Just as important, fishers need to understand that the grouper does have an aggressive streak when presented with bait and lures that catch its attention. The higher the poundage on the line, the heavier the fish a person can catch, so aim high when going for groupers.
A large, live bait sunk to the bottom of the ocean probably results in the most success with the grouper. If going for artificial lures, try to find jerk baits that emulate the look and feel of an injured fish.
When reeling in the line, let the lure more in erratic and jerking actions to attract the grouper's attention. Map out the location using appropriate nautical charts and seek out deep water with thick rock groupings littering the bottom of the ocean bed.
These ledges typically hang over fairly rocky areas and provide excellent shade and protection for the mysterious and often quite aloof and grumpy grouper. Anyone trying to catch a grouper should hire a professional to not only get them out on the water safely, but to also provide even better tips for fishing.
“Adult gag grouper live in nearshore waters from coastal North Carolina south to Brazil and as well as in the Gulf of Mexico. Smaller gag are a lot of lighter in coloring, and have numerous dark brown, or charcoal, kiss-like marks along their sides.
“Young gag grouper will live in oyster reefs, estuaries and seagrass beds from Massachusetts to Cape Canaveral, Florida. The coloration of red grouper helps to distinguish this species from gag with its head and body being dark reddish brown, shading pink or reddish or even pale pink along the lower part of its body,” Nash said.
“In North Carolina, gag will typically spawn in February and have clear larvae, which then make their way into estuaries. As water temperatures start to go down in the fall, juvenile gag will migrate from estuaries to offshore hard bottom habitat and larger members of their species,” said Seward.
Seward noted that all grouper are considered protogynous intersex, “that is they start their lives as females, and a part of the population will morph, or make the change, to males as they get older. Females start to reach sexual maturity when they are about 24 inches in total length and about 3 years old.
They are voracious predators, and will feed on whatever they can capture including scad, snapper, grunt, sardines, crabs, porgies, shrimp and squid, said Seward. Red grouper sitting on sand habitat 45 degrees to camera full body view mouth open.
In addition to their color, red grouper can be distinguished from gag by the sloped, straight line of their spiny dorsal fin. “The red grouper is also a protogynous intersex and females are sexually mature by the time they reach 4 years old,” Seward said.
Females typically will let go an average of 1.5 million pelagic eggs that stay at the surface for between 30-40 days before finally settling down to the bottom. “Red grouper may live to be as old as 25 years of age, with older specimens reaching a size of 32.5 inches and up to 25 pounds.
They will feed on lobster, shrimp, octopus, crabs and fish that are found close to their preferred reef habitat,” Seward said. Bottom fishing is the best way to catch gag grouper, using live bait, including squid and cigar minnows.
Use a depth finder to find deep-water rock ledges, artificial reefs and shipwrecks, a gag grouper ’s favorite hiding place. An annual shallow-water grouper spawning season closure runs Jan. 1-April 30 in federal waters off the coasts of North Carolina and South Carolina, except red grouper, for which the season remains closed until June 1.
Recreational and commercial fishermen are required to use hooking tools when fishing for the snapper grouper species. “This prohibition does not apply to fish harvested, landed and sold before the annual catch limit is reached and held in cold storage by a dealer,” said North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries Executive Assistant to Councils Steve Poland, who is also a representative with the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.
A stock assessment update, Sedan 53, for red grouper was completed in February 2017 using data through 2015. Therefore, on Sept. 27, 2017, NFS sent a letter to the council stating that the South Atlantic red grouper stock was not making adequate progress toward rebuilding.
“For red grouper, this final rule extends the closure season formerly from January to April, to January through May of each year for the next ten years for the commercial and recreational portions off North and South Carolina, and establishes a commercial trip limit,” said Poland. This final rule establishes a commercial trip limit for red grouper harvested in the South Atlantic EEA of 200 pounds, gutted weight.
