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. Honestly, that’s why there are regulations in place, so that this incredible species is not overfished and the population stays healthy.
Now is the time to book your Grouper fishing charter, the season is just a few short weeks away and you’ll want to be sure to get in on the action! Though supply peaks in the warm months, from April to October, it’s available all year round.
All groupers are members of the sea bass family, Serranidae, which is made up of more than 400 species. Groupers are found around coral reefs and rock outcroppings in tropical and warm temperate waters worldwide.
Groupers vary in size and weight but are commonly marketed at 5 to 20 pounds. Be wary of grouper prices that are suspiciously low; a low price likely means the fish is not grouper but is instead a less expensive substitute species, most likely Asian catfish.
Mislabeling seafood products is against the law, and consumers are cheated when they pay for an expensive fish but receive one of lesser value. If you suspect the grouper you purchased is not the real thing, you can report the problem by contacting the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at (850) 617-7280.
Grouper is a lean, firm, white-fleshed fish with a meaty texture and large flake. Fresh whole fish should have a shiny surface with tightly adhering scales, gills that are deep red or pink, and a clean, shiny belly cavity with no cuts or protruding bones.
You can store fresh fish in the coldest part of the refrigerator for up to two days. After handling raw seafood, thoroughly wash knives, cutting surfaces, sponges, and hands with soapy water.
Versatile grouper lends itself well to any form of cooking, including grilling, baking, poaching, steaming, broiling, sautéING, deep-frying, and pan frying. The fish is typically breaded and fried and served on a bun with lettuce, sliced tomato, and tartar sauce.
Gills that are deep red or pink and are free of slime, mucus and off-odor. Clean shiny belly cavity with no cuts or protruding bones.
After handling raw seafood, thoroughly wash knives, cutting surfaces, sponges and your hands with hot soapy water. When marinade is needed for basting, reserve a portion before adding raw seafood.
Because it is a lean fish, some basting is necessary while broiling or baking to keep the flesh moist. The general rule is 10 minutes per inch of thickness, at the thickest part of the fillet or steak, at 400-450 degrees F.
Fish is done when the flesh becomes opaque and flakes easily when tested with a fork. Poaching, steaming, baking, broiling, sautéing and microwaving are excellent low-fat cooking methods, if you do not add high-fat ingredients.
From monster Goliath's to delicious Scamps, these big bottom-dwellers are a favorite on most Floridian fishing trips. The average catch in Florida is around half that length, weighing between 5 and 20 pounds.
Black Grouper live around rocky bottoms and reefs on both sides of the Sunshine State. They spend their summers spawning in much shallower seas, though, as little as 30 feet deep.
Commonly known as “Grey Grouper,” these guys are a staple of reef fishing trips around the Gulf and up the Atlantic. They don’t grow as big as Black Grouper, usually maxing out somewhere around 50 pounds.
However, younger Gags can be found in estuaries and even seagrass beds, so don’t be surprised if you hook one while you’re on the hunt for Redfish and other inshore species. Bigger fish hunt around muddy and rocky coastal waters.
Young Goliath's will head right into estuaries and look for food around oyster bars. Their huge size and fearless curiosity made them an easy target, and they were overfished almost to extinction in the late 20th century.
Luckily, Goliath Grouper are strictly protected these days, and you can only fish for them on a catch-and-release basis. Nassau Grouper aren’t the biggest fish on this list.
From teaming up with other predators to catch their dinner to reportedly fanning bait out of traps for an easy snack, they’re far brighter than most people give them credit for. Sadly, this intelligence comes with the same natural curiosity that put Goliath Grouper in hot water.
Nassau Grouper are critically endangered, and their numbers are still falling. If you come across one, count yourself lucky for the chance to meet it and make sure it swims off unharmed.
Nothing says “reef fishing in Florida like a boastful of big, tasty Regrouped. These deep-water hunters are the reason people bother to go offshore when there are so many fish in the shallows.
The average Regrouped weighs somewhere in the 5–10 lb range, and anything over 2 feet long is a rare catch. They live around rocky bottom up to 1,000 feet down, so you may have to travel 20 miles or more to get to them.
Your average fish will be well under 2 feet and anything over 5 pounds is a good catch. You won’t come across them in much less than 100 feet of water, and you can easily find them in three or four times that depth.
They also grow much bigger than Scamp, meaning you’re in for a real feast if you catch one. NOAA has declared Speckled Hind a Species of Concern, mainly because they have so little data on them.
If Goliath Grouper are the kings of the shallows, these guys dominate the deep. Add in the fact that they live several hundred feet down, where all fish taste great, and they become the dream catch of many deep dropping enthusiasts.
The change in water pressure is enough to kill them, especially when they fight and struggle on their way up. Their dappled, red body and bright yellow fins provide camouflage around the deep, rocky structure that they hunt around.
Yellow fin’s scientific name, Mycteroperca Vanessa, roughly translates to “Poisonous Grouper.” This is because they tend to have very high levels of ciguatoxin. They’re slightly smaller than Scamp on average, but many anglers say that they taste just as good.
Yellow mouth Grouper are uncommon in the Gulf of Mexico, but you can bag yourself a colorful feast all along Florida ’s Atlantic Coast.