Of all the regions in Florida, mine is the best known for its grouper fishing. The best time to target grouper in my region is during the winter months when the fish come in closer to shore, but we do catch them on a regular basis all year long. We have a lot of different species of grouper, but during the summer the fish are going to be out a lot deeper than in winter, and we’ll catch mostly red and gag grouper, along with the occasional true black grouper.
The water temperatures are considerably warmer in the summer months, so the fish are going to be out a lot deeper where they’re more comfortable. I wouldn’t start looking for them until I hit about 75 feet of water, and from there I’d work westward out to deeper water. A lot of the best fishing is going to be in 100 feet of water or more.
Because grouper are such a structure oriented fish, you’re going to want to look for a stretch of hard bottom (rocks) that has some relief or shelves for the fish to get under. Grouper like to lie in or near the rocks and ambush food as it goes by. The majority of fish that you’re targeting are 10 to 20 pounds, so you want to use heavy tackle so you can pull them away from the rocks and keep them from breaking off your line.
My standard grouper tackle is a 60 to 80 pound conventional outfit with a 7 to 8 foot rod so you have a lot of lifting power to move the fish and once you get their head raised you can lift on the rod and keep them coming away from the structure. More often than not, I fish 80 pound line, usually braided line because it has a thinner diameter so you don’t get at much friction in the water from the current and can thus use less weight to get to the bottom. Also, braided line doesn’t stretch, so when you’re fighting a fish, you don’t lose any ground to line stretch.
To my line, I’ll attach a swivel and about five feet of 80 to 125 pound test leader and a 6/0 to 9/0 4X circle hook depending on the size of the bait. You can catch grouper on dead bait like grunt plugs or half a threadfin, but I prefer live pinfish or pigfish about the size of your hand. Both these baits like to swim on the bottom and are easy for the grouper to catch. You can also use sardines, large pilchards, mullet or just about any 4 to 8 inch baitfish you can find. Depending on the depth and current speed you’ll likely need between 6 and 9 ounces of lead to get the bait to the bottom and keep it there. Place the lead above the swivel on the main line.
If the bottom structure you find is all flat rock, then you can drift and bounce the bottom with your bait and do well on the grouper, but most of the time we’re fishing structure with a lot of relief on it, so I like to anchor up and drop the baits. Grouper don’t respond to the chum like snapper do, so you’re going to have to fish around the structure to get a bite. You’re going to lose some rig and fish in the structure, that’s a given, but you’ll also land a bunch of fish.
The thing to remember is that you only have to land one grouper to get a meal. Land a couple of them, and you can call up your friends and invite them over for dinner. The summertime grouper fishing isn’t as good as the winter, but it’s definitely worth doing because the fish are still out there and they’re hungry, so all you have to do is find them to catch a fresh grouper dinner.
Captain’s Tip of the Week #13 Grouper - 2015
Chevy Florida Insider Fishing Report