Episode 4 - Targeting Grouper in the Central West Region with Capt. Geoff Page
Right now, the red grouper season is open in the Gulf of Mexico, but gag grouper season doesn’t open until July 1, 2013. Those are the two most targeted grouper species in my region.
In May, our red grouper bite is pretty strong as long as you get out in at least 70 to 90 feet of water. A lot of the bigger fish come in 110 to 160 feet of water.
The key here is to find bait stacked up over any type of hard bottom—it doesn’t have to be a reef or ledge, it can be something as small as a single clump of rocks that make a little “blip” on your bottom machine. If the bait is there, the red grouper will be there feeding on them.
A lot of the really good grouper fishermen in my area have a dozen or more of these marks that they fish, and they only pull one keeper fish from each mark before moving on to the next mark. That eliminates fishing the spot out, so every time you come back, you can catch fish. Run from spot to spot and make a day of it, and at the end of the day you have your limit of grouper and still have a dozen productive fishing spots that you can go to tomorrow.
Gag grouper like a little more structure, and you can troll lipped plugs, cast jigs or drop live or dead bait down like you do for the red grouper. In the summer months gag grouper wander in closer than the red grouper and are often caught in 30 to 70 feet of water, although the bigger fish are always in 100 feet of water or more.
We also see a good number of gag grouper in the Intracoastal Waterway and the inshore waters of Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor. You can troll lipped plugs along any deep, cut ledge like around the Cortez Bridge, down in Little Sarasota Bay near the Stickney Point Bridge and the Ship Channel up by the Skyway Bridge. Look for the sharp breaks that go from 12 to 20 feet, and keep the plug right on the drop and you’ll come up with some real quality gag grouper inshore.
Tackle for bottom fishing is usually a 7 foot stout conventional rod with a 4/0 to 6/0 reel, 40 to 60 pound line and 60 to 80 pound leader with a 5/0 to 7/0 4X strong circle hook. You can use braided line or monofilament for the bottom fishing, but all the guys who troll lures use monofilament for the stretch factor when a big fish strikes the plug. Because monofilament stretches, it avoids pulling the hooks out of the grouper’s mouth.
Just about any live or cut bait will work, with live pinfish, pilchards, theadfins, Spanish sardines and cigar minnows the most popular baits. You can also use these baits dead, and some guys like to catch a grunt on the reef and cut off its head and tail to make it kind of rectangular shaped and then fish the grunt plug for the big grouper.
The average red grouper in my region is 6 to 10 pounds, with fish to 20 pounds available. The average gag grouper is 5 to 8 pounds, with fish over 25 pounds caught on a regular basis.
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