The Different Approaches to Catching and Fishing for Grouper

Putting great table fare in the cooler can be easy if you follow these tips

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The most classic bottom fish for most anglers is the grouper. Whether red, gag, black, yellowfin, or Warsaw, a good grouper in the ice chest means a successful day for lots of folks.

Where are They Found?

Some species of grouper range from New England to southern Brazil and Texas. They are common near almost any kind of bottom structure. In southern Florida, they inhabit all of the tropical coral reefs.

North of Florida, they can be found in and around bottom ledges, live bottom, and artificial reefs and wrecks. They prefer to be able to seek shelter and hide, and although their name implies that they stay together, they can also be very solitary fish. The larger ones become quite solitary.

How do They Feed?

Grouper will chase a bait occasionally, but by far they prefer to ambush their prey. Their coloration and ability to change hues and shades to identify with their surroundings give them that ambush capability. It is this ambush ability that makes them relatively easy to hook, but difficult to land. Anglers find that medium heavy bottom fishing tackle is the best way to approach the grouper. Conventional reels in the thirty- to fifty-pound class teamed with a medium heavy boat rod will do the trick. Grouper feed on other small fish, crustaceans like crabs or crawfish, and squid. They tend to sit back in their cover just under a ledge or backed into a hole in a reef and wait.

When an easy opportunity swims buy they rush out, inhale their prey, and quickly return to their lair.

The Approaches

There are basically three approaches used when fishing for grouper – straight bottom fishing, free lining live bait, and slow trolling. Anglers in the Gulf of Mexico are quite successful trolling for grouper.

  1. Let’s talk about the bottom fishing method first. A good rod and reel, with fifty-pound test monofilament line, can handle almost all the grouper you may encounter. Line much larger than that is overkill that is cumbersome, and, some believe, visible to the fish.
    • The terminal tackle consists of a sinker, leader, and hook arranged one of two ways. The first way is called a fish finder rig by most anglers. It is tied with a pyramid or bank sinker on the very end of the leader. Above about eighteen inches from the sinker is a loop tied in the leader. The loop is about twelve inches long and it is to this loop that the hook is tied. A variation of this rig has a longer leader with two loops and hooks.
    • The fish finder rig is the favorite bottom rig of almost all the bottom fishing charter boats. It is excellent for fishing straight down under the boat. Even when the rig is dropped right into the bottom structure, it seldom hangs up, something charter captains love.
    • The normal bait used on a fish finder is cut bait, either squid or small fish, and occasionally a small live bait. This rig will catch a variety of species, including grouper.
  2. More serious grouper anglers will opt for the second approach, called a live bait rig. This one had a sliding egg sinker on the line above the leader. The leader is long, sometimes five or six feet long. The hook of choice on this rig is a circle hook, normally about 8/0 or 9/0 in size (an 8/0 circle hook is about the same size as a 5/0 regular hook).
    • Both of these bottom rigs use monofilament leaders. The choice of leader material for most anglers is fluorocarbon. Advertised as virtually invisible to fish, it does seem to draw more strikes than regular monofilament.
    • The long leader allows a live bait to swim more freely and naturally than a short leader. The sliding egg sinker allows a fish to take the bait and swim off without feeling the weight of the sinker.
    • All of the preparation so far is pretty standard fare for almost any bottom fish. The difference in and secret to grouper fishing comes in how you handle the strike.
    • Grouper run out, grab a bait, and head back for cover. This habit will cause numerous lost fish and hung lines. Serious grouper anglers will crank the drag down on their reel as hard as they can, often using a pair of pliers to lock it down. The idea is to stop the grouper from taking the line and returning to his structure home.
    • When a grouper strikes, anglers will lay their rod on the rail and start winding as hard as they can. The circle hook will handle hooking itself. The battle now is one of brute strength between angler and fish. More often than not the fish wins!
    • When a grouper makes it into a rock or reef, many anglers will simply break off the line and try again. The savvy angler will give the fish a loose line for as long as thirty minutes to allow the fish to relax and possibly swim out from under the structure. It has worked for many anglers on more than one occasion.

    The third method for grouper fishing involves trolling, and there are two variations of trolling to use. In the Gulf of Mexico grouper anglers use magnum diving plugs that will go as deep as thirty feet or more. Many areas of Gulf bottom are lined with ledges and rock. Artificial reefs can be found on any good chart from as close in as five miles to as far offshore as fifty miles or more. Anglers slow troll these large artificials over and around this structure.

    The water in the Gulf of Mexico is comparatively shallow, and this method works well there.

    • The second variation is to troll with Monel wire line using a trolling weight and trolling feather. Strip baits are cut and attached to a double hooked trolling feather. A six-foot leader is tied to a one pound trolling weight and that weight is then tied to the wire line.
    • Very heavy tackle, including a rod with case hardened roller guides and roller tip is necessary when fishing with wire line. This makes the fishing outfit heavy and cumbersome at best.
    • The wire line method is popular in and around south Florida in the winter when big black grouper move into the shallower reefs. Patch reefs rising off the bottom in twenty feet of water will top out about three feet below the surface. Sometimes thirty yards in diameter, they are an ideal habitat for black grouper. Anglers troll around the edges of these reefs waiting for as strike. When one occurs, the boat moves directly away from the reef to drag the fish away from its hole. The first few yards of wire line are often reeled in with the rod still in the rod holder. This is really meat fishing, with little chance for a real fish battle; but, it is different, and it does put fish in the box!

      A Cooperative Fish

      Grouper are normally very cooperative. If they are on a wreck when you stop to fish, they will usually bite quickly. If you fish a wreck for thirty minutes or more catching only small fish with no big bites, you probably are fishing a wreck without a grouper population. It’s time to move!

      Another Option

      Not everyone is equipped to fish for grouper on his or her own. In those cases, a local party boat or head boat that provides the bait and tackle is an ideal way to bring some home to eat. Not many fish are as good as grouper either to catch or to eat!