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.
Overall light or rusty red with whitish spots and large blotches. No black mark on caudal peduncle fleshy area between tail and posterior dorsal fin.
Although Reds will “hole up” like other Groupers, many are hooked on light and fairly light tackle in areas where cover is well scattered, and this gives them the chance to demonstrate their toughness to best advantage. TACKLE AND BAITS: The standard tackle is a boat outfit with 40-pound line or more, but heavy spinning and bait casting tackle with 15- or 20-pound line can easily do the job in water less than 100 feet deep.
Reds will hit all the baits and lures recommended for Gag and other Groupers, but they are also very fond of crustacean baits, particularly shrimp and crab. They are ready strikers on Deadhead jigs, fished with light tackle.
HABITAT: Widely distributed from close inshore in many areas of Florida to ledges and wrecks in up to 300 or so feet of water. Great majority of sport catches are made in 10-100 feet.
When scared, a grouper will often swim into a hole, cave or any structure where they can wedge themselves into a crevice and flare their gills, so they can’t be removed. The beauty of these grouper holes is that once you find a good one, you can catch fish there for years.
Other good baits include sardines, scads, cigar minnows, spots, craters, grunts, thread fins and ponies or menhaden. Either way, bring plenty of frisky live bait and make sure they are on the large side.
The biggest reason is the over-abundance of the “overfished” (per fishery managers) American red snapper. These snapper are big (many between 12 and 25 pounds), extremely aggressive and will eat you out of bait and boat.
The second reason I recommend using larger baits is that grouper are inherently lazy and like to eat the biggest, easiest meal they can find. A gag grouper will routinely eat a bait that is roughly 10 percent of its body weight.
Sometimes grouper will fall victim to whole, dead fish such as Spanish sardines or cigar minnows. The problem with these are the red snapper and the thousands of sea bass, grunts and trigger fish that will peck the dead stuff off the hook.
Ideally, you can entice the grouper to feed away from the structure, so you can stop the fish from going back in the hole after he’s hooked. Let that fish get back into its home, and be prepared for your buddies to start yelling “gone!” or “fail!” as you tie on a new rig.
In this case, try to drop ahead of the spot to land the baits in the strike zone. In a zero current situation, I like to hook the bait in the area just above the anal fin.
They prefer to be able to seek shelter and hide, and although their name implies that they stay together, they can also be very solitary fish. Grouper will chase a bait occasionally, but by far they prefer to ambush their prey.
Their coloration and ability to change hues and shades to identify with their surroundings give them that ambush capability. Anglers find that medium heavy bottom fishing tackle is the beltway to approach the grouper.
Conventional reels in the thirty- to fifty-pound class teamed with a medium heavy boat rod will do the trick. Grouper feed on other small fish, crustaceans like crabs or crawfish, and squid.
When an easy opportunity swims buy they rush out, inhale their prey, and quickly return to their lair. A good rod and reel, with fifty-pound test monofilament line, can handle almost all the grouper you may encounter.
The terminal tackle consists of a sinker, leader, and hook arranged one of two ways. Even when the rig is dropped right into the bottom structure, it seldom hangs up, something charter captains love.
More serious grouper anglers will opt for the second approach, called a live bait rig. Advertised as virtually invisible to fish, it does seem to draw more strikes than regular monofilament.
Serious grouper anglers will crank the drag down on their reel as hard as they can, often using a pair of pliers to lock it down. The idea is to stop the grouper from taking the line and returning to his structure home.
When a grouper strikes, anglers will lay their rod on the rail and start winding as hard as they can. When a grouper makes it into a rock or reef, many anglers will simply break off the line and try again.
In the Gulf of Mexico, grouper anglers use magnum diving plugs that will go as deep as thirty feet or more. Strip baits are cut and attached to a double hooked trolling feather.
The wire line method is popular in and around south Florida in the winter when big black grouper move into the shallower reefs. Sometimes thirty yards in diameter, they are an ideal habitat for black grouper.
When one occurs, the boat moves directly away from the reef to drag the fish away from its hole. A head boat that provides the bait and tackle is an ideal way to bring some home to eat.