Steve that he should not expect days like this anytime we go out." laughed Vance. "We can run out to the 'Peaks' (a popular offshore spot that produces all known species and a few surprises dozens of miles west of the bay) and spend 275 gallons of gas, or use seven like we did today. You just never know." But despite the comparison, catching grouper in thirty feet of water is a different experience than hauling them vertically from 100' of wetness. And of all the anglers in our region, Vance is one of the masters.
All's Well That Ends Well...
The biggest fish, and not the beast Vance feels got released professionally as a result of his masterful knot-tying abilities, turned out at 29" and the smallest 23". Most of the fish turned in around 26". In the words of Tice, nice solid "chunks".
If you are interested in learning how to do it, and learning it the best way possible (on your boat with Vance teaching you 'en situ') call the master at (813) 787-8712. There is not much time before the season closes, so call him fast. At $250 and whatever tip you feel is appropriate and your tired hands can hold, the cost of the grouper classroom experience is cheap at twice that price.
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