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Get far out into the Gulf early for hot snapper, grouper bite

By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON - | Jul 23, 2021

Capt. George Tunison

Get up early and make your run far out into the Gulf to take advantage of the hot snapper and grouper bite. These fish are waiting for your squid, ladyfish, pinfish or jig to be lowered down into the 80 to 150-foot zones where they live.

Gulf red snapper have a 16-inch minimum size limit while red grouper have a 20-inch limit. Gag grouper have a 24-inch size limit. All three have a two fish per day harvest limit.

Red snapper season is open till July 28. Gag grouper stays open till Dec. 31 and red grouper season is open all year in state waters.

“Gulf State Waters” are defined as – From shore to 9 nautical miles out.

Before going fishing for these tasty reef fish, remember to first sign up! From the FWC – “Anyone who intends to fish for or harvest certain reef fish from a private vessel in Florida are required to obtain the State Reef Fish Angler designation.”

“Sign up online at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com or anywhere you can purchase a Florida fishing license.” There is no cost to sign.

After a successful morning and good time, play it safe and get back to port before the afternoon fireworks start. If the air turns green and everyone’s hair is standing straight up, you may have waited too long to start your return trip, realizing too late that staying to catch “just one more” wasn’t a good idea after all.

If you do get caught in an open boat most say to put the fishing (lightning) rods flat on the deck and get down flat as well and away from metal and rods. Not really sure how this is accomplished in smaller boats.

Obviously, lightning is a constant and always unpredictable summer hazard for anglers, golfers, outdoor workers — especially here in Southwest Florida.

For new-to-the-area boaters, running aground is also a danger in our shallow waters. Hard groundings or hitting objects in the water at speed often means passengers being ejected from the boat in the blink of an eye. In many cases the boat keeps going, or worse, circles back to chew on you with that prop.

Here’s one more reminder the new Coast Guard regulation. If your boat is 26 feet or less, you must be physically or electronically attached to your ECOS (engine cut off switch) while the boat is on plane. This new CG regulation took effect in April 2021 and will save lives when followed.

The exceptions are, if the main helm is installed within an enclosed cabin and, if the vessel was built before Jan. 1, 2020, and an ECOS was not installed.

Something fascinating about seeing a group of charged sharks right off your transom in shallow water, milling about in your chum slick. These super predators have followed the scent to its source and at times will even try to eat your chum bag. It suddenly gets more interesting when a 5-footer takes a dead bait or your fly, and rockets off on a 75-yard run, leaving a high speed torpedo wake across the flat as it heats up the reel, and deeply bends that lite rod.

Throwing out dead bottom baits in your slick always works but, having a live bait under a float makes it much more interesting to observe. Try circle hooking a live ladyfish or mullet under a balloon.

If the shark takes a bait then suddenly the line goes slack, don’t reel in to check your bait quite yet. Sharks often bite, drop it and then pick it up again.

For small to medium sharks, I double the end of the main line with a Spider Hitch and then add a mono leader. Now attach a 6 to 12-inch piece of single strand wire to the leader with an Albright knot. The hook is then secured to the wire leader with a Haywire Twist.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. You can contact him at 239-282-9434 or captgeorget3@aol.com.