Their abundance has severely declined since the mid-20th century primarily because of direct harvest by commercial and artisanal fisheries. In the Gulf of California, gulf grouper were once abundant and represented approximately 45 percent of the artisanal fishery in 1960.
Outside a known population in Bahia Magdalena, there is no published evidence of gulf grouper along the Pacific coast of the Baja California peninsula. They are naturally rare north of Bahia Magdalena in southern Baja California.
Gulf grouper are also likely protogynous hermaphroditic, which means that they mature as females and later transition into males. They gather at reefs and underwater mountains and form spawning aggregations from April to June.
Activities that may degrade their habitat include the release of contaminants, such as urban runoff, wastewater, or oil and gas spills. Pollution can also reduce the amount of oxygen in the water or deliver chemicals that are toxic to these fish.
Physical barriers, such as shoreline and offshore development can also threaten gulf grouper by limiting their access to important breeding or feeding areas. Overfishing Direct harvest of gulf grouper, especially at spawning aggregation sites, is the biggest threat to the species.
First, adult gulf grouper gather in large groups at the same time every year to reproduce. This means that there are fewer male groupers left in the oceans, which makes reproduction more difficult.
Even if these fisherman release grouper, they can still die from the injuries or stress caused by their capture. Whether red, gag, black, yellow fin, or Warsaw, a good grouper in the ice chest means a successful day for lots of folks.
They prefer to be able to seek shelter and hide, and although their name implies that they stay together, they can also be very solitary fish. Grouper will chase a bait occasionally, but by far they prefer to ambush their prey.
Their coloration and ability to change hues and shades to identify with their surroundings give them that ambush capability. It is this ambush ability that makes them relatively easy to hook, but difficult to land.
Anglers find that medium heavy bottom fishing tackle is the best way to approach the grouper. Conventional reels in the thirty- to fifty-pound class teamed with a medium heavy boat rod will do the trick.
Grouper feed on other small fish, crustaceans like crabs or crawfish, and squid. When an easy opportunity swims buy they rush out, inhale their prey, and quickly return to their lair.
A good rod and reel, with fifty-pound test monofilament line, can handle almost all the grouper you may encounter. The terminal tackle consists of a sinker, leader, and hook arranged one of two ways.
Even when the rig is dropped right into the bottom structure, it seldom hangs up, something charter captains love. More serious grouper anglers will opt for the second approach, called a live bait rig.
Advertised as virtually invisible to fish, it does seem to draw more strikes than regular monofilament. Serious grouper anglers will crank the drag down on their reel as hard as they can, often using a pair of pliers to lock it down.
When a grouper makes it into a rock or reef, many anglers will simply break off the line and try again. In the Gulf of Mexico, grouper anglers use magnum diving plugs that will go as deep as thirty feet or more.
Strip baits are cut and attached to a double hooked trolling feather. The wire line method is popular in and around south Florida in the winter when big black grouper move into the shallower reefs.
Sometimes thirty yards in diameter, they are an ideal habitat for black grouper. When one occurs, the boat moves directly away from the reef to drag the fish away from its hole.
A head boat that provides the bait and tackle is an ideal way to bring some home to eat. The reports I was seeing posted with large grouper being caught in shallow water got me thinking.
“Honey, I think it’s time we spent Thanksgiving with your family in St. Petersburg.” It was already mid-November, but the three-and-a-half-hour trip from Stuart doesn’t take much planning. My wife Chris called her parents and happily told me they were looking forward to seeing us.
It was a good thing considering I had already booked a three-quarter day grouper fishing with my friend Capt. I lived in the St. Petersburg area for 14 years and always wanted to target the fall time inshore gag grouper bite.
Each October when the water temperature starts to drop, beginning at 76 degrees and peaking at 70 degrees, the gags begin to show up on the inshore rock piles of the northern Sun coast, ranging in depth from a super-shallow 8 feet to 20 feet. I wasn’t going to let another fall go by without being able to bottom fish for grouper without a sinker.
