June 2 2005 Written by the Boatless Fisherman..TA
Grouper – Where to start, you will have a hard time getting the big ones landed, I mean 15lbers and up are not easy to get in and your best way to try for this size fish is up and down at bridges. I have found plenty in the keys off bridges, some at South Florida Inlets and smaller ones at piers.
The biggest that I have caught from land were at Bridges and I believe this is because they are homebound grouper, ones that like to stay close to home. If it is a traveller it may be easier because it won’t know were to run and they tend to be smaller. The larger ones that live in an area normally know were to run and are bigger. You have mere seconds to get that fish up off the bottom, so he can’t rock you. Your drag also has to be set lose so they don’t break your line on that initial run, there can be alot of force when he goes. You could use 100 lb line but I wouldn’t call that fishing, maybe winching!
Anyways those seconds are going to trick so you can not make any mistakes the number one rule, get it off the bottom! without breaking your line and then, fight it in. Those big ones hurt you but it’s all worth it.
The Gear I use is 4/0 with 40lb line on a stiff stiff 6 foot boat rod and it works well for me. I place a bank 5 oz weight on a 12 inch piece of 30 lb line at one end and a swivel on the other end and put my line through the swivel giving me 12 inches off of the bottom. I then place a bead and tie a 60 to 80lb 3ft leader and a 5/0 to 9/0 hook, depending on my bait size. In most cases I use live bait, Mullet, Grunt, Large Pilchard or some type of yummy fish that live in the area. As for dead bait, the head of a fish preferably one that comes from where you are fishing and is fresh, matter of fact still flapping when I drop him down.
Now once our bait is in the water in most cases, I know there is a grouper there so I hold the rod because as I said you will only have seconds to get him up. But if I am not sure if they are there I will put the rod down and set my clicker and stand close. Little traveller grouper I find make a good initial run but the big ones seem to tap the bait and only run a few feet to a hole so you need to be holding the rod because you are not likely going to get him or her out, but if you choose sit and wait him out you may get it.
Knowing if they are there the first sign to me letting me know grouper are around is catching a few smaller ones or by word of mouth someone you know told you they got grouper. This year in the Keys I have never before seen more grouper off the bridges and I have been fishing there since I was a boy about 8 years old, well that’s about as far back as my memory goes for grouper in the Keys.
I find that the longer bridges ( Long Key bridge, etc. ) are better because more length to fish. The shorter bridges seem to have lots of people fishing the same areas because they are smaller. For the longer ones I try to head further out where less people want to walk. I also check the rails for use as cutting boards this tells you that people are fishing it so move till you find an area that seems to be less fished. Also some of the really small bridges, the ones you can walk under and around seem to be less fished for grouper. Most people are fishing lighter rods on these types of bridges so even if they hook them they never get them in. Tea table channel I always did well, as for now they have closed access under some of that bridge, but there are plenty that are good today so good luck getting your Groupers.
Please remember that there are size limits on groupers and you need to know them and what they all look like, for instance the last time I was in the Keys we caught a large number of grouper and I would say that there were at least 5 to 6 diifferent species caught, even a couple I couldn’t even identify. Well since then I have a handy book and laws because alot of groupers do not have size limits. They are not normally the ones you catch but in this case we did catch alot that did not have size limits. At the time I could not identfy so we released most only to find out we could have kept some of them. Generally I go by my own rule and that is over 27 I keep. That is not the law I have found but because I fish so much I decided to give myself a larger size limit to fish. That way I know it is safe to keep. Please remember however NO GOLAITH GROUPER…aka… the JEW FISH and you do catch them alot in the Keys, so be careful to know what they look like and let them go. While I am on the subject I will tell you a story from when I was a kid.
Port Everglades jettys at the inlet produced massive Jew Fish when I was a kid I would watch fisherman on the jetties and boats that would come into the marinas from fishing the edges of the inlet with these MONSTERS, 2, 3 hundred pounders and they would show them off like they were cool. Well 8 or 10 years later all they had were stories because there were no more. and that is a fact and I am sure some of you know this to be true. So just remember we need to be careful, fishing is good but there is no need to take more fish than you need. Let’s help our beautiful coastline, not kill it.