13 Productive Grouper Fishing Tips

13 Productive Grouper Fishing Tips

This post will highlight 13 productive grouper fishing tips. Grouper are an extremely popular bottom fish. They are found throughout the Caribbean and along the United States coastline from Texas to the mid Atlantic. Grouper are a hard fighting species that many anglers consider to be the finest eating fish that swims!

grouper fishing tips

The 13 productive grouper fishing tips are;

  • Grouper will be found around structure

  • Different grouper species behave differently

  • Proper tackle is required when grouper fishing

  • Boat positioning is crucial to grouper fishing success

  • Frozen bait can be the best choice for grouper

  • Live bait fish will produce for grouper fishing

  • Proper use of chum can be critical when grouper fishing

  • Grouper will move close to shore when the water is cool

  • Grouper will move offshore in the summer time

  • Current will position grouper on structure

  • Don’t set the hook when grouper fishing

  • Three popular grouper fishing rigs

  • Trolling is effective for grouper in shallow water

These 13 grouper fishing tips will help anglers catch more of these highly desirable bottom fish throughout their range, no matter what body of water or depth is being fished. Each tip will be covered in detail in the sections below.

gag grouper fishing

Anglers can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “Inshore Saltwater Fishing” for $5 by clicking on the title link. It is 23,000 words long and covers tackle, tactics, and species.

Capt. Jim Klopfer is a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida. He mostly fishes inshore these days, however spent years as a mate and Capt. working the offshore waters. Grouper are without a doubt the most highly coveted species on the West Coast of Florida. Capt. Jim is sharing these tips which he has learned out on the water with anglers in the hopes that they will become more successful.

Grouper will always be found close to structure

Grouper are one of the most structure oriented game fish found anywhere. It is rare for anglers to encounter them over open sandy bottoms. However, grouper can be caught on submerged grass flats, especially juveniles that are moving out towards open water. The vast majority of grouper will be caught close to some type of hard structure. This includes docks, bridges, and jetties inshore. Offshore anglers will find grouper on a hard bottom areas, natural ledges, wrecks, and artificial reefs.

red grouper fishing

Different grouper species behave differently

There are many different grouper species that are found throughout North America. In this article, the four primary grouper species that anglers will have the most access to will be covered. These include gag grouper, red grouper, scamp grouper, and black grouper. Goliath grouper are a fish deserving of its own article, so those will be discussed at a later date.

grouper fishing tackle

Gag grouper are the most widely distributed of the four main grouper species. They are also the species that will most often be encountered by anglers fishing inshore waters. As a mature, gag grouper move from the backwater areas to the offshore structure. Mature gag grouper will also move close to shore in the fall, and will even move into larger bays such as Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor. Gag grouper generally prefer natural ledges and wrecks.

grouper fishing tips

Red grouper are another prolific and widely distributed grouper species. While found inshore occasionally, especially juveniles, most red grouper are encountered by anglers fishing offshore. Red grouper are known to prefer hard bottom areas, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico. This bottom, often called Swiss cheese bottom, can be difficult to locate on a sonar as there is no relief above the bottom. Red grouper are often found in large schools in the spots. There preferred depth range is 60 feet to 150 feet.

grouper fishing tips

Black grouper, also known as true Blacks, are found more in the southern parts of Florida and the Caribbean. They can be located quite shallow around the coral reefs in the Bahamas. Black grouper have the reputation of being the hardest fighting of the grouper species. They are similar in markings to gag grouper, but are actually fairly easily identified. They prefer larger structure and ledges.

grouper fishing tips

Scamp grouper are the smallest of the four major grouper species. They are usually found a fair distance offshore and usually do not migrate in close. Most scamp grouper are caught in 100 feet of water or deeper. Many anglers consider them to be the best eating of all the grouper species.

Proper tackle is required when grouper fishing

Proper tackle is required to pull a hard fighting grouper away from the structure that it calls home. This is no place for light tackle or finesse fishing! Since grouper grow large and are hooked close to structure, heavy tackle is required in order to land them. Most anglers opt for fairly heavy conventional rods and reels. Heavy spinning tackle will also work, especially when fishing shallower waters.

fishing for sea bass

Read more about grouper fishing tackle in this article by Capt Jim

boat positioning is crucial to grouper fishing success

Boat positioning can be the deciding factor between catching grouper and not catching grouper. As mentioned several times already, grouper will almost always be found tight to some type of structure. A bait that is 20 feet away will oftentimes be ignored. When using and anchor, the best approach is to have the stern of the boat a little ways up current from the structure that is to be fished. That way the baits can be presented naturally as they drift back towards the structure.

