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 Gag Grouper fishing in the Gulf, it’s important to note what county you’re embarking from. 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 Floridness as part of the Atlantic Ocean waters, and all fishing done in these areas must stay within Atlantic-specific regulations. From the Floridness to Jacksonville, anglers have hundreds of cities to choose from to launch your grouper expedition.
East Coast anglers should mark your calendars for May 1, this is when Gag Grouper and Black Grouper season opens from the Keys to Duval County (Jacksonville area). The season runs until December 31, and each angler can collect one or the other each trip within the 3 grouper aggregate.
This past Friday was also the start of the eight-month recreational grouper season, and while there are far fewer tourists in the Keys these days hunting the sought-after fish, some local anglers are picking up the slack. On opening day John Villa of Ta vernier caught a 43.5-pound black grouper off Islamabad in 85 feet of water.
Like many captains in the Keys, Hurricane Irma spelled an end to his professional charter angling career. The fish was caught aboard the charter boat Got Fishes, operated by Ken Ramming at the Post Card Inn and Marina on Lindley Key.
Before joining the Herald, he covered Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. If you were to ask me what’s the best time of the year to come down to the Floridness to go fishing I would surely respond; “May!” The fishing season peaks in May around the Floridness and that’s in all depths and environments. Inshore the tarpon are gathered in the largest numbers patiently waiting for the Paolo worm hatch.
This small worm like creature hatches out of the coral rocks mainly on the south side of the Floridness. There are many shallow coral heads where these worms hatch, typically around the full moon in May.
This hatch creates a feeding frenzy for tarpon, which gives anglers a lot of opportunities to hook up! Fly-fishing is the best way to accurately replicate the worm size, but you can also use Gulp baits on jigs with spinning gear.
If going deep is more your thing, in May you have the largest push of Mali throughout the Floridness. It doesn’t matter where you launch from, if you get out to the blue water, anywhere from 150ft. I suggest trolling skirted ballyhoo with some 80lb wire in case a Yahoo pops up.
My favorite color of ballyhoo skirts for Mali are pink and blue and orange and green. When this happens, I like using light spinning gear with a small jig tipped with squid to catch them.
One of the most common areas to find Mali is the Islamabad humps, these undersea elevations make it ideal for bait fish to gather, and therefore the predators are never far behind. Also, is not a bad idea to monitor the VHF radio to hear what the local charter fleet is up to and at what depth they are fishing.
This is a great site with GPS info and it’s zoned in different areas depending on where in the Floridness you would like to fish. I’m also a big fan of braided line when bottom fishing, you can actually tell when the bait is getting nervous right before the strike.
A small blue crab is the bait of choice; I suggest you tip the jig with them. I’m always watching my fish finder, looking for smaller less commonly known spots that can produce incredible catches.
Don’t forget the Floridness are in Monroe County which means black and gag grouper have to be 24 inches in total length. Lion fish are edible and can be harvested year round, but please handle them with extreme care.
The Warsaw grouper is the only member of the genus Epinephelous that has 10 dorsal spines, the second of which is much longer than the third. The color is a grayish brown to dark reddish-brown background with numerous small, irregular white blotches on the sides.
The color appears much lighter around the nape and along the posterior margin of the pendulum. Warsaw range from North Carolina to the Floridness and throughout much of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico to the northern coast of South America.
The species inhabits irregular bottom, notches, valleys, and drop-offs, occurring in the continental shelf break in waters 350 to 650 feet deep. Other species inhabiting this productive deep-water zone are snowy and yellow edge groupers, tile fish, and silk snappers.
Size Limit: Harvest and possession is prohibited in federal waters. 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.
Size Limit: Harvest and possession is prohibited in federal waters. Bag Limit: Harvest and possession is prohibited in federal waters.
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. Sharks come in the winter, then sea turtles in late spring and early summer.
Starting in August and peaking in September, the number of these groupers at dive sites throughout Palm Beach County swells as they gather to spawn. As spawning time approaches, however, they temporarily abandon solo life and gather in groups of 50 or more.
It’s no secret that divers love to swim with big fish, and Goliath groupers, which can reach lengths over 8 feet and weights approaching 800 pounds, certainly qualify. Despite their size, Goliath groupers prefer to eat lobsters, crabs and other small animals they can suck into their huge mouths and swallow whole.
While today, it still takes some special effort to find a spawning aggregation, not that long ago it was virtually impossible. Overfishing caused such a decline in numbers that spawning aggregations had essentially disappeared in the late 1980s.
Several spots in Palm Beach County host aggregations with fairly good reliability throughout the fall. According to Shana Plan, of Pure Vida Divers, the Micah, one of a series of wrecks in a dive known as “The Corridor,” and the Spud Barge are two favorite sites for aggregating Goliath groupers.
These fish are distinct for their long gray and white lateral stripes and their rather broad head. They begin to migrate in toward the shore as the spring starts to set in and the waters warm up a bit.
They tend to be dark gray or green in color with black spots, and are often found in estuaries. They typically weigh around eight pounds, but it’s not unheard of for them to grow to be several times that size.
There are several species that you’ll find both close to and away from the shores, including hammerhead, make and blacktop. They frequently weigh around 100 pounds or more, making them a favorite game fish on charter excursions.
Anglers may take no more than 1 gag or black grouper (not both) within the aggregate grouper limit in the Atlantic and Monroe County waters, and hooking tools must be aboard commercial and recreational vessels for use as needed to remove hooks from the Atlantic reef fish.