Spearfishing Grouper

Capt. Tony Young

In the diving and fishing world, the long anticipation is finally over, grouper season is open! May 1st embarks the start of a fresh grouper season and a change in fisheries for us in the South Atlantic. All year we look forward to the winter pelagic species, wahoo and sailfish to name a few, but after a few months we start to get excited for the reef fishing and spearfishing. Let’s dive into a few tips that will help your grouper hunting game and set you up for success when you are presented a shot on the big one. My goal is to help you maximize on that opportunity with a fish of a lifetime. Shot placement, gear, and a couple tricks will help you make the most of this year’s grouper season. Let’s dive in!
Shot placement is crucial when it comes to hunting large groupers. You may just want to get a shot off and tag the fish, but recovering a large fish that is rocked up in a wreck or coral head can be very difficult. If you can place your shot right in the soft spot above the gill and back from the eye, you will roll the fish over dead every time. It will not take much penetration to hit the brain and your fish will drop stoned dead. This shot is best taken when the fish is quartering away from you. If the fish is head on, place it right between the eyes, many people will pass up a head on shot like this, but they are a sure way to land the fish if you don’t miss. The way I like to aim my gun is raising the front up enough to where I can see the tip, then drop the gun just enough to where the tip disappears, this will land your shot spot on everytime!
There has been a lot of debate on what the best gear is for hunting grouper and this past season I completely rigged a gun only to target the larger fish. I personally shoot a 60” Hatch Amero speargun, rigged with a heavy 5/16th shaft, cable slip tip, and cable shooting line that is backed up to a 60-meter reel. When freediving, I do not take a shot unless I am confident that I will kill the fish on impact. On scuba, we sometimes are unable to get as close to the fish and longer shots are needed. The slip tip will allow a poorly taken shot to stick and the cable will prevent the fish from breaking you off in the wreck or coral heads. Two years ago, we almost lost the 70-pound cubera snapper that Pat Galyon shot, the slip tip was not rigged with cable and was cut by the fish’s gill plate. Luckily, we landed the fish with a second shot I placed, but this situation did reinforce the need for cable when specifically targeting larger snappers and groupers. Many will say a 60” gun is overkill, but the power will push a heavy shaft through the skull of a large fish with a head on shot. Do not waste your time shooting a lighter 9/32 shaft, you will burn through them as grouper season carries on.
Running a reel on your gun is a nice trick for hunting grouper. The reel allows you to let the fish run, easing the pressure on a poorly placed shot that could tear out. If you don’t have a reel and feel your shot could tear out, then simply let go! The fish will run to the first hole he sees, your shaft will remain in the fish, and you can easily get a second shot while the fish is holed up. We have all had those moments of chasing grouper down the reef, they often never seem to stop. If you bump a grouper and this happens to you, just relax and tail back from him a bit. Keep just the tail of the fish in sight and let him swim off, as you relieve the stress of chasing him, the grouper will relax and choose a hole to swim into. As long as you see where he goes, you’ll have an easy opportunity to shoot the fish holed up. Do not forget a flashlight. Taking this shot and getting the fish out of the hole is a different story. For anglers, any grouper you catch that gets to the bottom will bury themselves into the reef and expend their gill plates to hold them in place. At this point, it is very hard to get them out. For spearfishing, reach in and get your hands on the fish to push them forward as you twist back and out. The forward motion will release the grip they have on the coral around, the twisting motion as you pull out will prevent the fish from clinging back onto the reef. These are just a few tips that will help you maximize your shots, both before you take them and after.
With grouper season finally open, it’s our opportunity to jump in and apply what we learned from last year to a fresh season! Get your rig dialed in, place the right shot, and use these tricks to help maximize every opportunity you get! Remember that every part of a grouper is usable. The filets, throat (collar), cheeks, and the backbone. These fish live a long time and utilizing all of their meat will show a lot of respect to the fish. Enjoy the season and dive safe!

— Capt. Tony Young can be reached at
Forever Young Spearfishing in Islamorada, FL at 305-680-8879