A gear ratio in the range of 4-5.5:1 is generally where you will want to be, providing the best blend of speed and torque to break the will of a bruising grouper. Some of the best options on the market currently are the Tali ca 12 and 16 single and two speed reels, Avert Ex and Haj G2 or Raptor Models, Accurate Boss Valiant 500 PN and 600 PN.
The Penn 113H2 4/0 has also been a solid option for decades that does not have any of the modern features found in the reels above but continues to get the job done. The only downside to braid will be its lack of abrasion resistance when compared to monofilament line, however a long fluorocarbon or mono leader will easily help you avoid that from becoming an issue.
Few denizens of the deep have brought as many fishermen to their knees or humbled as many experienced sinker bouncers as monster gags determined to make it back to their lairs. I’ve been there and each time I locked up and held on, pushing my tackle to its very limits in an attempt to prevent the fish from rocking my world, I emitted strange moans and groans reserved for only such occasions.
Fortunately, the tables have turned and the majority of my recent hard-fought grouper encounters have left me on the winning end, but that wasn’t always the case. Years ago I was one of those lost souls who mistakenly believed he could get away with inferior tackle better suited for open water king mackerel fishing than beating industrial-strength bottom brawlers.
Powered by wide broom-like tails and muscular shoulders, the large profile of a hefty gag grouper alone spells trouble. These dominant bottom feeders thrive in forage-rich habitats ranging from relatively shallow rock piles to ledges and peaks sitting under hundreds of feet of water.
Deteriorated artificial wreckage is also a favorite gag grouper haunt and no less forgiving on fragile terminal gear. Heavy-duty outfits are required not only for slamming the breaks on determined adversaries, but also for dealing with heavy sinkers, big baits and deep water habitats.
Cranking Power While no one reel is ideal for all gag grouper applications, large fish and heavy terminal gear require high-quality conventional. The 6/0 isn’t the fastest reel, nor is it the prettiest or lightest for its size, but it is tough as nails with plenty of line capacity and substantial cranking power.
Modern two-speed lever drag reels are also a solid choice, with the Died Saliva SALD60 and Shaman Tyros TYR20II at the top of the list. However, while these modern winches are much lighter than a Penn Senator, they do require a chunky investment and may not be the ideal choice for relatively inexperienced anglers unfamiliar with lever drag systems or the benefits of two-speed reels.
While I believe in custom rods built for the way you fish, Cousins Tackle manufactures an excellent off the shelf graphite grouper stick, the Lb 8050. If you’re looking for gags on near-shore rock piles and ledges of the Atlantic Coast, or fishing the Middle Grounds deep in the Gulf of Mexico, 80 to 130 lb.
Grouper will easily exploit the weakest link in your terminal connections and its critical line and leader are free of abrasions. Stick it to ‘Em Gag grouper fishing is primarily a live or fresh dead bait scenario.
Remember that proper rigging is all about balance, so if you’re specifically targeting jumbo gags with beefed up gear, then upgrade your hook to ensure it can withstand the extreme stress associated with fishing heavier line and leader. If you can stop a big gag before it enters a cave or ducks under a sharp ledge, then you may get a chance to enjoy fresh grouper for dinner.
When you know your favorite spot is holding them, but they are being finicky on baits, jigging can often be the ticket producing a reaction based strike that triggers their predatory instinct. Best places to jig for black, gag, red, and scamp grouper include hard bottom outcroppings, reefs, wrecks, oil rigs, and other structures that hold bait fish and provide hiding spots for ambushing their prey.
The Shaman Saragossa 8000 and 10000, Died Saltiest 5000, and Penn Slammer SLAIII6500 are all more than capable if you are just getting started. Black Hole Cape Cod Special 250g, Otis Fathom Blade 300g, and Shaman Arévalo 58XXH rods in both spinning and conventional models are all fantastic options that are super light weight with plenty of power and action to fool and whoop up on the best of them.
If you are using a buck tail, you can simply attach directly to the jig and avoid the rest of the terminal tackle. Otherwise, keep your jig at the bottom and reel in about 20-30’ towards the surface and then drop back down to stay in the strike zone longer.
