The term “grouper” describes a family of saltwater fish, which includes a variety of species that live along the US Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Among them are Snowy, Nassau, Black, Red, Gag, Yellowtail, and Goliath Groupers. Groupers are considered one of the most prized fish along the Florida coasts. Known as a mild tasting, hard fighting bottom fish, the grouper is at home in the Southeastern United States. Florida Keys grouper may be some of the best grouper fishing in the world. The most common method for catching grouper is bottom fishing with heavy tackle. When a grouper aggressively strikes it will take the bait and usually take off quickly into the rocks, or any surrounding structure.
Tackle needed for bottom grouper fishing includes a rod with a lot of strength, a reel that can crank down an extra hard drag, and 80-pound test line. One of the most commonly used rigs for grouper fishing is called the sliding or egg sinker. For bottom fishing with live bait, such as pin fish or large grunts, use a 3- to 8-ounce egg sinker, 2–3 feet of 100 pound leader. and a 5 to 10/0 hook, depending on the size of the bait.
Most types of bait that live on the bottom will work well for bottom grouper fishing, but will not be suitable if you plan on trolling for grouper. Cut squid and sand perch make great bait, either cut into chunks or filleted. Sardines and live pinfish also make excellent grouper bait.
In the winter and early spring, Black and Red Grouper find their way to more shallow water in patch reefs near the shore, where they will spawn. Some reef patches climb almost straight up, and have holes and caverns which serve as a home to a variety of species, including grouper. Try running feather lures or lures with a ballyhoo combo, about 12 to 15 feet deep to attract the grouper out of their holes as the bait goes by. For trolling make sure that the water is between 15 to 25 feet deep; for fishing in more shallow water such as 4 to 12 feet, a method called “flat lining” is commonly used. Flat lining involves watching to see which way the tide is moving and then moving to the side where your bait will go away from the boat.
It is important to note that Goliath Grouper, Nassau Red Grouper, and Gag Grouper are totally protected from harvest in all Florida waters, no matter what type of fishing you plan to do.