By Greg Rapp
Historically, we have to work hard for our fish in February. I find myself switching things up a bit from my typical go to of live bait trolling. Heading offshore I arm myself with a 5lb box of squid, 5lb box of sardines or, dozen live pin fish or heavy vertical jigs, and a dozen ballyhoo. This will allow me to be ready for any available opportunity that comes my way.
Most of the time I have my sights set on my favorite bottom structure between 160 and 220 ft with a day of chicken rig fishing in mind. This time of year you can usually put a great day together with nice vermillion snappers and trigger fish. You will also score the occasional lane snapper, porgy, yellow tail snapper and sea bass. Unavoidably you will also catch a lot of red snapper and I am quite certain you will catch your biggest grouper ever (on a chicken rig with a piece of squid) because that is just how it goes down when they are closed off. While bouncing from spot to spot, watch the upper column of your bottom machine. If you get markings 50ft or more above the structure, there is a good chance you have found amberjack and almaco jacks that are both fun to catch and tasty to eat when properly iced and fillet. This is when you deploy your live baits or vertical jigs. Most days I find myself sticking to this game plan to provide a lot of action and some good table fare. I always leave an extra 30 minutes to a hour on the ride home, just in case I stumble into that line of rays or color change holding cobia. I also like to high-speed troll on my way out on those choppy days that slow me down, or even rig a few ballyhoo with sea witches, or islanders and troll out if it is really rough, and I have to slow way down. No one is ever disappointed with a bonus wahoo to start off the day.
Like I said, “that’s the game plan,” but I am always ready to change it up when better opportunities present themselves. It is very possible you find a color change and scattered weed just outside any of the shoals, or just inside the reefs, and you put a great day together sight fishing cobia and triple tail. Very possible to have clean water on the shallower reefs and see kings skyrocketing, black fin tuna busting and sails spraying. It is also very possible you cross a hard current edge in 140 to 200 ft and pick a few mahi, and the occasional wahoo or black fin tuna.
Point being, February can and will challenge you. Just make sure you are prepared to seize any opportunity sent your way and you will have a productive day on the water.