Saltwater sport fishing is one of the most popular past times in Florida. All you really need is a rod and reel, a hook and bait/lures (and a fishing license!) and you are good to go. But despite a wide diversity of species for anglers to target, many Florida fishermen only have experience with inshore species like flounder, redfish and spotted seatrout. Throughout much of the state the continental shelf extends far offshore, and since most angling is done from the shore, piers or small boats like kayaks and skiffs, fishermen hunting these flats are just scratching the surface of what the state’s waters have to offer. But for those anglers willing to go a little deeper the rewards are worth it, as Florida has some of the best grouper fishing of anywhere in the world.
Over nine different species of grouper inhabit the reefs and ledges found throughout Florida. These fantastic game fish are almost always found exclusively in deep water, patrolling the bottom habitats looking for their prey. Like Deebo in the movie, “Friday”, they are oversized street thugs that bully the reef neighborhoods they call home. Prey is pretty much anything they can fit into their oversized mouths. Crabs, fish, lobsters, octopus and even the occasional scuba diver are all fair game.
Sportsmen targeting grouper need heavy tackle as grouper can get huge. Oftentimes anglers hooked into a grouper think they have snagged a rock. Although many species, such as Gag Groupers, average 15-20 pounds, many other species like Warsaw and Goliath Groupers with weights upwards of 300-400 pounds not uncommon. It is usually best to use big game reels that can handle 80-100 pound test line, as they provide the torque/leverage needed when hooked up to these monsters. They can be caught using Spinning Reels, but heavy rods and reels with low gear-ratios are a must.
Simple bottom-fishing is the most common technique for grouper, so shiny live baitfish makes a great choice. They will also regularly take frozen baits like squid and sardines as well. Slow trolling over reefs and ledges works well at bringing grouper out from their hiding spots in the nooks and caves they like to use as cover.
Perhaps one of the best reasons more anglers should try grouper fishing is they are superb table fare. Fresh caught specimens have a distinctive yet mild flavor, with large flakes and firm texture. Many describe the taste as a cross between Bass and Halibut. And for anglers that catch them, one fish can easily feed an entire family. Some individuals could feed an entire family reunion.
For those coastal anglers looking to pursue these deeper water residents, a great way to get started is to hire a local fishing guide to take you out. Besides having a vessel large enough to safely take your party offshore, guides have the experience and knowledge of which ledges, reefs and holes the big boys haunt. And most charter services provide the heavy tackle and gear necessary to tangle with these heavyweights of saltwater angling. If you love Florida sport fishing and want the opportunity to pick a fight with big bruiser, Grouper fishing is where the action’s at!