“Adult gag grouper, live over on top of low- and high-profile hard bottom such as reefs or shipwrecks in waters between 60-250 feet deep,” said McLean Seward, fisheries biologist with the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries. “Young gag grouper will live in oyster reefs, estuaries and seagrass beds from Massachusetts to Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The coloration of red grouper helps to distinguish this species from gag with its head and body being dark reddish brown, shading pink or reddish or even pale pink along the lower part of its body,” Nash said. “In North Carolina, gag will typically spawn in February and have clear larvae, which then make their way into estuaries.
As water temperatures start to go down in the fall, juvenile gag will migrate from estuaries to offshore hard bottom habitat and larger members of their species,” said Seward. Seward noted that all grouper are considered protogynous intersex, “that is they start their lives as females, and a part of the population will morph, or make the change, to males as they get older.
Females start to reach sexual maturity when they are about 24 inches in total length and about 3 years old. They are voracious predators, and will feed on whatever they can capture including scad, snapper, grunt, sardines, crabs, porgies, shrimp and squid, said Seward.
Red grouper sitting on sand habitat 45 degrees to camera full body view mouth open. In addition to their color, redgroupercan be distinguished from gag by the sloped, straight line of their spiny dorsal fin.
“The red grouper is also a protogynous intersex and females are sexually mature by the time they reach 4 years old,” Seward said. Females typically will let go an average of 1.5 million pelagic eggs that stay at the surface for between 30-40 days before finally settling down to the bottom.
“ Red grouper may live to be as old as 25 years of age, with older specimens reaching a size of 32.5 inches and up to 25 pounds. They will feed on lobster, shrimp, octopus, crabs and fish that are found close to their preferred reef habitat,” Seward said.
Bottom fishing is the best way to catch gag grouper, using live bait, including squid and cigar minnows. Use a depth finder to find deep-water rock ledges, artificial reefs and shipwrecks, a gag grouper ’s favorite hiding place.
Recreational and commercial fishermen are required to use hooking tools when fishing for the snapper grouper species. “This prohibition does not apply to fish harvested, landed and sold before the annual catch limit is reached and held in cold storage by a dealer,” said North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries Executive Assistant to Councils Steve Poland, who is also a representative with the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.
Charter and head boat and commercial snapper grouper vessels must have National Marine Fisheries Service-approved sea turtle release gear and adhere to small tooth saw fish release protocol, Poland added. While populations of gag grouper have remained healthy, a 10-year effort to rebuild the red grouper stock has failed, leading to new, stricter rules and regulations taking effect this year.
Therefore, on Sept. 27, 2017, NFS sent a letter to the council stating that the South Atlantic red grouper stock was not making adequate progress toward rebuilding. So, NFS took steps in 2018 to immediately end overfishing of red grouper by reducing the total commercial and recreational annual catch limits, based on the acceptable biological catch recommendation from the council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee.
“For red grouper, this final rule extends the closure season formerly from January to April, to January through May of each year for the next ten years for the commercial and recreational portions off North and South Carolina, and establishes a commercial trip limit,” said Poland. This final rule establishes a commercial trip limit for red grouper harvested in the South Atlantic EEA of 200 pounds, gutted weight.
The trip limit is expected to help rebuild the red grouper stock by discouraging directed commercial fishing for the species, although it is not likely to substantially reduce the current level of commercial harvest of red grouper, according to the National Register. “The council selected a commercial trip limit that in combination with extending the spawning season cloture for red grouper off North Carolina and South Carolina would help keep down harvest numbers to help rebuild the stock,” Poland said.
Toucan help pay some cost by sponsoring a day on CRO for as little as $100 or by donating any amount you're comfortable with. 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.
Red grouper are easily recognized by their color and by the sloped, straight line of their spiny dorsal fin. The red grouper is most closely related to the Nassau grouper, Epimetheus stratus, which has several vertical bars and blotches and is found more commonly on coral reefs in the West Indies.
Red grouper are distributed from North Carolina to Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. The species is most abundant along Florida's east and west coasts, and throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
It inhabits ledges, crevices, and caverns of rocky limestone reefs and lower-profile, live-bottom areas in waters 10 to 40 feet deep. The red grouper is a protogynous hermaphrodite and females are capable of reproducing at 4 years of age.
Females usually release an average of 1.5 million pelagic eggs that remain at the surface for 30-40 days before settling to the bottom. The maximum age of red grouper is 25 years, with older fish reaching a size of 32.5 inches and 25 pounds.
Red grouper usually ambush their prey and swallow it hole, preferring crabs, shrimp, lobster, octopus, squid and fish that live close to reefs. Open Season: June 1 – December 31 Note: since this species is managed under an Annual Catch Limit, the fishery could close if the recreational Annual Catch Limit is met or projected to be met.
Annual Shallow-Water Grouper Spawning Season Closure: January 1 – April 30, except for Red Grouper in federal waters off the coasts of North Carolina and South Carolina, which remain closed through May 31. The following regulations apply to Regrouped in federal waters (3-200 nautical miles) off the coasts of Georgia and East Florida.
