Mules of the Deep: Fishing Florida Grouper!

Grouper, being one of the most prized fish in our Gulf of Mexico, are excellent table fare and awesome fighters. The most common targeted species are gag, scamp and red grouper with the occasional elusive black sea bass, which is often mistaken as a black grouper. These grouper, along with their cousin the black sea bass, inhabit natural as well as artificial reefs, wrecks, offshore mounds and ledges on the sea floor.

Grouper are best fished with live baits. Frozen sardines, squid, and cut baits work well but live squirrel fish and pinfish work best. So if you are serious and want the best catch, you will do whatever it takes to fill your bait well with live baits prior to reaching your favorite haunt. Your best bait catching techniques might include chumming first and then cast netting or use of a sabiki rig.

The most recommended arsenal for catching grouper is a stiff rod, any reel which will hold 50 to 80 pound line, 12/0 circle hooks, 150 pound mono leader, an 8 oz. or better weight and a 100 pound snap swivel. Though I use a 3/0 straight hook so as I may set my own hook, instead of letting the circle do it for me, because sometimes the fish are finicky and will just mouth the bait, not inhale it.

Now that we have our bait and equipment, let’s catch some fish! Anchoring on top of a suspected ledge, cheese hole, or spot on the fish finder, we fish vertically with the live bait. Drop a squirrel fish on one of these mules and it is usually an offer he can not refuse. Hold on tight and put your back into it, for this mule of the deep will do anything it takes to disappear back into his rocky home.

Florida fishing regulations for the Gulf of Mexico allow a daily aggregate bag limit of 5 grouper per angler. Gags must be 22 inches with yellowtail. yellow mouth, scamp and red grouper at 20 inches overall length. If fishing the Atlantic side remember the rules are different, like in Monroe County, where Blacks and Gags must be 24″, with Scamp measuring out at 22. Don’t forget to purchase a fishing license! If your in a boat, you have to have one.

For all your limit requirements;State of Florida Saltwater Fishing Regs!

As always, take what you can realistically use and release the rest for future fishing trips. The fishing should be good right now because gag and red groupers spawn from February to April in the Gulf. Go ahead, get out on the water and try to get some of those mules of the deep and see why I call them mules? What a rip, what a trip!

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