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Grouper Fishing Bait

author
Daniel Brown
• Sunday, 25 October, 2020
• 25 min read

Some grouper grow to over 500 lbs, and can often be caught with a simple hook and sinker style rig. As with most predatory fish, using live bait for grouper will be your best bet as long as local regulations allow.

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Contents

If you’re targeting a rock pile or wreck, anchor your boat up current and throw some old cut bait in the water. This technique works great for both bottom fishing and spearfish, as long as you have a solid pair of free diving fins.

Combine this with a 2 to 3 foot long 80 lb test monofilament leader, a 4-ounce egg sinker, and you’ll be set up for grouper success! A regular bottom fishing tackle setup is a great place to start.

We like using a 6 to 7-foot long heavy action rod paired with a bottom- fishing reel and 50 lb test braided line. Like we mentioned earlier, we usually fish for grouper off the coast of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, so these are the species you’ll most likely encounter there.

They are gray and brown and love living close to coastal rock piles and underwater wreckage. Gag groupers will even hang in water only a few feet deep if there are structure and bait fish nearby.

Their massive size means you need to fish with an extra heavy-duty set up in order to stand a chance. Lastly, we wanted to share some grouper fishing tips that will improve your chances of catching grouper significantly if you follow them.

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One of the first mistakes amateur grouper fishermen make is keeping their drag at a normal level. This is a big mistake when fishing for grouper due to their tendency to retreat back to rocky holes and tunnels after they take your bait.

IF your drag is set high, it will be much harder for them to make it back to their rocky hideouts before you can reel them away. Drifting allows you to cover more water and get your bait in front of more fish than if you anchor your boat.

Since oftentimes the difference between catching a grouper and not is just finding them, drifting allows you to maximize your chances enticing them to bite. As long as the current isn’t too strong and your lures aren’t down too deep, you should still be able to keep your live/dead bait right where you want it.

Since they live at deeper depths than other sports fish, they still enjoy feeding when the surface bite is off. This is why it’s always a good idea to have a bottom fishing reel and rod ready for off days.

Grouper put up a great fight and taste delicious if you prepare them correctly. There's nothing more disheartening for a serious angler than spending a day on the boat only to come home empty-handed.

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Red Snapper, in particular, are not necessarily picky, but if you are targeting the larger fish there are definitely better baits to use than others. Try Cigar Minnows, Pilchards, Pinkish and Ruby Red Lips.

Regardless of what you're hoping to catch, tailoring the bait to the type of fish is common sense. Live bait is King when fishing Red Snapper and Grouper, and they do have their favorites.

A school of red snapper will quickly be in hot pursuit of these little fish. Grouper also prefer large live bait fish, but they tend to be less picky than Red Snapper.

You can opt for either frozen or fresh fish purchased from your local bait shop. These fish flit through the water quickly, easily attracting a predator's attention, plus they're shiny and oily, making them even more visible.

Other options include squid, blue runner, mullet, pinkish, and grunts. Drop your baits (ideally cigar minnows or pilchards for red snappers or sardines for groupers) down deep into the water column.

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Many of the trophy sized fish are in holes and covered areas where they tend to rest and stay safe from other predators. Red Snapper love this and tend to strike the bait before it even hits the bottom.

Simply cut a strip of Bonito (we leave the skin on), attach with both hooks on your double Snell rig and slowly drop the bait to the bottom. When the fish strikes it is important to quickly reel in the line to set the hook.

When fishing for Red Snapper, many anglers have great success using artificial lures. Vertical jigs, in particular, can trick the fish, which confuse the shiny objects with an easy bite.

Diving plugs are ideal for groupers if you're fishing in reef areas, allowing for deep trolling at depths of 20 to 40 feet. Finally, you can try a butterfly jig, a thin but heavy lure that moves erratically in the water.

This movement mimics a real fish as the lure free falls through the water. Jigging requires you to snap or pop the rod tip as you move the lure up and down in the water column.

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Opt for cigar minnows or pilchards for red snapper, and sardines for grouper. Generally, Southern California, the Gulf of Mexico and around Florida are great places to fish for grouper and red snapper.