Open Season: May 1 – December 31 Note: since this species is managed under an Annual Catch Limit, the fishery could close if the recreational Annual Catch Limit is met or projected to be met. Annual Shallow-Water Grouper Spawning Season Closure: January 1 – April 30, except for Red Grouper in federal waters off the coasts of North Carolina and South Carolina, which remain closed through May 31.
Recreational and commercial fishermen are required to use hooking tools when fishing for snapper grouper species. At least one hooking device is required and must be used as needed to remove hooks embedded in South Atlantic snapper- grouper with minimum damage.
Since minimizing surface time is critical to increasing survival, descending devices shall be readily available for use while engaged in fishing. The use of non-stainless steel hooks when fishing for snapper- grouper species with hook-and-line gear and natural baits south of 28º north latitude.
All species must be landed with head and fins intact Recreational Bag Limit sales are prohibited Open Season: June 1 – December 31 Note: since this species is managed under an Annual Catch Limit, the fishery could close if the commercial Annual Catch Limit is met or projected to be met.
Annual Shallow-Water Grouper Spawning Season Closure: January 1 – April 30, except for Red Grouper in federal waters off North Carolina and South Carolina, which remain closed through May 31. The following regulations apply to Regrouped in federal waters (3-200 nautical miles) off the coasts of Georgia and East Florida.
Open Season: May 1 – December 31 Note: since this species is managed under an Annual Catch Limit, the fishery could close if the commercial Annual Catch Limit is met or projected to be met. Recreational and commercial fishermen are required to use hooking tools when fishing for snapper grouper species.
At least one hooking device is required and must be used as needed to remove hooks embedded in South Atlantic snapper- grouper with minimum damage. Since minimizing surface time is critical to increasing survival, descending devices shall be readily available for use while engaged in fishing.
The use of non-stainless steel hooks when fishing for snapper- grouper species with hook-and-line gear and natural baits south of 28º north latitude. This prohibition does not apply to fish harvested, landed, and sold prior to the annual catch limit being reached and held in cold storage by a dealer.
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 toucan 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 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.
This is because grouper like to live near the bottom close to underwater structures like rocks and wrecks. We’ll even discuss where you should look for grouper when trolling and the different types of grouperyoucan catch.
The Your Crystal 3D Minnow Deep Diver Trolling Lure is a great option when trolling for grouper (and other saltwater fish like Spanish mackerel) as it’s realistic 3D eyes mimic an actual bait fish’s eyes. The X-Rap has been a trolling favorite for years and works well for many species (like halibut, lake trout, and more) of fish besides just grouper.
These lures look and feel more like the fish grouper are used to eating, and are an excellent choice for trolling. The rubber tail’s action imitates a frantic bait fish trying to escape a hungry grouper.
The rubber tail flutters in the water at all speeds and mimics a scared shrimp or shad. Grouper love feeding on both small crustaceans/bait fish and find the Each Fat Swing Impact Rubber Shad irresistible.
If you aren’t getting any bites on your soft plastic lures or the diving plugs, we recommend trying out a fishing classic: metal spoons. Metal spoons imitate sardines, mackerel, and other small shiny fish that grouper like to eat.
These chrome-covered spoons have been catching many types of fish for years, including grouper. They have a simple action that when trolled with a down rigger looks like a small bait fish that has been separated from its school.
It has a more aggressive action than the Clark spoon which can entice reclusive grouper from where their hiding in underwater structure. The Huntington Stainless Steel Drone Spoon works for many saltwater species (such as smaller yellow fin tuna and bonito) along with grouper, so it’s a solid addition to any tackle box.
Keep in mind that we typically fish for grouper in the southern Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, so these are the species common to those areas. They are gray and brown and love living close to coastal rock piles and underwater wreckage.
You usually won’t catch Goliath groupers while trolling because they live in deeper waters and go after larger bait. Now that you know the types of grouperyoucan troll for, let’s go over the best practices for finding the grouper you want to catch.
While this can make figuring out where to fish for them easy, you need to be extra aware of your lure depth and how fast you ’re trolling. If your lure bounces off the bottom when you ’re trolling over underwater structure, you ’ll most likely snag and end up losing equipment.
While most groupers won’t be larger than 40 lbs, some grow to enormous sizes! This might seem counter-intuitive when trolling, but you don’t want to give a hooked grouper any chance to swim back into the cover it darted out from.
If it gets back to the hole it lives in, chances are your line will scrape against the rocks and snap. A tight drag will not only prevent this but also act to set the hook with the movement of the boat.
Red grouper are beautiful fish that can weight very heavy on the hook, even when caught in smaller sizes. 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 toucan 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 toucan.
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.
Although some populations are below target levels, U.S. wild-caught red grouper is still a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations. Fishing gear used to catch red grouper rarely contacts the ocean bottom and has minimal impacts on habitat.
