May 1st is here and both grouper and hogfish are open to hunt! Both fisheries will remain open until the 31st of October; with a few new regulations to abide by this season. Here, we have a highlight of the new regulations, along with some helpful tips to ensure a great day of hunting.
Before you hit the water, be sure you are up-to-date with the new regulations for hogfish. First off, the new minimum size for hogfish is 16 inches to the fork, previously 12 inches. This new minimum size allows for the fish to mature and spawn before they are available for harvest. Second, there is a new bag limit of one per person for hogfish, previously five per person. Enjoy the hunt and take your time choosing the perfect fish for the day. As for grouper, the regulations remain unchanged from previous years. While spearfishing, we mainly target black grouper and red grouper. Blacks have a minimum size of 24 inches and reds have a minimum size of 20 inches. Keep in mind the aggregate total per day is three fish and you can only possess one black grouper within that aggregate. A full list and description of these regulations can be found at myfwc.com. These regulations pertain to all Atlantic federal waters and state waters in Monroe County.
The past few months, we have been seeing a healthy return of the hogfish fishery with the new regulations and closure in place. I’ve been noticing exceptionally large hogfish in the sand off the deep shipwrecks and structure in the Upper Keys. Hogs use their extended snout to dig and eat crustaceans and other small prey found in sediment. For this reason, I look for hogs off the reef, in the sand. If you are having trouble tracking the fish or they are swimming just out of shooting range, try fluffing up a cloud of sand to get their attention. This cloud of sand will mimic a stingray digging for crustaceans, which attracts the surrounding fish for the ray’s easy leftovers. This trick works especially well for mutton snapper. Generally speaking, hogfish is one of the easier fish to target and they allow for close shots. Take your time and make the shot count; you only get one with new regulations.
Grouper, on the other hand, can be a more difficult fish to hunt, especially on scuba. These fish like holes in the reef, ledges, and artificial structure. In the Upper Keys, you can hunt the deep reef edges, 75-95 feet. These ledges provide the perfect habitat for grouper to live. The ledges generally run northwest to southeast; following a southeast bearing will get you to the ledge drop-off. If you’re hunting on scuba and can’t find any fish, look for spotty clouds of sand. Chances are, they saw you before you could see them; when grouper spook, they take off quick, leaving a dust cloud where they were sitting. If they don’t spook into a coral head, they often shoot out to the sand and camouflage themselves by turning white. They think they are hidden, but can be easily spotted as their fin tips remain black. Approach cautiously and break eye contact with the fish; the trick is to make them think you don’t see them. My favorite way to hunt grouper is by watching other fish. Grouper are a predator on the reef and other schools of fish will react drastically when a grouper is nearby. A school of grunts will split as a grouper swims through, which is something you can spot from a distance before the fish is aware of your presence.
In all practices of spearfishing, from scuba to freediving, remember to respect the fisheries and regulations set to protect them. Spearfishing is considered a sustainable way to harvest fish and we, as divers, have a direct impact on the environments we hunt.
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