Grouper Fishing Laws

Earl Hamilton
• Tuesday, 22 December, 2020
• 20 min read

A nice big grouper to start this page off the right way! Grouper are often targeted because their flesh has an amazing texture and consistency that people love on sandwiches, blackened on a plate, or in a salad.

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(Source: www.shrimpnfishflorida.com)


If you haven’t had a grouper sandwich, you’re missing one of life’s true pleasures. Grouper are heavy and strong fish that immediately try to wrap your line around structure or sharp stuff, so they’re fun to catch because you’ll need to use all your strength to get a big one up to the boat or pier.

Only three species cannot be caught and eaten, you can see in the black cells in the chart below. You’ll find the adult fish around 60 feet deep and more.

And stay at the bottom (3 to 230 feet deep) eating crustaceans and smaller fish. Coney Grouper have color variations including hues of red, brown, and yellow.

These massive fish can eat anything smaller than themselves including sharks, turtles, fish, crabs, octopus, squid, and attempts to have been made to munch on divers too! Identification isn’t difficult when the Goliath Grouper is mature at 400 to 800 lbs.

Goliath Grouper Identifying Features Can grow to 8 feet in length and over 800 lbs. Brownish yellow, gray or green hued body color.

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Head and dorsal part of body and fins with small black spots. Grays by Groupers are best identified with series of spots below dorsal fin.

A slow growing and delicious fish that has been overfished and taken by spears, decimating the population. Strict regulations are in place to attempt to bring back a healthy Florida population of these fish.

This grouper eats fish, crabs, and squid and can grow to around 5 feet in length and over 200 lbs. Misty Grouper Identifying Features Easily recognizable by 8-11 dark bands, similar to Sleepyhead fish.

These Red Grouper spawn more than twenty times between February and June each year. Red grouper are opportunistic feeders and will eat just about anything smaller including crabs, shrimp, fish, octopus, and squid.

Rock Hind Grouper Identifying Features Coloration varies, but overall tan color with large oval/circular spots of reddish brown, red, and dark gray and black that get larger toward the ventral side (belly). Scamp grouper have almost decorative fins, which can make them easy to identify.

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(Source: rollingharbour.com)

Scamp Grouper Identifying Features Scamp Grouper have a brown or reddish body, sometimes it is light gray Lateral (sides) are covered with dark spots, sometimes in small groups. Upper and lower caudal fin rays are long in a spot, giving appearance of an oriental style fish.

These Grouper reach 4 feet in length and yet the maximum recorded weight for one is only less than 70 lbs. Sub-adults are dark brown and have white spots in vertical rows on head and body.

These are beautiful fish to see in real life, the illustration isn’t bad either. Yellow fin Grouper Identifying Features The outer one-third of the pectoral fins are bright yellow.

IUCN Realist Status: The Goliath Grouper is listed as Vulnerable and populations declining. Other Grouper species in Florida State waters are plentiful and not in danger of being overfished.

Appearance: Grouper have a thicker body than some other fish with respect to length. Some Grouper are found in the Caribbean, Cuba, Portugal, Trinidad, Brazil, and the West Indies.

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Young grouper spend their early years near submerged rocks and other structure close to the beach, so they don’t become prey for Shook, Jacks, Redfish, other Grouper, Tarpon, and Sharks. Diet: Pinkish, mullet, other bait fish, crabs, squid, octopus, lobster.

This section was easy to write because all three grouper world records were caught in Florida, so they’re the same. The Biggest Gag Grouper was caught in 1993 in the waters off Destiny, Florida and the big fish was 80 pounds, 6 ounces.

With the average adult Goliath Grouper weighing in at around 400 lbs., you know the biggest one recorded is going to be huge right? The Biggest Goliath Grouper was caught on hook and line in 1961 at Fernanda Beach, Florida.

I remember talking to some people who’d seen a massive Goliath Grouper at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge that they named Hitler. The Biggest Red Grouper was 42 pounds, 4 ounce fish that was caught on hook and line off St. Augustine, in the Atlantic side of Florida in 1997.

Grouper is one of the most often targeted species of fish by anglers all over the USA for a couple of reasons. If you’ve never had a blackened grouper sandwich at a restaurant along the coast in Florida, you’re missing an incredible experience.

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(Source: coastalanglermag.com)

Grouper is thick and juicy and has an odd texture that most fish don’t possess. Besides being great for a meal, Grouper takes your bait and immediately pulls hard when it realizes it is attached to your line.

It’s a real fight to get a grouper up off the bottom of the sea, especially if it’s down 100 feet or more. They’re heavy, strong, and tough fighting fish that will give you a workout.

Small grouper can be found generally inshore, and in water 15 feet deep or more usually. I’ve caught small black, red, and gag grouper in shallow areas near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in south Pinellas County.