They engulf prey whole by opening their large mouths, dilating their gill covers, rapidly drawing in a current of water, and inhaling the food. 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. Annual catch limits are used for red grouper in the commercial and recreational fisheries.
These fisheries are closed when their annual catch limit is projected to be met. 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.
These beasts of the deep hit like no other fish in the world and will strain even the strongest fisherman. There is a reason that many people in South Florida seem to give up on all other species and target grouper specifically.
While some people describe the fight as “like a large catfish,” this is like saying that a monster truck is “like a car.” The initial hit will bury the butt of your rod in your gut and leave you breathless. It doesn’t matter if it’s a man made reef or natural, this is the preferred habitat.
Toucan also find them near drop-offs, rock structure, and the steeper sides of shipping channels. No matter the size, the grouper is a stout fish with a lot of strength.
Their strength combined with their massive mouth makes them an outstanding ambush predator. Normal foods are mostly baitfish, but they have been known to feed on crustaceans, squid, and just about anything else that gets too close.
These makes bait selection for grouper quite easy as they will eat most anything if it gets close enough. In the cooler months, grouper are likely to move closer to shore but there is no season that toucan ’t land one.
Even a 50-pound grouper is very capable of tearing apart a rig used for other similarly weighted fish. The reel needs to be heavy and capable of holding 80 to 100-pound test line.
You will need the strength of this setup to get the bests off the bottom or out of the holes they often run to when hooked. Toucan successfully fish groper with a spinning reel as long as its heavy duty and can hold the right line.
I’m pretty sure that even the largest wire hook would be straightened by a large grouper. Either braided or mono main line works as long as it’s strong enough and you have a good leader.
Being more abrasion resistant is a bonus when your quarry lives in rocky holes. The following three are general purpose rigs that will work well for Grouper or any other bottom feeding species.
This simple setup uses a three-way swivel with one loop attached to your mainline, one sinker, and one to your leader. A heavier leader is preferred but the line to the sinker should be relatively light so it can be broken off if need be.
This takes any slack out of the leader and gives you a shot at setting the hook before the fish darts back to cover. This rig offers any live bait more room to move and works well to draw out reluctant feeders.
In this case, the sinker is attached to the mainline above the swivel, usually by simply looping the line through. The main downside of this rig is that it gives a grouper plenty of time to get back home before you get the hook set.
Sardines are probably the most successful live bait, especially if caught fresh with a net or bait fish rig. Due to the noise they make, many fishermen swear by using live grunts as an at tractor for grouper.
Blue Runners are another popular fish if you are after larger grouper species. Grouper are not a picky species and will most anything including lady fish, menhaden, squirrel fish, and thread fin just to name a few.
Crab is a less popular bait for grouper but can work well of a bottom rig, especially for shallower water species. One of the biggest problems with using lures is getting down deep enough without getting hopelessly caught on the structure they call home.
Buck tails fished the same way can produce some good hits, especially with juvenile or smaller grouper. Alternatively, butterfly jigs can be a great way of pulling reclusive grouper out into the open.
Any soft plastic that mimics the usual food for grouper can be effective. Patterns that imitate sardine, mullet, and pinkish are probably the most popular and successful options.
I will admit that I am a big fan of fishing spoons in general, I think they are an underrated lure option. Getting hung up is a real concern with spoons but if you drag one in front of a grouper, there is a good chance he is going to take it.
Grouper are not a fast fish and may ignore lures that move by too quickly. Moderate your speed and pauses, toucan expect more hits when the bait is left idle for a second.
Though normally associated with open water fish, trolling is an excellent tactic to cover a lot of ground in your search for grouper. You will have to factor in fuel cost but you may find it worthwhile to spend the extra money for a more likely catch.
Off the coast of Miami, trolling for grouper has become a big part of the local fishing scene. The idea is to get a large lipped diving plug and send it down to skim the sand in 20 to 30 feet of water.
Your trolling speed should be slow and your lure should be running less than 20 feet from the abundant rock structure in the area. If you pass your lure close by a waiting grouper, it is more than likely that he will rush out to grab it the moment he sees it.
If you head over to Florida’s west coast, you will see something a little different. The Tampa fishermen will run the sides of shipping channels with a live bait suspend just along the steep edge.
Controlling your depth to keep it in range of the channel wall without getting it hung up requires some skill. The boat will easily haul them out of range of their cover and all that’s left is the fight.
If there are grouper, trolling is an effective tactic provided toucan get a lure down deep enough. Usually, you will see fishermen using either live bait or large lipped diving plugs when trolling.
It may be worth a try just keep it slow so the scent of the bait has some time to spread. Keep your speed low, your lure deep, and stay close to structure.
If you get a hit from a large grouper, it may feel like you are hung up until it yanks hard on the line. That critical moment of the bite is your only shot at a solid hooks set.
After the shock of your first large grouper catch, the first order of business may be shaking some life back into your arms. It will surprise you just how hard a 20-pound grouper can pull compared to any other fish you have ever hooked.