The trip limit is expected to help rebuild the red grouper stock by discouraging directed commercial fishing for the species, although it is not likely to substantially reduce the current level of commercial harvest of red grouper, according to the National Register. “The council selected a commercial trip limit that in combination with extending the spawning season cloture for red grouper off North Carolina and South Carolina would help keep down harvest numbers to help rebuild the stock,” Poland said.
You can help pay some cost by sponsoring a day on CRO for as little as $100 or by donating any amount you're comfortable with. May 1 marked the official opening of recreational grouper season along the Atlantic coast, which means hard-core bottom fishermen from North Carolina to Key West, Florida, will be gearing up and heading offshore to chase these tasty critters.
When scared, a grouper will often swim into a hole, cave or any structure where they can wedge themselves into a crevice and flare their gills, so they can’t be removed. It’s kinda like us boarding up our windows and closing up shop right before a big hurricane.
Once you know where the fish are hiding, it’s just a matter of rolling out there and slamming a limit and coming home, right? Other good baits include sardines, scads, cigar minnows, spots, craters, grunts, thread fins and ponies or menhaden.
Either way, bring plenty of frisky live bait and make sure they are on the large side. The biggest reason is the over-abundance of the “overfished” (per fishery managers) American red snapper.
These snapper are big (many between 12 and 25 pounds), extremely aggressive and will eat you out of bait and boat. The second reason I recommend using larger baits is that grouper are inherently lazy and like to eat the biggest, easiest meal they can find.
The problem with these are the red snapper and the thousands of sea bass, grunts and trigger fish that will peck the dead stuff off the hook. Ideally, you can entice the grouper to feed away from the structure, so you can stop the fish from going back in the hole after he’s hooked.
Let that fish get back into its home, and be prepared for your buddies to start yelling “gone!” or “fail!” as you tie on a new rig. In this case, try to drop ahead of the spot to land the baits in the strike zone.
And when you do go, these 7 tips will help you know where to go, what gear to bring, and the know-how to catch big grouper. Grouper are found in abundance in the Gulf of Mexico, along the Atlantic Coast, and throughout the Caribbean, providing anglers with a wealth of opportunities to catch one of the tastiest fish in the sea.
In the summer, as nearshore water temperatures rise, grouper relocate to deeper dwellings offshore. Shipwrecks, oil rigs, and offshore reefs are where you'll want to focus your efforts when fishing for grouper in the summer.
They are classic ambush predators, spending most of their time holed up in heavy structure waiting for smaller fish to swim by. To have the most success when fishing for grouper, your boat electronics need to be powerful enough to key into the structure you seek.
Shipwrecks are the most notorious grouper hideouts, and fishing these tangled-up messes of debris requires accurate depth readings, patience, and the understanding that you'll probably lose some tackle. To catch big, heavy, powerful fish, your gear better be up to the task.
There are times when artificial lures work great for catching grouper, but you'll have more success if you show up prepared with the freshest live bait you can find. Goggle-eyes, pilchards, blue runners, and grunts all make excellent live bait for grouper.
Try to bring as many varieties of bait as you can so you can zero in on what the grouper are biting that day. Grouper spend most of their time on the bottom, so that's where you'll want to send your baited hook.
Vertical jigging with live bait is a very popular technique for catching big grouper, simply because it works. A struggling bait fish bouncing up and down at the bottom of a shipwreck is irresistible to an opportunistic grouper.
Slide the hook point underneath the twisted rubber band. No matter what kind of rig you're using to catch grouper, you'll have the most success with circle hooks.
How you handle the first few seconds of a grouper fight often determines whether you land the fish or get cut off by structure. When a grouper takes your bait, as soon as it feels the pressure of your line, it will run straight back to the safety of structure as fast as possible.
And if you hook into a huge fish, it'll do whatever it pleases unless you take charge of the fight. Load up your conventional reels with heavy line, bridle rig your live baits, and don't forget to use circle hooks.