It’s GO TIME for Grouper!


On May 1st, the Atlantic grouper season opens for black, gag, red, scamp and several other species. Grouper are one of my favorite bottom fish to target because of their strong, powerful runs and their voracious appetite for nearly anything that crosses their path.

Red grouper are probably the easiest of the bunch to catch. You can catch them on anything from squid on chicken rigs to bucktail jigs while fishing on any of our local reefs. They are good fighters, but normally smaller than blacks, gags or scamps. In South Florida, they are known to have worms as a result of their eating habits or habitat, but that’s ok. You can just trim around them in the filet. Reds need to be 20 inches and you can keep 3 as part of your aggregate bag limit.

Gags are a little more difficult to catch than reds and aren’t as plentiful. They prefer fresh cut or live bait, but can be caught pulling planers or lipped trolling plugs along the reef. I caught many by trolling large Yo-Zuri plugs along the reef from local drift boats when I was a kid. A 4/0 Penn Senator on a stout rod filled with 65 pound braid and a 60 pound mono top shot will do the trick. A live pilchard or herring presented near a wreck would be hard for them to resist. Fishing those on a 7 foot medium/heavy rod with a Shimano Talica 12 to 16 two speed reel filled with 50lb braid is my favorite. A 25 to 50 foot length of 50 to 60 pound fluorocarbon leader with a sliding sinker above the leader swivel connection is the best bet. Your lead selection will depend on current. You only need enough to hold the bottom. Gags need to be 24 inches and you may only keep one per person.

I believe black grouper to be the most sought after species of them all. They are hard fighting and excellent table fare. Some of the larger fish have been known to carry Ciguatera, so keeping the smaller, but still legal fish is recommended. They can also be caught trolling planers and lipped plugs, or by dropping live and dead bait. I have caught some of my biggest blacks using live grunts. I prefer to fish some of the deeper wrecks in 150 feet or more by anchoring or power drifting over them. Pulling them away from the wreck quickly is key as they will rock you up quickly if you’re not prepared. So set you drag and hold on! Blacks also need to be 24 inches and you may keep one per person.

Scamp aren’t as common around our area but they are here and might be tastier than any other grouper. I have caught several in deeper waters of Hollywood and Miami. A fresh ballyhoo plug on a long leader or even a slow pitch jig will produce for you. No need to anchor, as covering territory is in your best interest. Scamps need to be 20 inches and you can keep 3 as part of your aggregate bag.

Capt. Ryan Palmer
Family Jewell Fishing Charters