To find adult grouper you’ll need to take a charter off the coast and ride out for a while to reach deeper water. Around 60 feet deep is a good starting point, and any structure, wrecks, or rocks will probably hold at least a grouper or two, but bigger areas will hold dozens, possibly hundreds.

Don’t get me wrong, you CAN find grouper in shallower water when it’s cooler, and I’ve seen them pull 12 lb. Gag Grouper out of 10 feet of water off the Gulf Coast.

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If you’re fishing with artificial, you can get some larger Your Minnows with 2 treble hooks and try those retrieved at a fast (but not blinding) rate. Hit the piers, wrecks, rocks, and fallen trees to try to find some Grouper in the shallows if you are in a Kayak fishing or other small boat.

Every year there are some good size Grouper pulled in at most of the big piers in Florida. Big Grouper bait casting reels and strong rods are essential if targeting fish over 50 lbs.

Bait casting / Trolling Reels This PENN REEL (at Amazon) for Inshore Fishing (Grouper, Redfish, Cobra) Made in America (Philadelphia, PA.) The easiest way to set up a Grouper Rig is to use a simple egg sinker, swivel, and leader on the end of your braided line.

Mono with an 8/0 Circle Hook holding live bait like a Pinkish, Pilchard, or other similarly sized fish. You don’t set a circle hook, you’ll likely just pull it free of the mouth before it has a chance to work itself into the jaw of the fish.

You can Troll for Grouper in the Gulf, and that works well for people who feel like they have to be on the move and want to fish shallow water. Hook and line, and spearfishing are legal options for harvesting most Grouper Species.

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(Source: www.naplesnews.com)

Grouper species are regulated differently, and it’s quite daunting to try to comb through the official website and figure out what you can and can’t catch, when and where. We’ve combined all Groupers into this graphic to make it easier, but to be honest, it’s a bit easier, but you still need to read a lot to understand how to take Grouper legally in Florida and in International Waters.

If fishing from 3 to 200 nautical miles off the coast of Florida, Georgia, South or North Carolina, you can use this mobile application to stay up to date on the fishing rules on the Atlantic Coast. Grouper are farm raised in some areas of the world, primarily Asia.

Here’s an interesting and informative article about some challenges Grouper farmers faced in Thailand. The best way to cook Grouper is to blacken it with some Cajun spices or something that adds some spiciness or other flavor to it.

I always bleed the grouper immediately after catching by cutting the gills with scissors or a knife after I’ve put him out of his misery. Trying to bleed a fish after icing, is an exercise in futility as not all the blood comes out easily.

I also coat each side in some finely ground black pepper because I love the taste. Put the Grouper Fillets in the pan and cover, leaving room for the steam to gather, and escape.

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Cut your Italian bread into sandwich-sized portions and smear butter and minced garlic pieces on them. Put in oven on top shelf on Broil until lightly brown, remove quickly.

Even thick Grouper should cook through in 3-4 minutes per side. Throw your fillets on your sandwich, cover with guacamole, tomatoes, chili water, onions, and smash it all together with another piece of garlic bread on top.

Found nearshore around docks, in deep holes, and on ledges; young often occur in estuaries, especially around oyster bars; more abundant in southern Florida than in northern waters. CLOSED TO HARVEST OR POSSESSION IN THE SOUTH ATLANTIC EEA (FEDERAL WATERS) SINCE 1990.

Note: Goliath grouper must be released by cutting the line and NOT removed from the water. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has provided additional guidelines on release techniques for Goliath grouper.

CLOSED TO HARVEST OR POSSESSION IN THE SOUTH ATLANTIC EEA (FEDERAL WATERS) SINCE 1990. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has provided additional guidelines on release techniques for Goliath grouper.

florida grouper fishing goliath groupers wideopenspaces
(Source: www.wideopenspaces.com)

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. Descending Device Requirement: Requirement: A descending device is required to be on board and readily available for use on all vessels fishing for or possessing snapper- grouper species; Definition of a Descending Device: an instrument to which is attached a minimum of a 16 ounce weight and a length of line that will release the fish at the depth from which the fish was caught or a minimum of 60 feet.

Since minimizing surface time is critical to increasing survival, descending devices shall be readily available for use while engaged in fishing. 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.

Descending Device Requirement: Requirement: A descending device is required to be on board and readily available for use on all vessels fishing for or possessing snapper- grouper species; Definition of a Descending Device: an instrument to which is attached a minimum of a 16 ounce weight and a length of line that will release the fish at the depth from which the fish was caught or a minimum of 60 feet. Since minimizing surface time is critical to increasing survival, descending devices shall be readily available for use while engaged in fishing.

Click here for helpful resources, including: best fishing practices tips information on hook types how-to videos The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council would like to gain a better understanding of what’s happening on the water.

All anglers on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida who intend to fish for or harvest certain reef fish from a private vessel are required to obtain the State Reef Fish Angler designation. Those with a Gulf Reef Fish Angler designation will meet the statewide requirement until the Gulf designation expires, even if you are fishing on the Atlantic coast.