There are quite a few other species of grouper that are found in deeper waters and throughout the Bahamas and other locations. For the most part, their habits are very similar and will be treated all the same when it comes to tackle and techniques.

The one thing that all groupers have in common is that they are bottom dwelling, structure oriented fish. Seldom will one be found high up in the water column or on sandy bottom with no structure.

Penn is THE name in saltwater tackle and makes some excellent equipment at reasonable prices. This can handle most the bottom fishing situations as well as some light tackle trolling.

Anglers using conventional tackle for grouper fishing can choose a reel with a level wind or one without. Level winds are nice in that the line is spooled up evenly as it is retrieved.

grouper fishing bait
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Many old school grouper fishing reels such as the venerable Penn 4/0 do not have a level wind. Goliath grouper grow hundreds of pounds and requires special tackle.

Anglers fishing in hundreds of feet of water in the Atlantic Ocean with heavy lead will need a stouter outfit than those fishing in 40 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico. Anglers fishing in shallow, clear water sometimes find that lighter spinning tackle makes a more natural presentation.

Some anglers simply prefer the comfort and feel of a spinning outfit. This mostly occurs in the shallow waters of the Bahamas and the Gulf of Mexico north of Tampa.

Therefore, anglers anchor or drift a decent distance from the spot and cast live baits or lures in towards the structure. A 7-8 foot heavy action rod with a 6000 series real is a good all-around combination.

In water much deeper than 50 feet, conventional outfits are simply a better choice. Anglers shopping for grouper fishing tackle and lures will have quite a few choices when it comes to fishing line.

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(Source: lightinthebox.com)

While the initial cost is higher, braided line last much longer than monofilament. This is very important when grouper fishing as it allows anglers to feel the take as well is get the grouper away from the structure.

Braided line is also thinner in diameter, which allows it to sink faster when fishing in deep water. Many use a strong black swivel to connect the leader to the main line.

A sliding sinker is often placed on the main line and then the swivel stops it from going any further. Leader length and strength varies greatly, depending on the fishing situation.

Many anglers fishing in deep water use a very long leader, up to 20 feet and even longer. Anglers grouper fishing in the Gulf of Mexico are required to use circle hooks.

The hook may look huge, but the important part is the distance between the tip and the shank. Standard short shank live bait hooks are also popular for grouper fishing as well.

bait fishing grouper amberjacks
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In very deep water, just reeling and coming tight as is done with circle hooks works the best anyway. The weight is generally placed on the running line ahead of the swivel that attaches the leader.

With this rig, the sinker slides on the leader and rest right on the eye of the hook. Also, when snagged up, the sinker jerking up on the line then banging the eye of the hook will often free it.

With this rig, multiple hooks are tied off of dropper loops on the main line. The bank sinker works well as it tends to walk and bounce off of rocks and other snags.

While most grouper are caught on live or natural bait, there are a few situations when they can be taken on artificial lures as well. Trolling with deep diving plugs is an incredibly effective technique when grouper are in fairly shallow water.

It allows anglers to cover a lot of water over a large piece of structure in search of fish. Trolling is effective anywhere that there is submerged structure in the 50 feet deep or shallower range.

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The shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico, channel edges and large bays such as Tampa Bay, and coral reefs of the Caribbean are prime spots to troll for grouper. They are categorized by size, giving anglers a good idea of how deep they will go.

Papal and several other lure manufacturers also make quality deep diving plugs for grouper fishing. With the boat idling along at 4 to 5 knots, the plug will dig down to the maximum depth, putting out a lot of flash and vibration.

A down rigger is a device with a cable and a heavy ball which takes the lure down deep. This technique is used extensively in the Great Lakes region for walleye and salmon.

Grouper can also be caught by anglers casting artificial lures, though there are limited situations where this can occur. Basically, when grouper are holding over structure in fairly shallow water, usually 10 feet deep or shallower, casting lures over the structure and retrieving them back in can produce jarring strikes from grouper.

