GAFF Life — Coastal Lifestyle, Saltwater Angling & Destinations

31 Янв 2014 | Author: | No comments yet »
Sealine 400

Sniff Out the Cheese Bottom for Summer Grouper

Summer is a great time to target red grouper. Water temperatures will be climbing into the mid- to upper-80s and the shallow water grouper bite will be slow at best. So bag the gags, head a little further offshore and seek out a little cheese. No, not the stuff you eat—areas of hard bottom, often called cheese bottom or Swiss cheese bottom.


Cheese bottom, or hard bottom, is an area of flat limestone rock riddled with potholes and surrounded by a sea of sand. It’s an area covered with rocks, cracks, sea fans, and other types of live bottom. An area of hard bottom can be as small as 30 to 40 feet in diameter or as large as a pro football stadium. These areas of hard live bottom are an oasis in a sea of sand in which smaller bait fish take refuge from larger predator fish. While areas of hard bottom can be found along both coasts and the Keys, it’s more abundant in the Gulf of Mexico, from the bend in the Panhandle southward.

So just which fish call these areas home? Well, fish like scamp and gag grouper, yellowtail, mangrove, red and vermilion snapper among others. The big dawg on the block, and most abundant of the predators, is the red grouper. Cheese bottom is the red grouper’s number one hangout. They take up residence in the many potholes and wait for an unsuspecting bait fish to come scurrying off the sand and then they pounce. Poor little guy didn’t see that coming. The bigger and wiser red grouper like to hang around the perimeters, knowing that’s where dinner is going to come from. The gag, black and scamp grouper tend to gather around cracks and breaks in the bottom, where they feel a bit more secure. Snapper also tend to hold near the larger pieces of structure as they don’t want to become the groupers next meal.

Finding areas of hard bottom is fairly simple as long as you know what to look for and you know how to use and read your bottom machine. On the left coast, you’ll want to run out to 90-feet of water before you start your search. As summer wears on and water temperatures continue to soar, you’ll need to run even deeper. The first thing to look for is bait stacks or a show of fish holding on or near the bottom. Baitfish that are on the move will often hold somewhere in the mid to upper portions of the water column. Find fish holding near the bottom and there’s a good chance they’re holding over a piece of cheese bottom. A huge show of fish or tiny little blips—it doesn’t matter—fish them all. Another sign to look for is the echo below the bottom on your machine. Note these marks—the longer they are the harder the bottom. Find an area with deep echoes and a show of fish and you may have just found yourself a new honey hole. A little hint here, if you don’t know what you’re looking at on your bottom machine, try this: Go over an area that you know is hard, an artificial reef or the like, and watch your screen closely. Then go over an area of soft, sandy bottom and look for the differences. Do this in shallow water, as most machines will give a better reading there.

As far as tackle is concerned, it really comes down to a matter of personal preference. For grouper I use fast-action heavy 6′-6 Daiwa Eliminator Rods matched up with Daiwa Sealine 400 reels. I spool the reels up with 50- or 60-pound mono. I also carry some 15- to 30-pound class, seven-foot Shakespeare Custom rods matched up with Pflueger Contender G50 reels. The reels are spooled up with 30-pound mono. These I use to target snapper but they also have enough backbone to land a fairly large grouper. You may want to carry along a few lighter spinning outfits in the 15- to 25-pound class for smaller snapper. As I stated earlier, rods and reels really come down to individual preferences. Ask ten guides what they use and you’ll more than likely get ten different answers.

