Some species of grouper range from New England to southern Brazil and Texas. They prefer to be able to seek shelter and hide, and although their name implies that they stay together, they can also be very solitary fish.
Their coloration and ability to change hues and shades to identify with their surroundings give them that ambush capability. Anglers find that medium heavy bottom fishing tackle is the best way to approach the grouper.
Conventional reels in the thirty- to fifty-pound class teamed with a medium heavy boat rod will do the trick. Grouper feed on other small fish, crustaceans like crabs or crawfish, and squid.
When an easy opportunity swims buy they rush out, inhale their prey, and quickly return to their lair. A good rod and reel, with fifty-pound test monofilament line, can handle almost all the grouper you may encounter.
The terminal tackle consists of a sinker, leader, and hook arranged one of two ways. Even when the rig is dropped right into the bottom structure, it seldom hangs up, something charter captains love.
More serious grouper anglers will opt for the second approach, called a live bait rig. Advertised as virtually invisible to fish, it does seem to draw more strikes than regular monofilament.
Grouper run out, grab a bait, and head back for cover. Serious grouper anglers will crank the drag down on their reel as hard as they can, often using a pair of pliers to lock it down.
When a grouper makes it into a rock or reef, many anglers will simply break off the line and try again. In the Gulf of Mexico, grouper anglers use magnum diving plugs that will go as deep as thirty feet or more.
Strip baits are cut and attached to a double hooked trolling feather. The wire line method is popular in and around south Florida in the winter when big black grouper move into the shallower reefs.
Sometimes thirty yards in diameter, they are an ideal habitat for black grouper. When one occurs, the boat moves directly away from the reef to drag the fish away from its hole.
A head boat that provides the bait and tackle is an ideal way to bring some home to eat. I'm planning a trip to N.C. this summer and want to bring my own rod and reel for deep water grouper.
I don't want to spend a lot of money on a set up that I will be only using once or twice a year. The fact that they are easy to find used in pawn shops or eBay puts them at the top of the list.
(not that its bad). A died Beef stick with stainless guides are a bit cheaper. ALso, look at (I can't believe I'll say this) Key Largo's bottom fishing rod.
People will probably say it's crazy, but having used those and a couple other reels here's my opinion: Having fished a good bit on party boats (probably 30-40 trips) the past few years, caught a few grouper, amber jacks, rays, big sharks, a spinal lobster, and plenty of b-liners and other smaller fish, and gotten pretty well acquainted with the whole system. I first started using boat setups, pretty limber rods with above mentioned reels.
The AJ even busted a black-sideplate 4/0, gears were grinding awfully by the time that fish was boated (no telling how much neglect that reel had seen, I'm not blaming it). Rule on the head boats is you'll want to use at least 50lb, nominally 80lb monofilament line, with the drag locked down as tight as you can get it (some folks will use a deep socket to lock it down, but it's easy to break arms off the drag star this way).
That plus a grouper's tendency to back into a hole right after the hook set means locking that drag down makes sense. After you hook the fish you want to bring him up as quickly and in as straight a line as possible, no playing with him if you can help it.
That said, after watching the old timers that go on these boats every weekend, talking to a couple captains, etc., I purchased a Penn 9/0, and a 50-80lb class rod about 6' in length. The 9/0 is a big reel and is very heavy, but fishing on the head boat you'll oftentimes have your rod resting on the boat serving as a fulcrum, 16+oz of weight plus bait 100+' down in the depths, and so the reel is somewhat balanced out.
Cranking that weight/bait back up, or if a fish is on, the reel is easily balanced out, that weight on the handle side of the rod can help you keep his head turned on the way up. The 9/0 has a fairly low gear ratio, meaning it's easier to crank than a high speed reel, and if the spool is loaded you retrieve a LOT of line with each turn of the handle.
Like I said, I've caught a few grouper out there, and unless its over 15lbs I don't have to pump them up--just rest the rod on the rail and crank hard, head will turn and fish will come to the boat. AJ's are another proposition entirely, but this reel has stood up to plenty of them with no trouble.
These reels are more expensive and harder to find than a 4/0, but if you're willing to pop one open and do a little basic maintenance, you should be able to score on one one bay for around $60.00 plus shipping. Personally I've switched to Died's 900-class reels, these come from the factory with aluminum frames and side plates (an expensive add-on if you want that on a Penn, and impervious to green corrosion), are a little smoother overall than the Penn's, and you can get them for dirt cheap.
I've had good experience with Captain Dave in Forehead City (Continental Shelf was the boat), the Vonda Kay at Topsail with the other Captain Dave, Voyager Fleet at Calabash, and before the ban kicked in we were having great luck with the Hurricane Fleet out of Calabash. Another thing to consider is, that while most boats will welcome you aboard with your own tackle, some won't let you use their lead, leaders and hooks.
It doesn't make good sense to me to invest in tackle that is essentially about the same as what will be loaned to you on the boat. If they are already handing out 4/0 gear why not use theirs for free and invest your money in say a 6/0 or even a 9/0, to give yourself a bit more umps? I can't argue with your Penn Senator choice if that is where your budget puts you, even if you went with a new reel it is an excellent value.
That stretch of coastline between South port and South Carolina is just awesome. But if you get one that's been beat up real good you're just going to have a bad day on the water.
Maybe it doesn't apply in this type of deep water fishing. For instance, I've read on the Florida boards that guys use 8ft rods for grouper and red snapper out of the Key West fishing the Tortuga's. Now I'm sure it does the job, but I can't pull the trigger on buying that rod.
But if you get one that's been beat up real good you're just going to have a bad day on the water... It would only take one trip with a total piece of crap to make me want my own tackle the next time I'd imagine.
If I were a betting man I would wager the cost to build said rod that you would leave it as a spiral after giving it an honest test trial. I prefer a 6' rod primarily due to the leverage advantage it affords.
A good 'broom stick' will make it easier to turn a fish in a hurry. One place the 7' rod is nice is when a big AJ, shark, etc.
Is shooting under the boat, extended reach will give you a little more time before your line is sawed in half, but that is the only advantage IMO. Even a big gag grouper will come more or less straight up (or dive straight down), if the fish is swimming in circles or making big lateral movements don't let it break your heart when the line goes slack.
By the way, now is the time to buy reels on ebay--there's a handful of Died Sealing 900Hs and 910s on there now, looks like the 900s are both around $50.00. A lot of people that fish the head boats on the left coast like the 7-foot rods because of the distance between the rail and the water.
A lot of info on upgrading drags on these reels on the net. I've fished for amber jack out of the Keys (using charter boat tackle) and they are beast that never give up.
I understand there a good number of these bad boys mixed in with the groupers. Some Florida fishermen use 8ft rod for grouper and that I think would be too much on a crowded party boat.
Your right Ryan, a lot of guys use 7ft up to 8ft rods chasing tuna and deep water fish out on the west coast. They might not be the smoothest drag systems around out of the box (the fiber washers don't look like much), but they're plenty strong.