There is a special breed of anglers in South Florida who will pass up pedaling offshore to look for dorado, wahoo and tuna. Instead, these anglers stay closer to shore to target the many different species of grouper and snapper living on the reef.
Bottom fishing is very popular among boat anglers, but there are only a handful of kayakers who explore the possibilities. While bottom fishing may not be as glamorous as hauling in a wahoo, tuna or billfish, it is often more difficult and the payoff is tastier.
Step 1: Get your kayak ready
Bottom fishing requires the kayak stay in position over the reef. You will need an anchor trolley, a three-pound, collapsible anchor with at least 150 feet of rope and a depth finder to mark structure and fish.
Step 2: Research charts and navigation apps
Research charts and navigation apps to find areas with deep ledges and rocky bottom where snapper and grouper hang out. On the water, use a GPS to locate the general area indicated on the chart.
Then, search the bottom with the fish finder for anomalies in the structure that might hold fish. Learn to read the fish finder to determine hard bottom from soft sand. Hard bottom usually shows as a darker, thinner line. Of course, marking fish is a good sign.
Step 3: Know what to use
For a day’s fishing, I take two blocks of chum and four dozen ballyhoo. While fishing the reef, I use a Sabiki rig to catch small fish for live bait. Chumming is key to attract fish and fire them into a feeding frenzy. Anchor up current from the reef allowing the chum to slowly drift towards the structure.
Step 4: Know your rig
Rig a 30-pound conventional rod with 50-pound braided line, an eight to 10-ounce sinker sliding above a 250-pound-test swivel followed by 30 feet of 30-pound fluorocarbon leader ending in a 5/0 hook.
Step 5: Prepare
To prepare ballyhoo for bait, cut each fish in half between head and tail. Remove the tail and pass the hook through the bone. Securing the hook through the tail bone allows smaller fish to pick at the bait without pulling it off the hook. When a grouper or snapper comes to dinner, solid hook placement will ensure the fish takes the bait.
Step 6: Go deep
Drop your bait to the bottom, put the reel in gear and hold the rod while pinching the line. Try to keep the bait on the bottom, occasionally bouncing it to keep it from becoming snagged. Once you are hooked, reel in quickly because these fish are experts on taking the rig back to their rocky homes.
Stop short for grouper, snapper and other bottom dwellers | Featured photo: Jason Arnold