As far as terminal tackle, this too is a matter of personal preference. If grouper are the main target, I use Gamakatsu 7/0 to 8/0 9841 4x strong hooks for grouper and 2/0 to 5/0 9841 4x strong hooks for snapper. The size depends on which species of snapper I’m targeting. To rig for grouper I tie a four- to ten-ounce swivel weight to the main line, the size of the weight will depend on water depth, current flow and if I anchor or drift. Quick tip: Use just enough weight to take your bait to the bottom and hold it there. It’s been proven that a fish is more likely to hit a piece of bait naturally falling to the bottom as opposed to a bait that is dragged to the bottom by a heavy lead weight. Next, I tie a four- to five-foot length of clear mono leader to the other end of the swivel weight and then tie on the hook. For snapper, use a knocker rig or a slip weight and swivel. To set up a knocker rig, simply slide a slip weight onto the main line and then attach your hook. If you are using light line, braided line or colored line, you may want to tie on a five-foot length of clear mono leader using a double surgeons knot. Then slide the slip weight onto the leader and tie on your hook. The idea is to let the weight slide right up against the hook. This is a very effective rig for snapper. Another way to rig for snapper is to slide the sinker onto the main line and then tie a #5 90-pound barrel swivel to the line. Next, tie a four- to five-foot length of clear mono leader to the other end of the swivel and attach your hook to the leader. Now, I know some of you are thinking, I know all this already, get on with it. But for every one of you that knows, there are two that may not.

Sealine 400

Alright, we’ve found a good piece of cheese bottom, we’re rigged up and ready to fish. wait, what about bait? Well, I’m glad you asked. My number one bait for hard bottom grouper digging is a jig and grub. Without a doubt I’ve caught more and bigger fish on a jig and grub tail than any other bait. Both Spro and Mission Fishin make a great jig head. Both use quality materials and super-sharp, extra-strong hooks. For shallow water, I use a three- to four-ounce Spro Prime bucktail jig head. In water over 100 feet, I use the Mission Fishin jig heads in six- to ten-ounces. The color of the jig head isn’t as important as the color of the grub tail. Match three- and four-ounce jig heads with six-inch Bubba’s Super Grub Tail in a glow color. For heavier jigs use eight-inch glow colored tails. Quick tip: Leave the bag of tails out in the sun when moving from one spot to the next to make the tails really glow. Also keep in mind these are just the brand names I use and may or may not be the best choices for you. To rig a jig, just tie a five-foot length of 60- to 80-pound (depending on jig size) mono leader onto the main line, and then tie the jig onto the leader. Next slip a grub tail onto the hook and tip it with a whole Spanish sardine or strip of squid. If you are using ‘dines, just pinch off the tail and secure the sardine by placing the hook through both eyes so it pivots freely. Another tip: Make sure the body of your sardine is straight and use the freshest bait you can find. Then just send it to the bottom and take up one full crank on the reel. The idea here is to let the jig bounce off the bottom, kicking up some sand. This bait is deadly on red and gag grouper. As far as other baits go, you can use just about any cut or live bait that you would normally use when targeting grouper and snapper.

OK, it’s time to fish. Just a couple of pointers here. I found it works best to drift-fish a new spot versus anchoring. After marking a show of fish, just shut the motor(s) off and start a drift. If you find you are drifting too fast, use a drift sock (sea anchor) to slow your drift. If the drift is still too fast, you can use your motor(s) to hold you in place.

Once over the spot, drop the baits down and see what comes up. If you hook into a good fish, throw a marker over and save the waypoint. If you’re just picking up small fish, still save the number in your GPS, but move onto the next spot. If you do land a good fish, keep drifting till the bite stops. Then move upwind/current of the marker and make another drift. Use the marker to get an idea of the size of the spot and to keep you drifting over the same area. With each pass move over a few feet to thoroughly comb the area. If you boat a gag grouper or mangrove snapper, mark that spot and really take a good look at the area of bottom these fish came from. Remember that gags and mangos are structure-oriented fish and if you look closely you might find a nice break or crack in the bottom that could just turn out to be a honey hole. If you do locate some kind of structure mark it and try anchor-fishing it.

In the heat of summer slow drift-fishing a big chunk of cheese bottom is a great way to fish a number of spots without dropping anchor every time. Not having to set and pull the anchor every stop when that sun is beating down on you like a hammer sounds a lot better. Good luck and have fun. I hope this method works as well for you as it does for me.

Sealine 400
Sealine 400

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