By Tim Barefoot
I’m going to date myself here, but what is about to happen will come as no surprise to me. This is time of year I live for. You see, I’ve been watching this beautiful cycle happen with grouper for almost four decades now. As soon as the mullet run slows, and the vast schools of cigar minnows (cigs) and sardines drift inshore, so do the larger (male) gag grouper. This generally occurs around the middle of October. The scamp bite will be hard and fast during this same time in deeper water.
I started my grouper fishing career with heavy electric and hydraulic commercial reels and eventually switched over to Elec-Tra-Mates and Precision Auto Reels, but now I’ve gone full circle to lighter (heavy-duty) level-wind reels with braided line and ultra stealth terminal tackle to stay ahead of the mental evolution of grouper and large snapper. You see, back in the day when there were so many grouper, it was a competitive atmosphere on the bottom. The first bait to the bottom used to catch the biggest red snapper or gag, even using monofilament leader, but now it’s just not that way.
I haven’t cleaned hundreds of grouper… I’ve cleaned thousands of them before selling them, and I’m always curious about what they were eating. One common denominator in gags and red grouper, but not as many scamp grouper, are the small red crabs that are obviously plentiful on live bottom.
This is what prompted me to experiment with crab jigs. I made my first batch of Crab Decoy Jigs over a decade ago and quickly realized they out-fish any other bottom rig I’ve ever used. I tie them in with red braided line and a short piece of fluorocarbon leader tied in a loop knot. Then I sweeten the pot with a live bait.
Bait selection is important. Live cigs and sardines are by far the best choice for instant bites, but the problem with them is everything down there gives them a whack. Fishing a bait that eliminates everything but large black sea bass, large snapper and grouper helps weed through the smaller fish to find the big male grouper you’re looking for. Live pinfish, sailors choice grunts, grass grunts and tomtate grunts all work. I like to fish big stacks of beeliners, and that makes beeliners one of my all-time favorite baits. I fish them live or butterflied on a Crab Decoy Jig.
The older, wiser males are growing increasingly tackle shy, so shed all the useless terminal tackle and scale down to “clean” heavy-duty tackle that can fool ole big boy into biting.
For video with detailed instructions on fishing Tim Barefoot’s rigs and proof that they work, visit his website at barefootcatsandtackle.com.