TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The season for gag grouper is much shorter than normal this year. It began Sept. 1 and will only run through Nov. 10. The season usually runs from May to the end of the year.

Right now, while the waters are still warm, you’ll need to get a little farther offshore to have a better chance at catching the bigger keepers. They have to be 24 inches to the tail to keep. That could be anywhere from 60 out to 200 or more feet deep.

Captain Kyle Applefield with Loaded Down Sport Fishing, said that after Hurricane Idalia moved through, they are a little easier to find.

“Since that storm came by, it really stirred things up, what that does is it congregates the fish in large aggregations on some of the bigger structure. Not all of them, but when you find them they’re plentiful”, Applefield said.

Heading into October when the first few cold fronts begin to push through, groupers tend to move inshore to those shallower depths.

“As we get these cold fronts, it’ll bring another whole wave of fish into our area so we’re really looking forward to the first big cold front with west and northwest wind,” said Kyle. Those cold front cool the waters down and you can find keeper gags on the shallower ledges and even grad artificial baits through the shipping channel inside Tampa Bay.

As for non-artificial baits, Kyle said to start with frozen threadfins or sardines baits and switch to live pins once you start catching a few. The bigger gags are typically a little pickier when it comes to feeding. When you switch to live baits, make sure to use the conventional rig, the lead weight from a swivel to a leader to a hook.

As for the tackle, Kyle said he uses a 50 to 60-pound main line braid or a 60 to 80-pound monofilament inshore.

For a knocker rig on those dead baits, he said to use a line-to-line knot with an 80-pound fluorocarbon leader on a conventional reel or a 60-pound fluorocarbon leader with spinning gear. When you switch to live baits, he said to rig up 80-pound fluorocarbon or 100-pound fluorocarbon if you’re in the deeper waters and near any bigger structure.

Be sure to send Amanda Holly your fish pictures when you land the big one! Happy hunting.