Gags can be distinguished from black grouper, Mycteroperca Monaco, that often occur in the same habitat by the distinctive color pattern and the shape of the properly (the middle bone of the gill cover). Wrecks and oil rigs in shallow shelf waters of the Gulf also attract many gag grouper.
Gag grouper are a mottled brownish gray in color with irregular square shaped patches on their sides. Most catches are fish in the five to ten pound range, just over the legal size limits.
They like any kind of structure, including ledges and holes, and will take up residence in any object that will hide them. Huge migrations of gags gather in the winter months in the Gulf of Mexico to spawn.
Deep trolling large lures or jigs with a strip bait is popular in the Gulf of Mexico. Heavy tackle in the thirty to fifty pound class with conventional reels and boat rods is the standard.
Wire line trolling with a feather jig and strip bait is popular in Florida and the Caribbean. Many anglers crank the drag on their reel down all the way to prevent the fish from reaching a hole.
These large fish are typically caught in the two to 12-pound range, though they can be found up to 20-30 pounds. You can find them along the East Coast of the Americas from Brazil through the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico to as far north as New England.
Juvenile fish take shelter on the inshore glass flats and shoals until they mature. During most of the year, mature gag grouper like to hide around any type of structure that can give them shelter.
They can be found in ledges and holes and love to populate offshore reefs and shipwrecks. As winter approaches, a massive migration of gags head for the warmer protection of the inner shores, especially within the Gulf of Mexico, to spawn.
During the late fall and early winter, they’ll show up a few miles off the shoreline along with Spanish mackerel, king fish, speckled trout, blacktop and spinner sharks that are chasing the schools of bunker and herring close to the beaches. Also, head for rocky ledges and patch reefs in 15-30 feet of water.
Many anglers catch lots of gags on spinning and plug tackle, but live bait tends to be the best option. By law, you’re required to use a circle hook when bottom fishing in much of Florida’s cost, including the Gulf of Mexico.
When hooked, these are very powerful fish that want nothing more than to run back into a hole or ledge and take you with them. You’ll need to have heavy gear with you to prevent the fish from taking your line.
Most anglers crank the drag on their reel down all the way to prevent the fish from reaching a hole. This is where the grouper will run into a hole or under a ledge and spread its gills locking itself in place.
To prevent that, keep the drag tightened so it’s almost impossible to pull line off of the spool. Keep your rod held low so you can immediately lift it as soon as the fish strikes, turning it away from the rocks.
Start to cautiously reel in all slack to the point that your rod is low to the water and tight to the fish. In the past I’ve had sponsorships from Died, Bull buster, Eagle Claw, and I’m currently helping promote Mons ta fishing apparel.
The Grouper, Mycteroperca microbes Gray or light brown with wavy markings on the side that generally do not form boxes or circles.
Color deepens to dark brown shortly after removal from water. SIZE: Can reach 50 pounds on deep offshore wrecks and ledges, and has been recorded to 80 pounds, but 20-30 is the usual maximum range, and most catches now fall between 2 and 12 pounds.
Many juveniles are caught from inshore grass flats. World record 80 pounds, 6 ounces; Florida record 80 pounds, 6 ounces.
FOOD VALUE: Excellent; firm white flesh; little red. GAME QUALITIES: An aggressive striker and hard fighter at all depths.
Offshore bottom fishermen tend toward stout rods with 50- and 80-pound-test lines, but such grouper digging” rigs are strictly necessary only in very deep water. Up to about 50 feet, lines in the 20-30-pound range are adequate and allow much more sport.
Many anglers catch lots of Gags on spinning and plug tackle. This is also the best of the Groupers for fly fishermen, since they are frequently found in fairly shallow water and will eagerly take a large streamer fly. Hard- lure casters use Deadhead jigs, mostly, while rollers rely on large deep-diving plugs.
RANGE: Found throughout Florida and Bahamas. HABITAT: Both juveniles and adults frequent inshore holes and ledges, often on deeper grass flats.
Sliding sinker rig with 6-foot mono leader, ready to drop sardine, pinkish or other bait. “Sometimes it’s hard to grouper fish with Mali swimming around your boat, but our stretch of offshore reefs can give up some really quality gags and scamps this time of year, particularly on spots deeper than 120 feet,” he said.
The rig consists of an egg sinker sliding on an 18-inch piece of 100-pound mono between two swivels. A 6-foot piece of 100-pound mono leads to a circle hook, with the size depending on the bait.
