How To Catch Grouper In Tampa Bay

Brent Mccoy
• Monday, 04 January, 2021
• 12 min read

This could be anything from the shipping channels inside the bay to rock piles and ledges in the gulf. What you may not know is that many anglers are hauling up this highly desirable big game fish right just outside the waters of Lands End Marina in the bay.

grouper skyway bay tampa catch channel keeper shipping
(Source: www.youtube.com)


They might take up residence around a small rock, it could be a ledge, or along the vertical wall of a shipping channel. Newcomers or anglers hoping to land fish should look for grouper hiding around any of these types of bottom that provide cover.

Use the current or wind to drop your anchor away from where you're fishing and swing back to the spot. Sometimes adjusting your spot by letting out anchor rope or hauling it in can make a huge difference in catching fish.

Use enough weight to get down and hold, a 2 to 8 ounce sinkers on a 2- to 3-foot heavy monofilament or fluorocarbon leader will reduce break offs. Remember to use circle hooks when bottom fishing to stay compliant with the law.

During late fall, large schools of thread fin herring will gather relatively close to the beaches. Initially, this activity draws in the Spanish mackerel, king fish, Bonita, blacktop and spinner sharks.

As the water continues to cool, keeper sized gag grouper may become part of the mix, showing up just a few miles off the sand. Although pinkish seem to be literally everywhere inshore, Tampa fishing guides take note when their numbers decrease as inland waters cool.

grouper bay tampa catching fishing sardine
(Source: spanishsardine.com)

All of a sudden, traps placed in canals and near shore locations that were producing 20 – 30 pinkish a drop are now coming up with just 2 – 3 baits. Tampa fishing charters target rocky ledges and patch reefs in 15 to 30 feet of water so the trick is to identify these locations.

First, on sunny days when the water is clear, which it is often this time of year, simply drive to an area of dark bottom. Once in the area, drive around and use a bottom machine to look for the largest rocks or most pronounced part of a ledge.

Another age-old trick for finding hard bottom is to locate clusters of stone crab traps. Any area holding several colored crabbers' traps is highly likely to have some good grouper structure.

Once found, Tampa fishing guides will drop a live bait down to confirm if there are other grouper there. Dropping a weighted block of chum to within a few feet of the bottom will bring fish directly into the area where baits are.

Add a four ounce egg sinker, 2 1/2 feet of 80 lbs fluorocarbon leader and a 6/0 circle hook and the rig is complete. Lower the bait to the bottom and then reel up a crank or two so that the sinker is elevated and the pinkish is swimming just off the structure.

tampa grouper bay catching
(Source: www.jawbreakerfishing.com)

This is when a grouper runs into a hole or under a ledge and spreads its gills, in essence, locking itself into the structure. On numerous occasions, divers have observed grouper shying away from baits dropped with heavy sinkers...instead sitting back in a chum slick eating free floating, naturally sinking pieces of bait and chum.

There is another approach used by some Tampa fishing guides to entice these shallow water grouper to eat. Attach a long 4 – 5 foot leader of 40 to 60 lbs test fluorocarbon with a strong 4/0 circle hook.

Take cut bait chunks made from thread fin herring or larger pinkish and throw them up-tide of the rock or ledge that is being fished. This is critically important as the take is indicated by the line appearing to stop or slightly tighten...the result of a grouper coming up and eating the drifting cut bait.

The fish will not make a hard run as it has not felt the hook yet so the angler must be alert for this subtle tightening of the line. Once this is seen, all slack should be eliminated (reeled up) and, rest assured, when coming tight to the fish, the grouper will head for the rocks.

Transitioning to this method when a known, productive spot appears to be dead will occasionally result in two to three additional hookups on keeper fish. Near shore grouper see a lot of baits and trying new, creative techniques is often the difference between success and failure.

tampa bay maria fishing anna december grouper island captain
(Source: annamariafishingguide.com)

Tampa fishing for shallow water grouper provides a great alternative for “smaller boat” fishermen in the fall, especially when tides are weak and red fishing can be tougher. 1 At Big Pier 60 in Clearwater, a few Spanish mackerel were caught early before the latest front, but nothing since.

