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Trolling for Grouper

Hard fighting and good eating bottom fish


The Southeastern United States provide the best grouper fishing in the world, and they can be taken by any number of means. From gag grouper in at little as ten to twelve feet of water to the mighty warsaw grouper in several hundred feet of water, all grouper tend to like the same types of baits and presentations whether they are presented on the bottom or by trolling. Just remember, big bait, big fish, small bait, small fish.

Classic grouper fishing involves bottom fishing with relatively heavy tackle. A rod with a lot of backbone, a reel with the ability to crank down an extra hard drag, and 60 to 80 pound test line are the usual equipment on a bottom fishing trip for grouper. Terminal tackle will consist of an egg slip sinker, swivel, two to three feet of heavy mono or wire leader and a 7/0 or 8/0 hook.

Find your live bottom, artificial reef, wreck, or shoal, anchor up and put your lines down. Grouper are usually not very finicky. If they are there, they usually will bite. But, set the hook hard, and keep the fish headed for the boat, or he will take you right into a hole. The need for heavy tackle will become quite evident!

My personal favorite method for grouper fishing is trolling. This method works in water from 15 to 25 feet in depth and works wherever grouper are found. It works particularly well on the "patch reefs" of South Florida, the Florida Keys, and the entire Caribbean. These patch reefs are spotty reefs that reach up from sandy bottom sometimes as high as the surface at low tide. Numbers of small fish, including exotics populate them. They usually border the big reef and are close to deep water.

In the winter and early spring, black grouper and red grouper make their way up from deeper water to the relative shallows of near shore patch reefs to spawn. This occurs all up and down the east coast and Gulf of Mexico. These patch reefs are generally in 15 to 30 feet of water and will top out to as shallow as 5 or 6 feet of water at mean low water. They are anywhere from 10 to 50 yards wide and long, and are separated from each other by the surrounding deeper water. Some patches climb almost vertically and all have holes and caves serving as home to a variety of fish, including our groupers.

The method we use during this time is to slow troll feathers with strip bait, such as mullet, between, next to, and sometimes over the patch reefs. We need heavy rods, wire line and a strong back to horse these fish up. As soon as one strikes, the trolling speed must increase and the fish must be cranked away from the reef. Otherwise he strikes and takes you right into his hole. I have made many cold dives in March to follow the line down to a hole to attempt to get the fish out.

The basic rig is set up like this: a good heavy rod with case hardened roller guides and tip for the wire; a Penn Super 4/0 or Super 6/0 reel with 60 to 80 pound test monel wire; an 8 to 10 ounce trolling weight haywire and barrel twisted to the wire line and connected to 6 feet of 200 pound test monofilament shock leader on the other; a swivel on the end of the shock leader connected to six more feet of 30 pound wire leader; and finally a 10 inch chrome trolling feather on the end. The trolling feather has the wire leader going through it's head and has a pair of 6/0 hooks in tandem.

The wire line is necessary to (1) get the bait deep enough, and (2) provide a no stretch line to insure the fish is moved away from the reef. The feather will run about 12 to 15 feet deep and the grouper will run out of his hole as the bait goes by.

I've caught a lot of grouper using this method, and it provides both fun and food. Although the set up costs are rather stiff, the amount of fish to be caught makes up for that cost in a short time. One bonus to be had is the number of cero mackerel we take as a by-catch.

Ever fish for grouper? Got a story or question? Tell me about your experiences and ideas for others articles by sending me an Email.

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