I have looked so forward to May 1st and the opening of grouper season. Too long have these devils been stealing our yellowtail snappers with no repercussions. Not only will the shallow water grouper be available to us recreational anglers, but the deep grouper “snowys” open up as well—until we hit our recreational quota, whatever that is this year. Before targeting either, check up on your state, as well as federal, regulations as they do change and may not be the same, dependent on where you're fishing for them. FishMonster Magazine does a great job keeping current regulations up-to-date in this magazine.
To start with, when targeting the shallower grouper, such as red and gag grouper, bait and rigging is not a huge concern as they will both eat about any fresh dead bait, like ballyhoo or bonito chunks, as well as small live baits, like pinfish and small grunts.
When moving up the ladder, in my opinion, to the black grouper, I normally gear up a lot. Even though we have caught them on light gear on occasion, honestly, we got lucky. Rigging a rod and reel with plenty of drag and a minimum of 50-pound braid, I’ll attach enough lead to hold the rig vertical against the current. Next, a heavy duty swivel attached to 80 to 130 pound leader to a strong short shank hook 6/0 or bigger (light hooks can, and will, straighten). I have never found black grouper to be leader-shy.
Large live baits are the way to go; such as grunts, big ballyhoo and legal-size yellowtails. After dropping this big live bait to the bottom, take a few cranks up and pay attention to your bait. You will feel your bait get very nervous when a black grouper starts eyeballing him. At that point, I recommend you slowly get a couple cranks on the reel; the grouper will follow it farther up and engulf it. The key is to get the bite as far from the bottom as possible, because Mr. Black Grouper is gonna head south as soon as it eats the bait rapidly. The farther from the bottom you hook him, the better, ‘cause if it gets back into structure, you’re in trouble. Large jigs can be used to catch black grouper, but day in, day out, I’ll stick with conventional rigging and a large live bait.
A couple tips to remember:
1. Win the first 15 seconds, and you have probably won the war. Remember, turn the handle and collect line; lifting the rod will only get you out of position. Try to keep it horizontal to the water.
2. If he does make it back to structure, stop pulling immediately and give him some slack. I put the rod in a rod holder and give it a few minutes. More times than not, he will come out in a timely manner. When you can tell he’s out of his hole, remember he’s still very close to the structure, so gain line as quick as you can to get his head up. I say it every time—they can’t swim backwards.
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