The higher you get in the water column also increases the probability of hooking amber jack aka Reef Donkeys, king mackerel, and more. They are found in the warmer waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and points south.
While they are a powerful fish that puts up a strong battle, grouper are prized by many anglers for their flaky white fillets! 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. Reefs, wrecks, artificial reefs, areas of rocky bottom, and ledges are the top spots where anglers catch grouper in open water.
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 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.
With this outfit, anglers can cast lures and live baits towards structure as well as have a decent chance of landing a big fish that might be hooked when bottom fishing. In water much deeper than 50 feet, conventional outfits are simply a better choice.
While the initial cost is higher, braided line last much longer than monofilament. 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.
The weight is generally placed on the running line ahead of the swivel that attaches the leader. However, there is another rig that works very well for grouper fishing, particularly in water shallower than 100 feet.
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.
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.
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.
By the end of this article, you’ll be extra prepared for your next grouper fishing trip. As with most predatory fish, using live bait for grouper will be your best bet as long as local regulations allow.
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.
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. 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. Now that you know what the proper grouper bait is and how to fish it, you’ll be prepared next time you get out on the water.
This final rule modifies gear requirements for the fishery and encourages best fishing practices. Requires descending devices be on board and readily available for use on commercial, for-hire, and private recreational vessels while fishing for or possessing snapper- grouper species; requires the use of non-offset, non-stainless steel circle hooks when fishing for snapper- grouper species with hook-and-line gear and natural baits north of 28º north latitude; requires all hooks be non-stainless steel when fishing for snapper- grouper species with hook-and-line gear and natural baits south of 28º north latitude; and allows the use of power heads in federal waters off South Carolina.
Commercial and recreational fishermen have expressed concern about regulations that result in released fish that do not survive. Fishermen have also expressed concern regarding inequitable access for the dive component of the snapper- grouper fishery.
To allow for more consistent regulations, the final rule will remove the power head prohibition in federal waters off South Carolina. Since minimizing surface time is critical to increasing survival, descending devices shall be readily available for use while engaged in fishing.
Examples of descending devices that meet the requirements can be found in Regulatory Amendment 29 and the table below. It is the intent of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council that descending devices only be used when a fish may be experiencing barotrauma (e.g., caught in deep water, protruding stomach, etc.).
This final rule does not prohibit the use of venting tools for those individuals that know how to use them properly (e.g., trained crew on charter vessels or head boats). Readily Available for Video InstructionsExamples Weighted HooksAttached to an easily accessible, separate rod and reel or handling capable of reeling up a sizable lead with weight sufficient to descend targeted fish.
Box Type DevicesAttached to length of rope sufficient to descend fish to a minimum of 50 feet or, ideally, the depth of capture. Currently, non-stainless steel circle hooks are required to be used when fishing for snapper- grouper species with hook-and-line gear and natural baits north of 28º north latitude, which is a line running east to west approximately 25 miles south of Cape Canaveral, Florida.
This final rule also requires the use of non-stainless steel hooks when fishing for snapper- grouper species with hook-and-line gear and natural baits south of 28º north latitude. The final rule removes the power head prohibition in federal waters off South Carolina, making regulations more consistent for the dive component of the fishery.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council intends to conduct a substantial education and outreach effort to ensure fishermen participating in the snapper- grouper fishery understand the new regulations and how to properly use descending devices. Regulatory Amendment 29 also contains a Research and Monitoring Plan for Descending Devices (Appendix E).
Randy fishes 8-ounce Mission Fishing jig heads with pink, chartreuse or glow curly tails. Randy targets “Swiss cheese” bottom, which is simply limestone rock formations with frequent sandy holes that give the appearance of a submerged dairy product.
Grouper take up residence in these holes and generally respond aggressively when a jig comes bouncing by their dwelling. Randy advises dropping the jig/bait to the bottom and letting the boat’s drift move it along the structure.
Swiss cheese bottom also attracts swarms of mangroves, lane and vermilion snapper. Keepers are a tasty bonus to the grouper routine, but mortar undersized bait steamers that often chew the tails off jigs.
Although specializing in Tampa Bay trolling, Vance is equally adept at offshore jigging. Very often, he said, jigs will outperform live bait and the fish you get are generally quality size.