Plugs will dive to a determined depth, while jigs can be worked through the entire water column but are extremely effective when bounced on the bottom right on top of the structure. White buck tail jigs are often used and can be tipped with a strip of squid or cut fish.

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There are basically four types of grouper that are found in good numbers in the United States. Gag grouper are very aggressive and are the species most often targeted by anglers fishing with artificial lures.

Black grouper are normally found in the deeper waters of the Atlantic Ocean and down around the Florida Keys. Surprisingly, they are often encountered in the inshore waters, as shallow as five or 6 feet deep.

Not only are these fish very intriguing to tackle and catch, their meat is always soft, fluffy and very tasty. They require special types of bait to lure, and very hard tackles to secure them, and to pull out of the waters.

However, you also stand to lose your bait, your hard-earned grouper game and you will definitely feel some pain if your rod finds itself hitting your gut. Even though you can use frozen mullets from local bait shops, it would be even more fun and practice to catch some on your way to fishing groupers.

Live and hooked mullets provide an even more attractive allure to groupers, especially when they look slow due to injuries. Fishing pros attribute the impressive bait qualities of squid to their smelly and oily nature.

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You might find that you could be lazy and fail to go to the exact spots where groupers lounge and breed, but you will still catch some other tasty giant fish. Squid can also be caught easily or bought at local bait shops at very affordable rates.

Because of their shiny and lively visibility, and of course their tasty and oily fleshy, sardines make very great grouper baits. Even when dead and frozen, sardines will still do the trick of luring groupers out because of their shiny bodies.

Pinkish are great bait because they really hate being on hooks and complain a lot by making grunts. The grunts and their average size of about 7 inches make groupers eager to just swallow them whole in feeding anticipation.

You can fish them out with traps as you go out on the deep waters to catch groupers, or you can buy them cheaply at local bait shops. These fish baits are great because they are big enough to catch Goliath groupers and small enough not to be wasted food.

They will be very helpful to you, especially if you would like to isolate giant groupers and tackle them hard when they are distracted with their own hunting success. These large fish are typically caught in the two to 12-pound range, though they can be found up to 20-30 pounds.

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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.

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.

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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. I am currently on the field staff team for Penn Reels from Pure Fishing.

In the past I’ve had sponsorships from Died, Bull buster, Eagle Claw, and I’m currently helping promote Mons ta fishing apparel. Groupers are a species of fish that belong to the Epinephrine subfamily of the family Serranidae.

As telecasts, all types of grouper have a stout body and a large mouth and are weak swimmers. However, once caught, a grouper will put up a vicious fight and use their vast bulk to full advantage.

grouper lure fishing lures hammour trusted caught
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If you are casting in the shallows, use jerk bait and retrieve it erratically to lure the fish out in the open. You will need heavy tackle, especially if there are a lot of rocks under the water where you are fishing and a braided line that can withstand the powerful pull of a caught grouper.

If you are using spinning tackle, make sure that the reel is heavy enough to withstand an 80 to 100-pound test mainline and a low gear ratio to give you more control. This tackle will come in handy when the panicking grouper fish tries to swim under a ledge to break the line.

For live bait, use pinkish, grunts, blue runner, sardines, and mullet. The grouper is a lean and moist fish that has a mild flavor, and the flesh is firm and flaky.

They can reach up to 8 feet in length and can weigh as much as 800 pounds, with colors that change to camouflage them against the background. As the fish migrate closer to shore, they often find their way into residential canals, making them easy targets for crafty anglers.

This is a great time to fish from docks, using sardines or live mullet and tightening up the drag on your reel. Yet unlike many species that hurry offshore into the deep, grouper can often still be caught in the shallows.

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They head to ledges and holes, seeking to shake the hook or snap your line. If plan to muscle a big fish, you'll want to gear up with a stout rod and reel, and use an 80 to 100 pound mainline.

And as smaller fish chew it up and disperse their leftovers into the water, the larger grouper get stirred up and ready to feed. At this point, you're ready to follow up the chum by dropping a live pinkish or grunt to attract the larger fish.

Yet it's not going to be as successful when you're fishing close to a reef because they will go back into holes where they are more likely to break off. One reason for this is you can cover a lot of ground quickly, giving yourself a better chance of hooking a large grouper.

