Large sharks and carnivorous marine mammals prey on adult red grouper. Red grouper are found in the western Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts through the Gulf of Mexico and south to Brazil.
Both the commercial and recreational fisheries have size limits to reduce harvest of immature red grouper. The commercial and recreational fishing seasons are closed from January through April to protect red grouper during their peak spawning period.
To reduce by catch, there are restrictions on the type of gear fishermen may use and where they can fish. Minimum size limits protect immature red grouper.
Year-round and/or seasonal area closures for commercial and recreational sectors to protect spawning groupers. The red grouper is one of the most important species of fish caught off the southeast coast of the Unite States.
Color is variable and can change, however the head and body are generally dark brown with a reddish cast, shading to pink or reddish below, with pale poorly defined pale areas and small black spots around the eye. The soft dorsal, caudal and anal fins are dark with narrow white edges.
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They’re tough predators, can put quite a fight and can provide the angler with a lot of thrills. They prefer muddy and rocky bottoms, but can be caught in a variety of habitats such as open seas, shallow seas, subtidal aquatic beds, coral reefs, rocky shores, sandy shores, estuaries waters, intertidal flats, intertidal marshes, coastal saline lagoons, coastal freshwater lagoons, and karts.
In colder months they move back inshore, and sometimes you can get big ones in water as shallow as 20 ft. Like most predator fish that feed close to the bottom, when a red grouper grabs the bait and feels resistance, it will try to run to the nearest hiding place.
Don’t let them do that, and the first thing to do after hooking one is crank the reel and lift the rod up as much as you can. However, they are also interested in lures, and catching them with jigs and jerk baits in shallower water can be very entertaining.
A red grouper will basically gulp any fish passing by, if it looks appetizing and it can fit in its mouth. Make sure though that you hook them by the dorsal fin or their lower jaw, to live longer.
Cutting bigger bait fish in half at a 45° angle seems to have quite a great effect on the presentation, resulting in more bites. Some lures to try out are Your Minnows, Mirror Deep Divers (red, orange and black silver), Salas Jigs in Green / Blue Sardine, or squid imitating jigs such as the ones from Charities.
Shakespeare makes quite a few Ugly Sticks for this purpose, with an OK price / quality ratio. So, equip your rod with a 4/0 Penn Senator or Abu Garcia Seascape bait casting reel.
It’s always best to go with braided line for groupers, because it gives you a better control of the fish right away, as it doesn’t stretch. Depending on the bait used, depth and fish size targeted, your line can be between 40-60lb.
Since groupers in general, have a big mouth, sizeable circle hooks are the best for these fish. Groupers are a species of fish that belong to the Epinephrine subfamily of the family Serranidae.
Irrespective of the types of grouper you wish to target you can catch large ones with lures, live and dead bait. If you are casting in the shallows, use jerk bait and retrieve it erratically to lure the fish out in the open.
You will need heavy tackle, especially if there are a lot of rocks under the water where you are fishing and a braided line that can withstand the powerful pull of a caught grouper. If you are using spinning tackle, make sure that the reel is heavy enough to withstand an 80 to 100-pound test mainline and a low gear ratio to give you more control.
This tackle will come in handy when the panicking grouper fish tries to swim under a ledge to break the line. For live bait, use pinkish, grunts, blue runner, sardines, and mullet.
Bridled bait will set in nicely in the mouth of a giant grouper. The grouper is a lean and moist fish that has a mild flavor, and the flesh is firm and flaky.
The FCC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) manages the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean differently, and it’s important to know what’s in season and what you can harvest from each shoreline. The Gulf of Mexico is a unique body of water that provides commercial and recreational anglers plenty of fishing opportunities.
The Gulf covers most of Florida’s west coast, from Pensacola in the Panhandle to the start of the Everglades at the tip of the peninsula. This is important to keep in mind as there are different regulations for what’s in season and what you can harvest depending on if you’re in state or federal waters.
For Gag Grouper fishing in the Gulf, it’s important to note what county you’re embarking from. For counties of Franklin, Weibull, Taylor and Jefferson (in the Panhandle area from Apalachicola to Steinhatchee) there is open season in state waters from April 1 to June 30, and again from September 1 to December 31.
Black, Red, Scamp, Yellow fin and Yellow mouth Grouper all have similar regulations in the Gulf. It’s open season in both state and federal waters for Rock Hind, Coney, Yellow edge and Snowy Groupers.
You can ask your charter captain if the size you have is a keeper or not; or refer to the FCC regulations to make sure you’re staying compliant. Now moving east to the beautiful Atlantic Ocean where there are excellent opportunities for grouper fishing.
Keep in mind, the FCC considers the Everglades and Florida Keys as part of the Atlantic Ocean waters, and all fishing done in these areas must stay within Atlantic-specific regulations. From the Florida Keys to Jacksonville, anglers have hundreds of cities to choose from to launch your grouper expedition.
The real question is, what subspecies of grouper you’ll find at the end of your line. The season runs until December 31, and each angler can collect one or the other each trip within the 3 grouper aggregate.
The majority of media and political attention is focused on red snapper, but there are several other reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico that are of commercial and recreational importance. Fishermen are putting our heads together to independently address this issue instead of waiting for politics and management to catch up.
Are we catching less red grouper because the red snapper population has expanded as it recovers? Thanks to successful management under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, red snapper populations are rebounding and their range is expanding.
Solving the problem of a declining of red grouper population is not going to be an easy task, but I have confidence that our collaboration between industry, scientists, and managers, together with the best-available science mandated by Magnuson-Stevens, can successfully recover the red grouper fishery. Paul Lough ridge is a commercial fisherman and owner of four boats out of Crystal River, Florida.