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.
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. Walker’s GPS book is thick with grouper producing rocks, but even he gets out the heat-seeking, deep-diving Papal X-Rap 30 to find hungry gags.
Sometimes there’s no getting around the floating grass,” Walker lamented, “even one blade will foul the lure.” 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.
We were catching a keeper grouper, over 24 inches in the Gulf of Mexico, on about every third fish. “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.
My brother just recently bought a 28-foot Boston whaler and is trying to learn how to bottom fish. Each trip it seems that we hook 3-4 large fish that we assume are more than likely grouper.
We are fishing spots he has found with his electronics that he believes are hard bottom/ live bottom. I will try to get some details from him on the size rods, reels and pound test braid he is set up with.
I won't be insulted with basic info as I know nothing at this point. I do know that we are going out 20-30 miles out of Panama City and using live pin fish and cigar minnows.
One question I would really like some opinions on is how far off the bottom should we fish these live baits? It just seems to me the higher off the bottom you hook one the better your chance of getting him up.
Does the size braid and fluorocarbon sound sufficient ? I think he bought these larger ones with trolling in mind but wondering if we ought to try these for grouper.
They live in holes and run back into them after they hit the bait. Don’t let them run too long, once that rod starts bending you have to move them.
Like the previous advice, crank like crazy til you get him clear of the structure. If he DOES rock you up, set the rod in the holder and give it some slack.
Many times, the grouper, feeling no resistance, will come back out of his hide hole and start free swimming again. You have to pick up the slack slowly, but when it comes tight, reel like a mad man.
I've also caught at least a half dozen that had the leader and hook from MY rod that they broke off 30 minutes or less before I got them over the gunwale finally. You also may have found some Goliath grouper, in which case, it may be a moot point as they'll take you down regardless of what you're fishing with.
I like to use the shorter “broomstick” 5.5-6 ft heavy action rods with a 20L, 320 GTI, 3/0, 50 or 80 lb mono with 100 four leader. You don't want a forgiving rod or your pulling power is diminished greatly in it.
Like stated above, your battle with a grouper is won/lost in the first 10-15 feet off the bottom, and then they give up mostly. Dig your knees into the side of the boat and lean against the fish, while constantly pulling up and reeling. It's tough even for the experienced guys.
I fish with buddies who we grew up as kids on it and 20+ years later we still get wrecked (as we call it) by a 15+ lb gag depending on the situation. Another tip- If one wrecks you, you can also loosen up on him some and try to hit him in the head with the sinker.
If this does not work loosening up on him and give him a few minutes to come out. If you are hooking Goliath (Jewish) then I have seen some that can dang near swallow a small child and you'll probably never get them to the top.
As mentioned, the fight takes place in the first 15 feet...you either get him out /away from structure or you don't. As mentioned, you also might be hooking into some Goliath's...in which case, good luck.
I've also caught them trolling stretch 25's, although you may be too deep for that to work. I use a Penn 113 and if I could get 3 to 4 cranks on the reel within 2 seconds of the bite before to fish can react and dive, 90% the battle is won.
Having never tried this particular method can't say for sure it works but have seen a few YouTube videos where they keep the line tight and pluck it like a guitar string with a rocked up fish. Good Buddy that I have finished with for over 30yrs and guides out of the Destiny area ....... Leaves the rod in the holder with tight drag on the reel, puts the twin 250's in gear and floors it.
Hammered drag bait on bottom reel like **** popup or stopped Does the size braid and fluorocarbon sound sufficient ? Shimano Saragossa 8000 65 pound braid set at 8 pound drag.
I think he bought these larger ones with trolling in mind but wondering if we ought to try these for grouper. I know the arrogant, obnoxious,ignorant, greedy dirtbag Red level and I shoot his hogs.