He said what you’re looking for are isolated rock piles, not typical west coast limestone cheese bottom or ledges, in 15 to 20 feet. Walker’s GPS book is thick with grouper producing rocks, but even he gets out the heat-seeking, deep-diving Papal X-Rap 30 to find hungry gags.
Sometimes there’s no getting around the floating grass,” Walker lamented, “even one blade will foul the lure.” Ed Walker prefers side scan to traditional sonar for locating rocks, not fish.
The trolling lures will tell me where to begin fishing.” As for what type of rock pile to look for, Walker stresses the smaller the better for later in the season. Once Walker catches a keeper, he marks the rock pile, both visually via his sonar and with his GPS.
The quickest and easiest way of doing this is by shifting to neutral and letting your boat drift in the current and wind. Ed uses a dry-erase marker to keep track of both the anchor heading and number of fish in the box.
“An accurate anchor job, meaning the rock pile ends up just off the stern of the boat is key,” emphasized Walker. Ideally you have the wind and tide working with you, it’s a small victory every time you get your anchor back.” But, we didn’t have any problems in our five or six stops.
A couple of anchoring tips: One is, you may want to think about shackling the terminal end of the chain to the fluke end of your anchor, then use twine, wire ties or heavy mono leader to fasten the chain along the shank. Finally, anchored up, it was time to get serious about catching our Thanksgiving Day gag.
“Don’t stop’em, let the line peel off the reel. Once your bait realizes that there’s more harm in the rocks than in the live well you won’t get him to swim back down,” said Walker.
Free lining live baits while you’re bottom fishing isn’t your typical grouper fishing. And just as Ed predicted after a swing and a miss on a grouper strike, my pinkish wouldn’t go deeper than the keel of the boat with my next attempt to send it back down.
As soon as we had a new recruit pinned to the 9/0 Owner circle hook he eagerly, and quickly, made the wrong decision and beelined it for the rocks. For line Ed uses 50-pound mono, no leader; 60-pound is too thick and jumps off the spool and 40-pound breaks too easy.
As soon as my clear keeper came over the gunnel, Ed was encouraging my father-in-law, Art, to cast his bait towards the rocks ten feet off our starboard side. Art’s fish was a keeper and Ed made an update on the console next to the anchor heading.
Within minutes, we were trolling again and equally fast we were establishing our COG and anchor heading. “No better Thanksgiving gathering than the one we spent on the rocks with Ed,” said Blair, who took this picture of family with fish.
It wasn’t even 11 a.m. when Al brought over the gunnel the biggest fish of the day and with that, Sharpie in his mouth, Ed exclaimed that his streak was alive. Rock piles north of Anecdote up to Cedar Key, on Florida’s Gulf coast, represent an important aggregation zone for pre-spawning females.
Gag eggs have to be spawned at the right time and place to ride with ocean currents to estuaries 50 to 100 miles away, where they spend their first months of life. After gag are about half a year old, they begin to move to shallow nearshore habitat.
But before this, they form all-female pre-spawning aggregations that begin to show up when the cold fronts pass through. At this time, females feed heavily to build up their reserves before migrating.
Dr. Sue Lowerre-Barbieri’s lab (Fri/Of) is researching gag behavior, movements, and sex change, working with knowledgeable fishermen. As part of the gag research he has been sharing data from shallow-water respawning aggregations and dart tagging females he releases.
If you capture a gag with a dart tag, please call the Fri hotline at 1-800-367-4461, so we can better understand the habitats these iconic Florida fish. 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 you can 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 you can harvest depending on if you’re in state or federal waters. 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.
While federal waters have a season from May 1 until August 31 and there is a bag limit of one per vessel per day. 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! The only guarantee you have with winter fishing is that mother nature will create challenges for you.
The obvious first step in planning a trip is finding the right weather day. To manage this, I have Isinglass snap on plastic windows and side curtains.
We start our day sailing bait fish offshore and catch pinkish, blue runners, cigar minnows and squirrel fish. Also, our frozen bait includes sardines and chum blocks for snapper fishing.
While running on plane look for bait fish near the bottom and “marks” on the sea floor. I prefer a large buck tail tipped with a live fish.
The distance behind the boat you fish your bait will change the presentation as well. The gulf currents are quite strong any day and with wind the problem is larger.
