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 toucan 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.
Toucan 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.
Grouper are one of the most popular species of bottom fish, highly sought after by both sportsmen and diners. Their aggressive nature, heavyweight fighting ability and potential to grow to very large size makes them a trophy any angler is proud to add to their resume.
The firm flesh and mild flavor make them very popular as a food source where ever they are found. The term grouper does not apply to a single species of fish in the way striped bass or albacore does.
Instead, grouper is a general term applied to a larger group of related sub-species all of which share similar traits. Likewise, grouper can mean any of almost 100 different fish worldwide including red, yellow fin, black or even the enormous Goliath.
Speaking of where they can be found, various species range from New England to South America, including the waters of Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. Regardless of where you may be fishing and specific species targeted all grouper prefer to make their homes near cover, an important element when it comes to hiding from predators and hunting for their own prey.
When hunting they will use the hide as a point of concealment from which they will ambush passing prey with a lightning fast gulping attack. This is not without reason, or because the captain likes running the engines, it is because that is where the big boys live.
It is common for juveniles to spend the early part of their life in the grass beds or backwater pockets, places that provide cover (at least for smaller fish) and plenty of food without the larger predators. If your local waters include the habitat and structure grouper need there is no reason some of those juveniles would not take up permanent residence.
Look for deeper shipping channels, reefs or artificial structure and fish it the same as you would offshore areas. The technique you select will depend on specific species targeted, water conditions and equipment available.
In fact, their physical build is not well suited for long distance travels but is instead intended for short bursts of speed and brute strength. Popular live baits include pinkish, craters, sardines, grunts, spots and various minnows.
When selecting live bait it is always best to pick a species the local groupers are feeding on naturally. Letting the line slack and waiting for the fish relax and move into the open may give you a second chance.
Although larger spinning gear can be used successfully it is not as effective pulling large grouper from the depths. Conventional rigs allow the angler to gain more leverage, essential to over powering large fish headed to cover.
All involve the ability to take big, strong fish from deeper water and some are better than others. The biggest differences between the various techniques are the equipment needed, and this is usually what determines which style an angler will utilize.
For those who are unfamiliar with the fish finder it is a simple combination consisting of a leader, sinker and 1 or 2 hooks. Many anglers will use cut bait when bottom fishing, such as squid, which reduced the need to collect and maintain live species.
Set up involves using wire line and trolling weights, necessary to keep tackle at deeper depths. Because you are using wire line heavy-duty rod & reel is necessary, including roller guides and tip.
Once hooked up this method of trolling allows you to use the boat to pull grouper away from structure limiting its ability to enter hide. Rig consists of long leader (sometimes several feet in length), an egg sinker and size 8/0 or 9/0 circle hook.
Using a longer leader will allow heavy drag setting without restraining live bait movement. Maggie Marmoreal/For the Herald The Goliath grouper, the monster reef fish that can grow to 800 pounds and nearly disappeared in the 1970s, is off-limits for now.
On Thursday, Florida wildlife commissioners refused to lift a nearly two-decade ban on harvesting the fish, citing continued uncertainty about the remaining numbers and bowing to the demands of divers and scientists, who packed a meeting and led an online petition that drew nearly 60,000 signatures. “The fact we’re even having this discussion means we’ve been successful,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission chair BO River.
Curious and generally fearless, they were easy targets for anglers and spear fishermen, especially when they gathered in large numbers in July and August to mate. After the ban in 1990, the fish began to bounce back, but scientists believe Florida's record 2010 freeze likely sent numbers downward again.
Anglers, however, have increasingly complained that the voracious fish are taking over reefs and gobbling up their catches. A survey FCC conducted in the Keys and Dry Tortugas found just a 2 and 4.5 percent increase.
They also said lobster counts have remained stable, indicating that the fish are not affecting the popular, and lucrative, crustacean. The controversy over whether to allow harvesting has divided some anglers and divers, who consider the gentle Goliath a mascot for the reefs.
On Thursday, about 60 speakers, nearly all divers and many wearing Save the Goliath T-shirts handed out by the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association, criticized the move as an attempt to appease anglers. “ You ’re awarding a trophy fish to essentially a lazy hunter,” said Miami diver James Woodard.
UM Rosenthal School of Marine and Atmospheric Science fishery scientist Bill Hartford and Nova geneticist Andrea Bernard said they are working on building a statistical model, similar to methods used to assess blue fin tuna, that can account for gaps in catch history caused by the fishing moratorium and provide an accurate count for adult fish in Florida. “People got us into this problem and if the fishing opens back up, we'll likely be back in this position,” said Ellie Fodder, a sophomore environmental study major at Becker College who left campus at 3:30 a.m. Thursday with her dive club, the Scuba Jews, and campus rabbi, Ed Rosenthal, to make the morning meeting.
Deep-sea fish provide a very challenging fight for the beginner and advanced fisher alike. For example, groupers may be found near docks, fishing buildings, or other areas that provide a great place to hide.
Just as important, fishers need to understand that the grouper does have an aggressive streak when presented with bait and lures that catch its attention. The higher the poundage on the line, the heavier the fish a person can catch, so aim high when going for groupers.
A large, live bait sunk to the bottom of the ocean probably results in the most success with the grouper. If going for artificial lures, try to find jerk baits that emulate the look and feel of an injured fish.
When reeling in the line, let the lure more in erratic and jerking actions to attract the grouper's attention. Map out the location using appropriate nautical charts and seek out deep water with thick rock groupings littering the bottom of the ocean bed.
These ledges typically hang over fairly rocky areas and provide excellent shade and protection for the mysterious and often quite aloof and grumpy grouper. Anyone trying to catch a grouper should hire a professional to not only get them out on the water safely, but to also provide even better tips for fishing.
The opening of both red snapper and gag grouper season, as well as the hot trout bite inshore, gives anglers multiple options to consider. Anglers are allowed to harvest two red snappers per person per day, and they must be 16 inches minimum total length.
The public reefs and bottom just off of Pensacola in 40 to 150 feet offer anglers a good opportunity to harvest these fish. Some preferred baits include menhaden, cigar minnows, hard tails and dead Boston mackerel.
The best way to target trout is by using either live bait such as shrimp or mullet or artificial lures such as mirror lures. Griffin Wilson is a local fishing correspondent and frequent fishermen of the Gulf Coast's offshore and inshore waters.