Decent whiting have been caught, but the water has been churned up, reports Big Pier 60 Bait & Tackle (727-462-6466). 2 At Madeira Beach, nearshore there are dogfish around a depth of 30 to 70 feet on live shrimp.

The black fin tuna bite is picking up for the pelagic anglers, reports Capt. 4 At Fort De Soto Park, sleepyhead up to 5 pounds are biting around the bridges, the area docks and the marina.

At the pier, sleepyhead are on the pilings, but the water is churned up, reports Joe Berlin of Terra Verde Bait and Tackle (727-864-2108). 5 Around the Sunshine Skyway and lower Tampa, cold weather has pushed gag grouper into the bay.

The shallow reefs and rock piles are holding good numbers of keeper grouper. There’s plenty of snooks, redfish and trout in Terra Can Bay and the mouth of the Manatee River, reports Capt.

grouper tampa bay gag spots catch
(Source: www.youtube.com)

6 At Anna Maria, redfish up to 30 inches are up around the docks of Palma Sold and on the west side of the sound around Key Royale. Good-sizes nook are holding at the Rod and Reel Pier, but they’re finicky on the bite, reports Moore.

7 At St. Petersburg, the gag grouper bite is solid on most structure, around the bridges, the reefs and along the shipping channel. Redfish have moved real shallow and cut bait on the bottom is producing in the deeper holes on the low tides.

8 In the north end of Tampa, good size sleepyhead are biting on most structure, around the bridges and the reefs in the bay. Gag grouper have been caught while trolling along the channel south of Picnic Island.

A few tripletails have been caught while blind casting the markers, reports Andy Bait & Tackle (813-839-5551). • At Homosassa, the offshore gag grouper bite has been good using live pinkish, but cooler water has made the fish sluggish.

Live shrimp are the best bait, but soft plastics along the rocky points along the north shorelines will produce, reports Capt. • At Fort Pierce, lane snapper are biting offshore on the bottom at a depth of 50 to 80 feet.

tampa offshore grouper florida charter bay fishing caught surprise miles
(Source: www.tampabayoffshorefishing.com)

The Melody Lane Pier and the bridge catwalks are producing sand perch, sleepyhead and black drum. The oyster bars and mangrove edges in the river are also producing sleepyhead, reports the Fishing Center of St. Lucie (772-465-7637).

Bottom fishing is the most effective method of catching gag grouper. Blue hole in National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key is a freshwater supply supporting Florida wildlife including birds, fish, reptiles and mammals.

Hook and line, and spearfishing are legal options for harvesting most Grouper Species. Put the Grouper Fillets in the pan and cover, leaving room for the steam to gather, and escape.

Anglers switch over to medium or heavy tackle to drop their offering down to the bottom in search of grouper and snapper. Grouper are farm raised in some areas of the world, primarily Asia.

“They'll nail a top water plug or a fly (with a 12-weight, minimum), and even jerk baits rigged for trout,” Money says. 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.

grouper catch cook clean fishing bottom tampa bay
(Source: www.youtube.com)

Some Grouper are found in the Caribbean, Cuba, Portugal, Trinidad, Brazil, and the West Indies. Strict regulations are in place to attempt to bring back a healthy Florida population of these fish.

Red Hind Grouper (Epimetheus Gustavus) a This stunning fish ranges from North Carolina down to Venezuela (unconfirmed reports) and grows to a maximum length of about 30 inches and weight of nearly 50 lbs. Most anglers don’t realize it, but there are actually 17 different species of Grouper swimming in the waters of Florida.

With the average adult Goliath Grouper weighing in at around 400 lbs., you know the biggest one recorded is going to be huge right? When drifting new areas, note that Red Grouper generally school by size.

