How to Catch Grouper
Tackle & Best Bait for Grouper
|Top 10 Tips||Best Grouper Tackle|
|Where to Catch||Best Bait|
|Trolling for Grouper||Best Lures|
If you ask any person on the street – especially non-fishermen – what the best tasting fish in the sea is, you’re likely to get a lot of them say, “grouper, of course.” Well known for their fine taste, as well as their brute strength making a good fight, groupers are some of the most popular fish in the oceans. There are actually hundreds of species of groupers, with over 60 species in the United States. In fact, over 40 of these species of grouper live within Florida alone. With that said, there is some general overlap between the species when it comes to what to do and how to catch them, but we’ll try to separate the species whenever important to do so. This section is the overall “101” for everything you need to know to get out and catch a grouper of your own.
Grouper Season - When to Catch Grouper
Grouper can be found year-round in most places – it just depends on how far you’re willing (and able to) travel! During the cooler parts of the year, groupers move closer to shore where they can catch some warmer water. This is the best time of the year if you don’t have the means to travel too far offshore. During warmer summer months the fish are farther offshore, requiring more travel, but the seas are often calm.
No matter where the fish are – far offshore or closer – you’ll never find a grouper far from structure (unless of course they just happen to be on the move). Offshore, look for groupers on natural reefs, patch reefs, man-made reefs and steep changes in depth (ledges). Nearshore and inshore, look for groupers near the shallow reefs and artificial reefs, along the edges of steep shipping channels, any hard-bottoms, and along deep bridges and residential docks inshore in the wintertime.
Grouper get big – some commonly between 50 and 100 pounds. Other grouper such as Warsaw, get up to 500 pounds. They’re not only big, but also strong. In fact, the first time you set the hook on one, you might think you’ve just gotten stuck on a rock, when in fact a big grouper has just taken the bait. Long story short -- heavy tackle is required for grouper, no matter where or how you’re catching them.
Conventional Tackle for Grouper
- Conventional tackle is the best way to go for big grouper. Use it for any situation – bottom fishing, trolling or on inshore structures. On a conventional rig, the reel sits on top of the rod, rather than below, allowing more pressure to be put on the rod.
- The line is also wound in the same direction as the line goes out, which gives you much more leverage for pulling up and reeling in big fish, which grouper certainly are. Even with this greater leverage, you’re still going to need a heavy reel capable of 80-to-100 pound test line to put the kind of pressure you need to get the fish off the structure.
Spinning Tackle for Grouper
- Spinning tackle can be used for catching grouper as long as you make sure to use heavy reels. A spinning reel is the easiest to learn and use, but does not have as good of leverage against big fish like grouper. If your gear is in the heavy class though, you’ll be fine. Use a spinning reel capable of 80-to-100 pound test mainline, and tighten the drag (you don’t want the fish to run you into a hole or under a ledge). You’ll not only need to pull up on the fish, but also reel it in. Use a reel with a low gear-ratio to give you more power in doing so when the fish gives you a chance.
Frozen baits such as squid and sardines are great choices. Natural baits are also a great choice for grouper fishing. One of the most common grouper techniques is simple bottom-fishing, and it doesn’t get any better than a live shiny baitfish.
Natural baits can also be slow-trolled over shallow reefs and ledges to bring grouper out from hiding, or also flipped under bridges and docks when the fish move inshore. The best natural baits are in this order: grunts, pinfish, squirrelfish, sardines, blue runner and striped and white mullet.
Artificial lures are one of the best methods for catching grouper – specifically the shallow water species, while slow trolling. Diving plugs are arguably the best lures for catching grouper. So many are on the market, but you need to be sure to get one that is specifically designed for deep trolling (anywhere from 20 to 40 feet) over shallow reefs. If the reefs near you are deeper than that, the use of a downrigger can get the lure much deeper -- down to those 60-to-100 foot reefs and ledges.
This technique is highly effective, because when trolling, the groupers will not have the time to think before they bite, or else their meal will have passed them by. While lures are moving in a troll, the fish have to swim out of their holes and ledges to bite, so when they do, they’re well away from their shelters and cannot run back in. Other lures that can work well include soft plastic curly tails attached to a heavy jig-head (4-8 oz.), Shimano Butterfly jigs and other non-diving hard plastic lures that mimic mullet or pinfish. These can be thrown under structures inshore, or trolled offshore using a simple downrigger or planer to get it down to 30-to-40 feet.
You can put baits down pretty deep with planers, but inch-for-inch a cannon ball on the wire leading to a downrigger will help you catch more grouper. Putting the lure close to the bottom and moving in a straight line underneath your (gentle) wake draws far more strikes than anchoring and dropping the jig over and over onto the same spots.