The Gulf of Mexico is a unique body of water that provides commercial and recreational anglers plenty of fishing opportunities. 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 Florida Keys as part of the Atlantic Ocean waters, and all fishing done in these areas must stay within Atlantic-specific regulations.
From the Florida Keys to Jacksonville, anglers have hundreds of cities to choose from to launch your grouper expedition. The real question is, what subspecies of grouper you’ll find at the end of your line.
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). Honestly, that’s why there are regulations in place, so that this incredible species is not overfished and the population stays healthy.
Now is the time to book your Grouper fishing charter, the season is just a few short weeks away and you’ll want to be sure to get in on the action! The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council would like to gain a better understanding of what’s happening on the water.
All anglers on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida who intend to fish for or harvest certain reef fish from a private vessel are required to obtain the State Reef Fish Angler designation. Those with a Gulf Reef Fish Angler designation will meet the statewide requirement until the Gulf designation expires, even if you are fishing on the Atlantic coast.
State: Must have heads and fins intact through landing Gear rules require circle hooks and hooking tools in Gulf waters reef fish fisheries.
Note: In the Atlantic reef fish fishery, gear rules require hooking tools, and as of Jan. 1, 2021, non-stainless steel hooks in all state waters, and non-offset circle hooks N. of 28 ° N. latitude. Several species of Gulf grouper (red, black, scamp, yellow fin and yellow mouth) are closed Feb. 1-March 31 seaward of the 20-fathom break.
Recreational anglers are encouraged to use electronic charting equipment to plot the 20-fathom break by entering the established coordinates listed on the map below into a route. 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).
During this closure, anglers can harvest grouper in open federal waters of the Gulf and return to port in Monroe County by traveling through closed state waters of the Atlantic as long as the vessel proceeds directly to port without stopping to fish. Western boundary of the 4-county gag grouper recreational harvest region.
This Atlantic seasonal closure includes gag, black, red, yellow mouth, and yellow fin grouper ; scamp; red hind; rock hind; Coney; and grays by. Anglers love groupers for two main reasons: They’re tough, strong fighters, and they’re delicious to eat.
© Provided by Sport Fishing Now is the prime time to catch big black groupers in South Florida. © Jim Hendricks Now is the prime time to catch big black groupers in South Florida.
That closure, which runs through April 30 in Atlantic waters, started in 2010 to allow the populations of black, gag and red groupers to increase in number and in size, as well as to protect the fish during their spawning seasons. © Provided by Sport Fishing Generally smaller than blacks and gags, red grouper need only be 20 inches to qualify as legal in Florida’s Atlantic waters.
© Scott Sayers Generally smaller than blacks and gags, red grouper need only be 20 inches to qualify as legal in Florida’s Atlantic waters. “You’re trolling those little lures around all the wrecks out to 200 feet, and at some point you’ll catch baby bonitos,” he says.
“As soon as you catch a baby bonito, you hook it through the upper lip and you drop it down on the upstream side of the wreck. © Provided by Sport Fishing Pinkish make one of the most consistently productive baits for groupers.
Once you hook a keeper grouper, the fish typically swims right back into the wreck or reef where it was sheltering. Having the proper tackle makes the difference between losing the fish and pulling it away from its home, Smith says.
“If you’re truly targeting big groupers, you’re better off with real heavy monofilament and the craziest, tightest drag you can imagine fishing,” he says. © Steve Waters A single-hook ballyhoo rigged behind a Sea Witch beneath a planer tops the list of trolling baits for Capt.
© Provided by Sport Fishing A single-hook ballyhoo rigged behind a Sea Witch beneath a planer tops the list of trolling baits for Capt. Buddy Carey of the famed Pier 5 charter fleet in Miami perfected trolling for grouper more than 50 years ago.
Smith trolls a Sea Witch with a ballyhoo rigged on a 7/0 triple-strength 3417 Mustard J hook at the end of a 100-foot length of 100-pound monofilament leader connected to a planer. He uses a Penn International 50 spooled with 65-pound braided line to fish along coral reefs in 50 feet of water or shallower.
“The groupers, on occasion, come up and hit it on top of the water, but basically you want the bait about 10 feet off the bottom,” he says. In addition to trolling reefs, Smith works the edges of the ship channels at Port Everglades, Lake Worth, and Fort Pierce inlets as well as Government Cut.
Sanding the top of the lure and painting it yellow makes it even more effective, he says, because black groupers eat yellowtail snapper. 1 At Big Pier 60 in Clearwater, silver trout, sleepyhead, bonnet head sharks and a few mangrove snapper were caught over the weekend.
Sleepyhead are also biting around the pilings, reports Big Pier 60 Bait & Tackle (727-462-6466). 2 At Madeira Beach, the nearshore dogfish bite is very good in water 30- to 80-feet deep.
Black fin tuna numbers are increasing past 110 feet for the pelagic anglers, reports Capt. 4 At Fort De Soto Park, sleepyhead are thick at the marina and the bridge.
Whiting, silver trout and some pompano are biting in Ounces Pass, reports Capt. Free lined pinkish over shallow structure and the reefs have been producing fish in the 25- to 30-inch range, reports Capt.
The gag grouper bite remains strong around the rock piles and ledges in the 14 to 25-foot range and also deeper along the shipping channel. Both live bait and trolling have been putting keeper gag grouper in the box.
7 At St. Petersburg, gag grouper are biting along the shipping channel from Port Manatee to the Skyway and on the artificial reefs in the bay. Pinellas Point is good for trout on the deeper grass flats and cuts.
Weldon Island is still holding some shook and good numbers of redfish, trout and sleepyhead, reports Mastery’s Tackle (727-896-8889). 8 In the north end of Tampa Bay, sleepyhead have moved in thick on most structure, the reefs and around the bridges.
A few redfish are biting around the Andy and Weldon Island area, but there’s better numbers in the upper bay. Some cobias is biting around the markers and areas with warm water runoff, reports Andy Bait & Tackle (813-839-5551).
Fresh dead or live shrimp are the best bait and if the grass porgies starting biting, it's time to move to a new spot, reports Capt. • At Fort Pierce, the offshore bottom bite at 80 feet is steady for lane snapper with a few buttons and mangroves mixed in.
Spanish mackerel are biting in 30 feet of water to the north around the Very Cove. Sleepyhead, black drum and sand perch are active inside the inlet and around the bridges, reports Clint Walker at the Fishing Center of St. Lucie (772-465-7637).