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). I also coat each side in some finely ground black pepper because I love the taste.

Tail is also unique with top and bottom having lengthy spines. 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.

grouper tampa catching bay while charters
(Source: www.jawbreakerfishing.com)

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. Smaller individuals snug themselves under coral ledges and outcroppings, waiting for unsuspecting fish to pass by.

These are beautiful fish to see in real life, the illustration isn’t bad either. The Biggest Gag Grouper was caught in 1993 in the waters off Destiny, Florida and the big fish was 80 pounds, 6 ounces.

Upper and lower caudal fin rays are long in a spot, giving appearance of an oriental style fish. Depending mainly on the depth of the water and the structure, we employ 30-80 size reels on broom sticks for stand-up rods.

These Grouper reach 4 feet in length and yet the maximum recorded weight for one is only less than 70 lbs. The firm flesh and mild flavor make them very popular as a food source where ever they are found.

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. 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.

grouper bay tampa shore hubbard dylan fox fox13news
(Source: www.fox13news.com)

They’re heavy, strong, and tough fighting fish that will give you a workout. 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.

These Red Grouper spawn more than twenty times between February and June each year. I’ve caught small black, red, and gag grouper in shallow areas near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in south Pinellas County.

Head and dorsal part of body and fins with small black spots. Goliath Grouper (Epimetheus Tamara) a Listed as VULNERABLE and Numbers Decreasing at IUCNRedlist.org.

Gag Grouper out of 10 feet of water off the Gulf Coast. If you also want to know about which fishing license and permits you need in Florida, we just created a new page for that HERE which easily explains it.

Nassau Grouper can change color from nearly white to dark brown in minutes. 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.

randy grouper goliath mouth beach tampa apollo favorite fishing bay knowles captain
(Source: www.captainrandyknowles.com)

To find adult grouper you’ll need to take a charter off the coast and ride out for a while to reach deeper water. Wrecks and oil rigs in shallow shelf waters of the Gulf also attract many gag grouper.

I did see one fish over 20 pounds cross the dock and that is a big bonus along with a larger number of both red and gag grouper. Camouflage phase has 5 dark brown saddles separated by short white bars below the dorsal fin.

There are times when artificial lures work great for catching grouper, … The terminal tackle consists of a sinker, leader, and hook arranged one of two ways. Lateral (sides) are covered with dark spots, sometimes in small groups.

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. 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.

Their aggressive nature, heavyweight fighting ability and potential to grow to very large size makes them a trophy any angler is proud to add to their resume. Adults (15 inches +) are dark reddish brown and covered all over by small bright white spots.

gag grouper tampa bay catch around
(Source: landsendmarina.com)

Other Grouper species in Florida State waters are plentiful and not in danger of being overfished. The grouper is a relatively low-key carnivorous fish that prefers to hide in hard-to-reach areas to ambush its prey.

Cut your Italian bread into sandwich-sized portions and smear butter and minced garlic pieces on them. Brownish yellow, gray or green hued body color.

The Biggest Goliath Grouper was caught on hook and line in 1961 at Fernanda Beach, Florida. Red grouper are opportunistic feeders and will eat just about anything smaller including crabs, shrimp, fish, octopus, and squid.

Small grouper can be found generally inshore, and in water 15 feet deep or more usually. Snowy Grouper (Hyporthodus hiatus) a Snowy grouper have been found all the way up the east coast of the United States and reaching into Canada, down to South America around Trinidad and Tobago Islands.

Image credits: Top of page a Most grouper species illustrations are from Florida’s Fish Commission website and Diane Pebbles. A slow growing and delicious fish that has been overfished and taken by spears, decimating the population.

gag grouper tampa bay catch around
(Source: landsendmarina.com)

Tampa and the West Coast of Florida is home to some of the best gag grouper fishing available. 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.

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