Gag grouper are a mottled brownish gray in color with irregular square shaped patches on their sides. They have a large mouth and broad squared-off tail that provides a lot of swimming power. Their body has a 2:1 shape that is they are trice as long as they are deep. Members of the sea basses family, they are shaped much like a freshwater black bass. As with many saltwater fish, they do have a sharp edge on their outer gill plates.
Gags can grow to more than 70 pounds, but are more common to 25 pounds. Most catches are fish in the five to ten pound range, just over the legal size limits.
Where are They Found:
Mature gags can be found on offshore reefs and wrecks. They like any kind of structure, including ledges and holes, and will take up residence in any object that will hide them. They are found from Brazil through the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico northward to New England. Juvenile fish can be found on inshore grass flats and shoals. Huge migrations of gags gather in the winter months in the Gulf of Mexico to spawn.
Gags are caught using one of two methods. Deep trolling large lures or jigs with a strip bait is popular in the Gulf of Mexico. The other method, and the one that is most often used, is just plain old bottom fishing. Heavy tackle in the thirty to fifty pound class with conventional reels and boat rods is the standard. A heavy leader, sometimes made with leader wire instead on monofilament, with an 8/0 or 9/0 hook is the order of the day.
Gags can be caught on fresh cut bait, such as mullet or pinfish. They will also eat squid, octopus, and crabs. Live bait is by far the best bet. A live pinfish, a small gray or lane snapper, or a live cigar minnow will draw almost as fast as the bait gets to the bottom. Trolling lures include Manns +30 giant lures, sometimes used with either wire line or with a trolling weight to gain more depth. Wire line trolling with a feather jig and strip bait is popular in Florida and the Caribbean.
These are powerful fish when hooked, and heavy gear is required to prevent the fish from taking your line with him into a hole or under a ledge. Many anglers crank the drag on their reel down all the way to prevent the fish from reaching a hole.