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(Source: www.fisheries.noaa.gov)

State: Must have heads and fins intact through landing Gear rules require circle hooks and hooking tools in Gulf waters reef fish fisheries.

Note: In the Atlantic reef fish fishery, gear rules require hooking tools, and as of Jan. 1, 2021, non-stainless steel hooks in all state waters, and non-offset circle hooks N. of 28 ° N. latitude. Several species of Gulf grouper (red, black, scamp, yellow fin and yellow mouth) are closed Feb. 1-March 31 seaward of the 20-fathom break.

Recreational anglers are encouraged to use electronic charting equipment to plot the 20-fathom break by entering the established coordinates listed on the map below into a route. Monroe County: Several species of Atlantic grouper (red, black, yellow fin, yellow mouth, scamp, rock hind, red hind, Coney and grays by) are closed Jan. 1 – April 30 in all state and federal waters of the Atlantic including all state waters off Monroe County (Atlantic and Gulf sides).

During this closure, anglers can harvest grouper in open federal waters of the Gulf and return to port in Monroe County by traveling through closed state waters of the Atlantic as long as the vessel proceeds directly to port without stopping to fish. Western boundary of the 4-county gag grouper recreational harvest region.

Eastern boundary of the 4-county gag grouper recreational harvest region. The May 1st through December 31st open season applies to those three species of Grouper.

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(Source: www.pointclickfish.com)

That one black or gag counts towards the three grouper total aggregate max. If you are accused of not following these regulations outlined while fishing for grouper, you could be issued a criminal citation.

A citation for undersized or over the bag limit fish is not a simple ticket, it is a criminal violation. However, instead of taking you to jail, which is not very practical for marine law enforcement, they issue you a notice to appear in Court to answer for the criminal violation.

The penalties associated with possession of undersized of over the bag limit fishing violations are up to 60 days in jail and/or six months probation. Additionally, the Key West criminal defense lawyers at Robertson & Hunter, can appear on your behalf if you are from out of town.

For a misdemeanor fishing violation, there is a good chance this matter can be resolved without requiring you to come back to the Keys if you are indeed from out of town. Florida Grouper fishing usually takes place in deeper water, over structure and reefs, but is also highly popular as an inshore species.

Grouper are very fun to catch, can offer a battle on a rod, and are one of the best-tasting fish in the ocean. For example, while they put up an epic battle, Goliath and Nassau Grouper are illegal to harvest at any time.

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With epic battles and general year-round availability, Florida Grouper fishing is without a doubt one of the most popular activities for fishermen in the state. One of the greatest aspects is that you can target these offshore quality fish within the state coastal (shallower inshore waters) with ease.

Our season dates for targeting inshore grouper generally run from June 1st to December 31st. This shallow water targeting is a unique aspect of the Crystal River area.

For shallow water bottom fishing, you would look to focus on holes, springs, and reef formations. What this means is that once they hit your choice of bait, they turn right around for a powerful deep dive back to cover.

Here in Crystal River for instance we utilize 6000-8000 size spinning reels loaded with 60-80lb braided line. These are mounted to heavy action rods with a final leader composed of 80 to 1300lb fluorocarbon.

Aggregate bag limits apply Regulations only apply in Collier, Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Martin counties.

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(Source: www.deepseafishingmiami.com)

Florida’s rules and regulations are designed to help ensure the safety of all the people in Florida, visitors and residents alike, and to help make sure that one of the state’s most important economic engines is protected and maintained for future generations. Not knowing the rules puts people at risk of seriously damaging everyone’s current and future fishing opportunities.

Not knowing the rules also puts people in the position of breaking them, and that can mean incurring a fine or, in extreme cases, imprisonment. All anglers are legally required to be familiar with the rules and regulations governing the type of fishing they are doing.

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1 www.floridasportsman.com - http://www.floridasportsman.com/2020/08/23/grouper-rig-tips/
2 coastalanglermag.com - https://coastalanglermag.com/build-bombproof-grouper-rig/
3 www.liveabout.com - https://www.liveabout.com/catching-and-fishing-for-grouper-2929541
4 gulfcoastmariner.com - http://gulfcoastmariner.com/deep-drop-techniques-tilefish/
5 www.fishingwithbillmiller.com - https://www.fishingwithbillmiller.com/grouper-jigging/
6 naplesdaydreamerfishing.com - https://naplesdaydreamerfishing.com/florida-grouper-fishing/
7 captjohnfishing.com - http://captjohnfishing.com/blog/4-of-the-best-saltwater-fishing-baits-to-use-in-the-gulf-of-mexico
8 halfhitch.com - https://halfhitch.com/blog/fishing-tips/4932-outdoor-tip-snapper-fishing
9 greatdaysoutdoors.com - https://greatdaysoutdoors.com/how-to-tie-a-two-hook-rig/
10 www.tormentertackle.com - https://www.tormentertackle.com/trolling_for_grouper