15 Minutes with Captain Ross Gallagher…
With the near shore migration of keeper sized Gag grouper getting underway, now is the time for small boat owners to have the opportunity to target these fish that can be out of reach during much of the summer. I’ve been fishing large style soft baits long enough for grouper that I can leave the dock with out any frozen or live baits and be confidant in my ability to put fish in the boat. While most people don’t take artificial baits to this extreme, it certainly has a place in your arsenal of fish catching techniques.
Ft. Meyers, FL
Every season I begin building upon my list of “numbers” or GPS coordinates that are locations of fish attracting structures either man made or natural. If you’re just starting out looking for a place to start fishing, check public listings for artificial reefs located in your county. This link is a great starting point Florida Artificial Reefs by County. Over time, these artificial reefs accumulate soft and hard corals and form the base food chain for a reef ecosystem. While public sites are good starting place, their easy accessibility makes them a heavily hit fishing areas, resulting in fewer keeper sized fish and some very weary big fish.
My best advice is to pay very close attention to your bottom/sonar machine. Many of my best producing spots, I’ve actually found on my way to somewhere else. These smaller areas, may be lightly pressured, or even better, not fished at all. Finding one or two of these areas in a day can fill a boats limit in a matter of minutes instead of hours. Stay tuned for an upcoming article specifically on reading your bottom machine.
Soft Bait Selection:
Hogy 5″ Flounder: It’s now been a little over two years since I began using the Hogy flounder baits for grouper. It didn’t take long to win me over on their effectiveness either. The bait has just the right amount of “kick”. When you watch this bait dance in the water, you’ll see what I mean. I’m a firm believer that the thumping tail draws big strikes. ALSO The larger size helps eliminate undersized by catch. While an 18” grouper can still eat a 5inch flounder, I do find that the larger sized bait helps me target the largest fish in an area.
Hogy 10inch Jiggin’: My original “go to” grouper soft bait as it is a perfect eel imitator with it’s long slender profile.
X-Strong Jig heads: Depending on depth, choose one of the conventional style jig heads in the 1oz or 3oz sizes. X-Strong Jig Heads excel at vertical presentations. Remember to attach this rig to your leader using a loop knot.
Darter Heads: The darter head can be used at all depths, with a twitch – pause retrieve it will have a walk the dog action. The bait keeper screw provides secure connection to your bait, while maintaining maximum action.
11/0 Drop Shot Rig: The drop shot rig is great for drift fishing. Simply “Texas rig” a 10inch Original and attach an appropriate sized weight to the rig.
Top three colors are black, blamber and bone. Amber fleck for the flounder.
Hogy Flounder Series:
Fishing flounder style baits can be a welcome break from the faster paced speed jigging techniques used with the Eel Imitating baits.
Speed: I find that flounders produce the best when fished with a slower, 1-2-3 bounce across the bottom, followed by a two second pause.
Rod Tip: Don’t high stick! Be very aware of your line slack when using any jigging technique. Frequently strikes occur when the bait is free falling towards the bottom, with out proper line control it can be easy to give a short hook set, or even worse you may not even realize that you’ve missed some strikes.
Action: As you’ve probably gathered, fishing the flounder is all about a slow, tumbling presentation across the bottom.
Hogy Jiggin’ Series:
Speed A slow sweeping jigging motion is the most effective for codfish. Moving the bait 2’ – 3’ off the bottom is fine.
Rod Tip Try to keep the rod around the 9 o’ clock position. You’ll have the ability to pick up slack quickly and have the most sensitivity.
Action So now you’ve let the bait down to the bottom. Begin lifting the bait off the bottom in slow 2’ hops. A slow sweeping method is not only effective; it saves a lot of your energy as well. If you become tired of jigging, just put the rod in the rod holder and let the boat do the work. Often, just the rocking of a boat will impart enough action to draw strikes from hungry codfish.
Rod: 5’2” – 5’6” Heavy Jigging Style Spinning Rod For this more active jigging style, I like a heavy action rod with a parabolic bend. The bend of the rod will help take the pressure off your arms and put it into the fish. A stout rod will help you turn a fish’s head at strike. Very important for pulling bull dogging grouper away from structure. Fortunately, newer jigging rods are extremely light and allow for all day use with minimal fatigue.
Reel: Any high quality spinning reel will work. I prefer a gear ratio in the 5:1 range. I find it a nice balance of speed and power.
Line: Braid is absolutely necessary for vertical jigging. With out the added sensitivity, odds are that you’ll miss a majority of your strikes. Remember to add a 10’ top shot of 80lb mono for shock absorption.
Fishing the Hogy Flounder (Click here for rigging instructions)
Rigging the Jiggin’ Hogy (Click here for rigging instructions)