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Down deep in the Gulf.

More grouper, just go deeper.

Florida Panhandle anglers have gotten hot about deep-dropping over the past several years. Tighter regulations on nearshore species, such as gag grouper and red snapper, have caused folks to look elsewhere to catch eatin' fish on offshore trips. Deepwater bottom fishing is a nice change of pace. If you're willing to dig around to find spots, there's not an easier way to put some excellent table fare on board and probably catch some fish you have never seen before. Panhandle anglers enjoy catches of yellowedge grouper, snowy grouper, golden and blue tilefish, escolar and barrelfish.

Captain Jake Adams, of Pensacola, is one of the best on the Gulf. "I like to focus in 600 to 800 feet of water," he says, which is a broad range, but right about the same as trolling range for many anglers.

As for specific areas, you can deep drop any areas south of the edge that runs from Panama City to Pensacola. You'll be looking for depth first and then you have to do a little homework.

"We find our spots by trolling along at 8 knots with wahoo lures out and we keep an eye on the bottom machine," Adams said.

In water this deep you might think that you need large structure, but Adams begs to differ. "My ideal spots are 5-to 6-foot ledges that mark up with some low fuzz around them." Low marks are generally indicative of grouper like snowies and yellowedges, and marks up the column a bit more are often white snappers and porgies. "Yellowedge grouper definitely prefer mud ledges and snowies like the rocks," said Adams. You will need to get your bottom machine dialed in to tell the difference, but generally the darker the return, the harder the bottom.

Panhandle deep-dropping is a year-round fishery, but summertime can be hit and miss. "My two favorite times of the year are, first, fall," Adams says, "and then spring."

An October trip with Adams proved again that he's a man of his word. We boated a good grouper catch, including snowy and yellowedge grouper and tilefish to round out the box. The air temps were in the 70s and seas in the fall and spring are much more predictable than in the summer and the winter, too.

As for baits, bonito strips, northern mackerel, whole squid, menhaden and really any fresh cut bait will produce. We used 5-pound weights in those 600- to 800-foot depths.

Regulations in Gulf waters for deepwater grouper species include a 1 per vessel limit (included in the 4-fish combined grouper total) for speckled hind and warsaw grouper. Blueline and golden tilefish are included in the 20-reef fish per person aggregate limit in Gulf waters.

Buck Hall, Panhandle Field Editor

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Author:Hall, Buck
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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