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.
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. 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.
They also “size each other up” in these female-only groups, with a few fish cued to change sex (presumably the most aggressive). 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.
Although some populations are below target levels, U.S. wild-caught red grouper is still a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations. Fishing gear used to catch red grouper rarely contacts the ocean bottom and has minimal impacts on habitat.
They engulf prey whole by opening their large mouths, dilating their gill covers, rapidly drawing in a current of water, and inhaling the food. Large sharks and carnivorous marine mammals prey on adult red grouper.
Red grouper are found in the western Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts through the Gulf of Mexico and south to Brazil. Annual catch limits are used for red grouper in the commercial and recreational fisheries.
These fisheries are closed when their annual catch limit is projected to be met. Both the commercial and recreational fisheries have size limits to reduce harvest of immature red grouper.
The commercial and recreational fishing seasons are closed from January through April to protect red grouper during their peak spawning period. To reduce by catch, there are restrictions on the type of gear fishermen may use and where they can fish.
Year-round and/or seasonal area closures for commercial and recreational sectors to protect spawning groupers. U.S. wild-caught gag grouper is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.
Near target levels and fishing rate promotes population growth in the South Atlantic. The Gulf of Mexico gag population declined for several years beginning in 2005, possibly due to a major “red tide” event (an algal bloom that releases potent neurotoxin).
Managers implemented a number of measures to rebuild the stock, and it was declared rebuilt in 2014. Smaller fish are much lighter and have dark brown or charcoal kiss-like marks along their sides.
They spawn from mid-January to early May in the South Atlantic and from late January to mid-April in the Gulf of Mexico. Commercial fishermen must have a limited access permit to fish, land, or sell snapper and grouper species.
A number of gear requirements and restrictions help reduce by catch and protect habitat. In the Gulf of Mexico, managed under the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan : Annual catch limit allocated between the commercial (39 percent) and recreational (61 percent) fisheries.
Restrictions on the type of gear fishermen may use and where they can fish, to reduce by catch and protect spawning groups. Area closures for both commercial and recreational fisheries to protect spawning groupers.
The Gulf of Mexico is home to many commercially valuable fisheries' species, including stone crab, shrimp, snapper, and grouper. Groupers are a type of fish called errands, and are members of the family Serranidae.
Their mouth and gills form a vacuum, inhaling prey from a few feet away and swallowing it whole. Groupers are protogynous hermaphrodites, meaning they are born female but transform into males when they reach a certain size.
They reproduce by spawning (releasing large quantities of eggs and sperm into the open water) during the summer months. Grouper is a popular item on seafood menus and attracts many tourists to Florida communities and restaurants, therefore boosting local economies.
Groupers’ commercial and recreational value makes them one of the most overfished species in the Gulf of Mexico. Recall that groupers morph (change) from female to male when they reach a large size.
Fishermen typically harvest large male groupers because they are more valuable than smaller females. This behavior disproportionately removes more males than females from the ecosystem, making it difficult for groupers to reproduce successfully.
As a result, grouper do not easily recover from population declines, even when fishing is heavily regulated. The damage sustained by overfishing makes it necessary to carefully manage the Gulf’s 15 grouper species.
The 15 grouper species regulated in the Gulf of Mexico are monitored for population size and reproductive potential (the ability to reproduce and create more fish). Enforcement challenges threaten the success of grouper fishing regulations and marine protected areas.
In order to help grouper populations recover successfully, it is necessary for the state of Florida to supervise and enforce the rules that have been established. Spawning: The release of many eggs and sperm into open water for the purpose of fertilization and reproduction.