The grouper season in South Florida closes for four months on January 1, so time is running short to catch one of the hard-fighting, great-tasting fish.
The good news is that now is the best time of the year to go offshore on your fishing boat and grouper fish. That’s according to the legendary Capt. Bouncer Smith, who does “Bouncer’s Tackle Tips” every Saturday at 6:45 a.m. on The Nautical Ventures Weekly Fisherman radio show on WINZ 940-AM, which is live-streamed from 6-8 a.m. on the Nautical Ventures Facebook page.
Live-baiting around coral reefs and wrecks is the most popular way to catch grouper. Boaters can either anchor upcurrent or drift or troll with their baits.
“Probably the most consistently productive bait that is readily available is pinfish,” Smith said, nothing they can be caught on hook and line or in a pinfish trap. “With that being said, if you caught live ballyhoo and slow-trolled them in 15 to 50 feet of water, wherever you find a reef edge, they’re very, very effective.”
But, adds Smith, there’s an even better live bait for grouper – a baby bonito of 1-3 pounds.
They can be caught trolling a homemade Sabiki-like rig consisting of some small spoons and bonefish jigs with a small trolling lead in front of them. Meanwhile, Smith says, your grouper fishing rod is already rigged with a tough fish hook – a 9/0 triple-strength circle hook — and a 120-pound leader about 20 feet long tied to a three-way swivel with a 3-pound weight attached to a short piece of monofilament tied to the bottom of the swivel.
“You’re trolling those little lures around all the wrecks out to 200 feet and at some point you’ll catch baby bonitos, which are very prolific in the fall,” Smith said. “As soon as you catch a baby bonito, you hook it through the upper lip and you drop it down on the upstream side of the wreck. And you better have all the drag you can afford.
“That live bonito is the No. 1 black grouper food you can drop down. It’s a great bait anytime, but the little bonitos are very common in the fall and the black groupers get common in the fall.
“We’ve already had very good black grouper fishing this fall,” Smith added. “It seems to be a bumper crop of them this year.”
The grouper season closure, which runs through April 30 in Atlantic waters, was implemented in 2010 to allow the populations of black, gag and red grouper to increase in number and in size, as well as protect the fish during their spawning seasons.
The minimum size limit for black and gag grouper is 24 inches and reds must be 20 inches. Anglers can keep a total of three grouper per day, but only one can be a black or a gag. The other two, or all three, can be red grouper.
Follow Capt. Bouncer’s advice and you’ll be able to enjoy several delicious meals of fresh grouper for the holiday season. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until May.
For more fishing tips, listen to our fishing show on The Weekly Fisherman Show every Saturday morning from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. live on WINZ 940-AM, an iHeart station. You’ll learn where to go for Florida fishing and how to fish for what’s biting. If you can’t tune in live, The Weekly Fisherman radio podcasts are also available through:
Author: Steve Waters
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