GPS trolling motors have revolutionized offshore fishing for mid-sized boats. They allow anglers to precisely position the boat no matter what the wind or tide is doing. It also eliminates the need for heavy anchors, chains, and hundreds of feet of line along with the effort required to drop and pull the anchor.

red grouper fishing tackle

The method that Capt. Jim likes to use is to use a marker buoy of some sort to mark the structure. As the structure is found on the bottom machine, the buoy is thrown on top of it. The angler can then use this buoy as a reference point for using both and anchor or a trolling motor in order to position the boat effectively.

frozen bait can be the best choice for grouper fishing

While live bait is often preferred by anglers grouper fishing, there are times when frozen bait can actually be more effective. This is particularly true when the water is cold, grouper will often take a chunk of frozen sardine or squid when they are not in the mood to chase down a live bait. Frozen bait will also work fine during the other times of the year. It is important to start off with frozen bait and if the bite slows switch to live bait. It usually does not work the other way around.

grouper fishing tips

live bait fish will produce when grouper fishing

Grouper have a varied diet. They will eat just about anything that swims including fish, crabs, shrimp, and even lobster. However, day in and day out, the top grouper fishing bait will be a live bait fish. The type of bait preferred varies by region. Pin fish are a top live grouper bait just about anywhere. Squirrel fish, also known as sand perch, are another top grouper bait. However, just about any small live fish that is found in the local waters including blue runners, Spanish sardines, cigar minnows, mullet, and more will all appeal to grouper.

proper use of chum can be critical when grouper fishing

Chumming is often crucial to offshore fishing success. Chum is simply cut up or ground up fish or other forage that is slowly dispersed into the water in hopes of attracting fish. It is a staple among anglers who fish for snapper. Due to the fact that grouper stay near the bottom, chum either needs to be lower down to the bottom or be used in a situation where the chum will sink down.

grouper fishing tackle and lures

Anglers grouper fishing should be judicious in their use of chum. Over chumming is a very common mistake! The idea is to attract fish, not fill them up. In fact, it is a good idea to start fishing and see if the bite is on before even implementing the chum block. If the bite is slow, anglers can slowly add some chum to the equation. Once the fish get fired up, it is best to use just enough to keep them interested.

Read Capt Jim’s article on chumming

grouper will move close to shore in cool weather

Falling water temperatures will cause a migration of grouper, particularly gag grouper, to move inshore. They will often be found as close as a mile or two from the beach and even move into large estuaries such as Tampa Bay. This is an excellent time for anglers to target them as long rides in bumpy seas are not required. Red grouper will also move closer to the shore, and can be found in the 40 feet to 60 feet depth, which is much closer than in the summer time.

grouper fishing

grouper will move offshore in the summer time

Conversely, rising water temperatures will move grouper offshore. For the most part, they do not like shallow water when it warms up. Depending on the geography and area being fished, this usually starts around 100 feet deep and moves out from there. In the Gulf of Mexico, grouper fishing in the summer time usually means a long run. Anglers fishing in the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean will generally not have to go as far.

current will position grouper on structure

Tides and current are extremely important factors in any type of saltwater fishing, and grouper fishing is no exception. In most cases, grouper will relate to the up tide part of the structure, facing into the current. This ties into boat positioning and the concept of putting the boat a bit up current of the structure to be fished. This allows the bait to drift back naturally with the current, resulting in a natural looking presentation.

grouper fishing tackle

don’t set the hook when grouper fishing

Most anglers now use circle hooks when fishing for grouper and other bottom fish. In somebody’s of water, it is actually required, the Gulf of Mexico included. Even anglers using “J” hooks will do better to keep the rod tip low and just reel when a grouper takes the bait. This will remove all of the slack from the line and get the hook in the fishes mouth as well as pulling the fish away from the structure. The first few seconds of the fight are critical, if the grouper gets into the rock or structure it is probably lost.

There are three basic grouper fishing rigs

There are three basic rigs that anglers use for grouper fishing. These are the sliding sinker rig, knocker rig, and chicken rig. These three rigs will cover just about every grouper fishing situation and angler will encounter.

bottom fishing rigs

The sliding sinker rig, also known as a Carolina rig in some places, is the most widely used grouper fishing rig. It consists of an egg sinker with a hole through the center. The sinker weight and size depends on the depth and the current being fished. The running line goes through the hole in the sinker and a swivel is tied on.

The swivel stops the sinker from sliding any further. The leader is attached to the other end of the sinker. Again, leader length will vary depending on angler preference. A hook finishes off the rig. The beauty of the sliding sinker rig is that it allows the fish to pick up the bait and move off with it without feeling any resistance. It also allows the bait to move about and flutter on the leader.

gag grouper fishing tackle

The next rig is the knocker rig. It is similar to the rig above, except that the sinker sits directly on the eye of the hook. This rig is used with precise bait placement is desired as the hook and bait will be wherever the sinker is. It is also a very quick and easy rate to tie its most anglers simply slide the sinker right on the running line and forgo the use of a leader. The knocker rig is the choice of many anglers when fishing a structure that has a lot of snags.

The final rig is the chicken rig, also known as a high low rig. It is a basic bottom fishing rig that allows anglers to present multiple baits at multiple levels. It is used more when targeting other species such as snapper, however anglers grouper fishing do use it as well. It is the rig of choice when drifting over a piece of structure.

Trolling is effective for grouper in shallow water

trolling for grouper

As mentioned above, grouper will often move in fairly shallow when the water cools off. This can occur in water as shallow as 10 feet deep, but is usually in the 30 feet to 50 feet range. Most often, these are gag grouper. One extremely effective technique when this happens is trolling large deep diving plugs.

The cool water usually has the grouper aggressive and in the mood to feed. The erratic action of the plug will often trigger a strike. Also, due to the fact that the group are usually has to rise up to take the plug and the speed at which the boat is moving, the grouper is quickly pulled away from the structure, resulting in more fish being landed.

In conclusion, this article on 13 productive grouper fishing tips will help anglers hook and land more grouper!


Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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