Lures that are designed to dive to depths of 30 or 40 feet will typically catch a lot of fish. When you're trolling slowly over ledges and shallow reefs, these artificial deep-water baits work great.

And because you'll typically be trolling in depths of 60 feet or more, monofilament allows you to set the hook yet still stretch enough so that you don't end up cutting the fish's mouth when it strikes your moving bait. Mono filament is strong yet forgiving, making it the perfect line for trolling.

grouper fishing bait gag jig surefire tactics summer hook
(Source: miamifishing.com)

Using a line that offers greater sensitivity is important when bottom fishing because you'll be working depths of around 160 feet. Leaders are typically made of either monofilament or fluorocarbon, and either material will work fine.

Click here to learn what to expect on a chartered deep sea fishing trip. Gag (gray), scamp, snowy and red are the main targets, but we also catch Warsaw and speckled hind that have to be released.

If the fish isn’t pulled away from the structure immediately, the fight will likely end early with the angler losing a hook and leader. GrouperFishing Tips: Bottom fishing is the primary way to target grouper.

Depending on conditions, the boat can be positioned over structure either by drifting or anchoring. 1 At Big Pier 60 in Clearwater, Spanish mackerel, speckled trout and small sharks have been the steady catches this week.

2 At Madeira Beach, the seas have been rough, but when weather permits, the nearshore dogfish bite is good in water 30 to 70 feet deep. The gag, red and scamp grouper bite is moving shallower as the water cools.

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The lane and mangrove snapper bite is good on the bottom, reports Capt. Sleepyhead, big black drum and some gag grouper have moved in around the bridge.

There’s plenty of bait and Spanish mackerel off the jetties and along the beach, reports Hubbard. 4 At Fort De Soto Park, some gag grouper have moved in around the bridges and structure, and they’re biting along the shipping channel from the Skyway to Segment Key.

Out at the piers, Spanish mackerel and few juvenile king fish are biting, reports Terra Verde Bait and Tackle (727-864-2108). Shook, redfish and trout have been best in the backwater areas of Miguel and Terra Can bays, reports Capt.

Spanish mackerel, little tunny and few juvenile king fish are nearshore off the beach, reports Capt. 7 At St. Petersburg, fishing has been tough this week with all the wind, but the residential canals are producing shook, redfish, sleepyhead and few flounder.

A few tripletails are biting on the markers and buoys, reports Andy Bait & Tackle (813-839-5551). The speckled trout bite is good in potholes along rocky shorelines in water 6 to 7 feet deep.

grouper fishing fish scamp bottom identification technique
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Soft plastics on a jig head and live shrimp worked slowly on the bottom have been best on the incoming tides. “One of my anglers also caught a 17-inch permit while trout fishing on Tuesday,” reports Capt.

Black drum and sleepyhead are biting around the bridges, along the south jetty, and the Melody Lane Pier. The pier is also producing sand perch, reports Clint Walker at the Fishing Center of St. Lucie (772-465-7637).

Deep dropping for tile fish and grouper is becoming more and more popular by the day here in the Gulf of Mexico. I began fishing for these deep-water critters in the mid-1980s, and the sport has grown into a daily routine for many Gulf anglers.

These deep drop techniques will help you find these fish in 400–1,300 feet of water. Mike Parsons with a huge tile fish that measured in at 43 inches and 33.08 pounds.

Warsaw, yellow edge and long tail sea bass are commonly found around mountain tops, hard spots and deep water oil rigs in the 400–900 foot range. Yellow edge grouper are delicious and average 8–18 pounds, with a few 20–30 founders still caught fairly regularly.

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For big barrel fish, you want to fish down current from the edges and walls of deep water mountain tops. The edges will have well-defined drops and barrel fish can stack up very thick at the top and bottom of this structure.

They’re usually found a bit higher off the sea floor and mark well on a good bottom machine. Tile fishing is a fast growing sport and produces exceptional table fare.

Not long ago, tile fish were pretty much unheard of as a rod and reel fish. Now that eyes are opening to the new daytime sword fishing industry here on the Texas coast, more and more tile fish are being boated.

