Christmas has passed us by, the Gulf of Mexico and Santa did a great job of making sure there were presents under the tree for first mate Mason. 2013 will be upon us shortly, and that means the Gulf fishing quotas will reset and the decks of the F/V Redemption Song will once again be awash with some of the finest seafood in the world. The Winter season brings with it cooler waters, stronger winds, and a constant barrage of cold fronts dipping down from the North. Before and after these fronts, the bite is fast and furious, particularly in deeper waters. Trips of over 100 nautical miles each way to reach prime winter fishing grounds are not unusual, but the rewards are well worth the risks.
Red Grouper, Gag Grouper, and American Red Snapper will be the staples of most trips during the winter months but many other species will make their way back to the dock during their free, air conditioned, one way ride back to Cape Haze. While most commercial fisherman are fast asleep in the rack, we stand watch each and every night, spinning rod in hand, with stars from horizon to horizon, carefully plucking away at the schools of snappers that come alive at night. These few extra hours provide us with a near constant supply of the smaller gulf snappers (Yellowtail, Vermillion, Mangrove, etc.) that often go overlooked by larger fishing operations. They are not overlooked once on the table however, as they arguably offer table fare that will give the American Red Snapper a run for its money without the price tag or intense fishing pressure.
When approaching the continental slope we will also bring home a fair number of Scamp Grouper, simply the finest eating of the whole grouper family. When weather is less cooperative, January, February, and March mark the peak of the spearfishing season for Hogfish (Hog Snapper). This odd looking member of the wrasse family was once a local delicacy reserved mainly for locals from extreme south Florida, particularly the keys. The word is out though, and Hogfish now sit atop the throne as one of the most sought after fish in the south. Hogfish are harvested only be spear, due to their diet consisting of crabs, shrimp, and other crustacean which makes them very hard to catch reliably with hook and line. This same diet is what gives them their sweet, delicate flavor.