Keep the sinker pinned against the bottom swivel and at the first sign of panic in the bait, let him swim away from the weight unencumbered. Johnson says he’d always prefer to hook his live spots, grunts, and pinkish behind the anal fin, but cautions that you have to consider the current.
May 1 marked the official opening of recreational grouper season along the Atlantic coast, which means hard-core bottom fishermen from North Carolina to Key West, Florida, will be gearing up and heading offshore to chase these tasty critters. 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.
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. Juvenile gags reside in estuaries and seagrass beds while adults are usually found offshore on hard substrate in water 60 – 250 feet deep (rarely to 152 m) and occasionally inshore on rocky or grassy bottom.
Adults are either solitary or found in groups of 5 to 50 individuals. The coloration is extremely variable but generally brownish gray overall with a pattern of dark, worm-like or kiss-shaped markings along the sides. Gags can be distinguished from black grouper, Mycteroperca Monaco, that often occur in the same habitat by the distinctive color pattern and the shape of the properly.
Wrecks and oil rigs in shallow shelf waters of the Gulf also attract many gags. Initially, this activity draws in the Spanish mackerel, king fish, Bonita, blacktop and spinner sharks.
As the water continues to cool, keeper sized gag grouper may become part of the mix, showing up just a few miles off the sand. There may be another phenomenon that is even more important in bringing these grouper closer to shore however...the annual pinkish migration.
Although pinkish seem to be literally everywhere inshore, Tampa fishing guides take note when their numbers decrease as inland waters cool. All of a sudden, traps placed in canals and near shore locations that were producing 20 – 30 pinkish a drop are now coming up with just 2 – 3 baits.
Tampa fishing charters target rocky ledges and patch reefs in 15 to 30 feet of water so the trick is to identify these locations. First, on sunny days when the water is clear, which it is often this time of year, simply drive to an area of dark bottom.
Once in the area, drive around and use a bottom machine to look for the largest rocks or most pronounced part of a ledge. Another age-old trick for finding hard bottom is to locate clusters of stone crab traps.
Any area holding several colored crabbers' traps is highly likely to have some good grouper structure. Grouper are aggressive this time of year and will often charge out from under their rock to torpedo a plug.
Once found, Tampa fishing guides will drop a live bait down to confirm if there are other grouper there. Dropping a weighted block of chum to within a few feet of the bottom will bring fish directly into the area where baits are.
Additionally, grouper tend to be aggressive at this time of year and will pounce on almost any live bait. Add a four ounce egg sinker, 2 1/2 feet of 80 lbs fluorocarbon leader and a 6/0 circle hook and the rig is complete.
Lower the bait to the bottom and then reel up a crank or two so that the sinker is elevated and the pinkish is swimming just off the structure. On numerous occasions, divers have observed grouper shying away from baits dropped with heavy sinkers...instead sitting back in a chum slick eating free floating, naturally sinking pieces of bait and chum.
There is another approach used by some Tampa fishing guides to entice these shallow water grouper to eat. Attach a long 4 – 5 foot leader of 40 to 60 lbs test fluorocarbon with a strong 4/0 circle hook.
Take cut bait chunks made from thread fin herring or larger pinkish and throw them up-tide of the rock or ledge that is being fished. This is critically important as the take is indicated by the line appearing to stop or slightly tighten...the result of a grouper coming up and eating the drifting cut bait.
The fish will not make a hard run as it has not felt the hook yet so the angler must be alert for this subtle tightening of the line. Once this is seen, all slack should be eliminated (reeled up) and, rest assured, when coming tight to the fish, the grouper will head for the rocks.
Transitioning to this method when a known, productive spot appears to be dead will occasionally result in two to three additional hookups on keeper fish. Tampa fishing for shallow water grouper provides a great alternative for “smaller boat” fishermen in the fall, especially when tides are weak and red fishing can be tougher.
But with the cooling temperatures of late November and December many of the inshore species have left their summer and fall hiding areas in search of warmer water. The inshore and offshore Grouper fishing still remains the most consistent fishing for this time of year and typically is what I like to concentrate on.
By far and away the most consistent and heart pounding fishing action the Nature Coast has to offer is its Inshore and Offshore Grouper fishing. On a recent charter I took my clients Jay and Nancy Allen from Leesburg out to a wreck that I’d marked 6 years ago in 25 foot of water.
After breaking off a few Clauses and landing a couple of Mackerel, Dan picked up his Brunner and threw a Bomber Long A down the same piece of bottom we’d previously been fly-fishing on. After one big Grouper schooled my partner and his lure he quickly got back by landing a beautiful 15 pounders using 6lb Spiderweb.