A drift sock or sea anchor is an important tool most days on my boat. Dealing with a sea anchor is a hassle but going way out into the gulf and going home fishless is worse.
Many anglers drop lines and drift for a ½ mile or more but most spots aren’t much bigger than your boat! Grouper set up on small variations on the bottom to ambush bait.
The gulf is absolutely full of grouper right now and most are undersize but there are still large ones out there. Mangrove and lane snappers are also plentiful so coming home with dinner is pretty much a guarantee.
Regardless of the exact species of grouper you've hooked, you can expect a rugged fight, the possibility of a huge fish and -- if it's of legal harvest size -- an excellent meal at the end of the day. More than a few anglers dangling a line off the side of a party or charter boat, expecting the tap of a snapper taking the bait, have been rudely greeted by a sudden, sharp downward thrust of the rod.
In truth, the other end of the rig is attached to a grouper that has emerged from a crevice in the hard bottom or some hiding place in a wreck below. After grabbing the bait, the fish immediately heads back for its “safe house” in the structure.
If you're lucky enough to turn such a fish and keep it from tangling or cutting your line on the cover, a tug-o'-war is next in order. Because several species of grouper routinely reach 30-pound or greater weights, battling them can be brutal warfare.
If you want to specifically target grouper on such a bottom- fishing excursion, a change in bait is needed. Rather than cut squid or bait fish that attracts the snappers, you are better served by dropping a live minnow.
Cigar minnows, craters, pinkish and finger mullet are some of the more popular of those forage fish. In the northern Gulf, these fish ordinarily stay around rock bottom formations.
Reds are fond of hiding in crevices and holes in rocky limestone bottoms and favor water 10 to 40 feet deep. The Goliath is a protected species, leaving the Warsaw as the largest of the family that can be harvested.
An offshore species, the Warsaw prefers depths of 250 to 650 feet, and is usually found around irregular bottoms or drop offs. These fish are grayish to dark reddish-brown all over, and their dorsal fin has a very long second spine sticking up.
Monster gag, red and black grouper hide in rocky lairs far off the shores of Ft. Myers and Cape Coral. Craig Best of Crabby Charters brings anglers up to 50 miles offshore to provide the best chance at hooking keeper grouper.
If you want to come home with a remarkable fish tale about the fight of your life you want to go after grouper. The waters near Ft. Myers and Cape Coral are home to gag, red, black, yellow fin and other species of grouper.
The state of Florida has an aggregate daily bag limit of four grouper per person. The charter captain and crew are not allowed to bring home gag, black, or red grouper.
Miles of mangroves and pristine waterways lead to the Gulf of Mexico where the saltwater fishing for red grouper can be as sizzling hot as the summer temperatures. One can pretty well set a clock by the afternoon thunderstorms in this area, but they serve to cool down the atmosphere enough for the natural world to come alive before sunset.
Riding two hours from port into the Gulf of Mexico to reach the fishing grounds, Captain Rick Polio positions the 35-foot vessel over a live bottom area before anchoring the boat. Once a bite is felt, any hesitation by the angler gives the fish an advantage, since it will move into the underwater structure and cause the line to part.
If the rod is doubled over, anglers can bend their knees and use their body to generate more upward force, moving the fish away from any rocky outcrops. The season on Red Grouper in Florida is year-round, but the limit to keep is two fish per person, and they must measure 20-inches in total length or be returned to the estuary.
The coloration of the red grouper make it a compelling species to photograph, with a brownish-red body that is accented by irregular white blotches that serve as underwater camouflage. Reading Time: 7minutesGroupers are some of Florida’s most iconic fish species.
From monster Goliath's to delicious Scamps, these big bottom-dwellers are a favorite on most Floridian fishing trips. In this article, you can learn all about the different types of Grouper in Florida.
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.
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.
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 Red Grouper.
These deep-water hunters are the reason people bother to go offshore when there are so many fish in the shallows. The average Red Grouper 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. According to most people who have caught them, Scamp are the tastiest fish in the family.
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.
If you’re set on landing a “Snowier,” get ready for a long ride. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.