Smaller tiles, averaging 2–10 pounds, can be targeted on the continental shelf wall without any special areas or specific “numbers.” Muddy areas anywhere from 900 to 1,000 feet of open water will hold tile fish. Drop on the down current side of small dips and slopes in 1,000–1,250 feet of water.

Tile fish tend to feed right on the bottom, so try to stop your bait and hold the boat on an area as tight as possible. However, slow drifting will also produce tile fish and is great for covering ground.

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(Source: fishingbooker.com)

Drag the bait against the bottom, stopping often, and then continuing the drift to explore new areas. The biggest ones will hold against ridges at 1,200 feet and are bold enough to follow baits headed for deep water.

Use a large hook and bait to avoid the smaller fish when targeting big tiles. I seem to catch lots of big tiles early in the year, April through May, and sometimes in as shallow as 850–1,000 feet.

Beware of spiny, toothy and venomous critters that you might pull up from the deep. Spiny dogfish are small, deep water sharks that have spikes near the dorsal fins that can cause a painful sting.

Hake, a small brown fish averaging 1–3 pounds, also bite at night and can be a nuisance. The tile fish don’t bite at night but grouper will if you’re in an area free of eels.

If we are targeting BIG tiles I will rig the weight and light 15 to 20 feet above the bait. The standard double and triple bait drops work well for yellow edge grouper and smaller tile fish.

grouper fishing angler bait nearshore rods sewell rod offshore keeper landing caught techniques fall power
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With a light current and this braid, 3 pounds is a good weight to start with on your standard double bait leaders. I use cannonball style weights because they don’t get hung up as easy on rough, rocky bottoms.

Some of these deep water fish have sharp teeth, so heavy mono leaders are a necessity. Yellow edge, long tail sea bass and other smaller grouper are not so bad but tile fish, eels and small sharks have sharp teeth.

The grouper will wear through light leaders eventually and the tiles will bite clean through them. Tile fish and grouper have no problem snagging themselves on a circle hook and I would say it definitely helps keep the fish on when cranking them up from the deep.

It is a long ride to the deep water fishing grounds and you might lose tackle to rocks and snags. The LP is a deep dropping fishing machine that also has the strength and drag system to handle big Warsaw grouper and swordfish.

You can also hand crank tile fish and grouper on conventional tackle but it is a long way up and down. The Reel Frankie is a must-have, great product that can assist in getting your rig up from the bottom fast.

fishing florida grouper offshore southwest 1i
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It does a great job of winding up all the line, instead of you wearing out your arm on empty hooks. You can be also deep drop with two lines but it can be tricky fishing and requires some boat handling.

Avoid hard, bony, bulky baits that can push a fish off the hook. Softer baits like fish fillets and squid will result in better hook ups.

These fish eat lots of shellfish, which can result in some nasty strong tastes in the meat if not taken care of properly. The entire continental shelf from Texas to Louisiana holds great bottom structure, supporting tons of deep water species.

Some fish stay directly on top of structure, some live on the walls, slopes and drop offs and some species are found on flat bottoms. Don’t forget to mark your hook ups on your GPS and keep a track record of your best catches.

Brett Holden is the captain of the Booby Trap, which holds the record for largest swordfish in the Gulf of Mexico. Holden is a pioneer in daytime sword fishing along the Texas coast; he holds numerous bill fishing records and shares his deep drop techniques every year at the Texas Swordfish Seminar.

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Sources
1 myfwc.com - https://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/goliath/
2 www.boatus.com - https://www.boatus.com/expert-advice/expert-advice-archive/2020/april/fishing-for-goliath-groupers
3 goliathfishing.com - http://goliathfishing.com/
4 www.fisheyesportfishing.com - https://www.fisheyesportfishing.com/goliath-grouper-fishing/
5 my724outdoors.com - https://my724outdoors.com/blog/2020/02/14/big-goliath-grouper-fishing/
6 ultimatefishingsite.net - http://ultimatefishingsite.net/grouper-fishing/types-of-grouper/