Summertime grouper fishing isn’t as good as it is in the winter when the fish come in close to shore to spawn, but it can still be very good. As the water warms up during the summer months the main body of fish will move out to deeper water, which is the Gulf of Mexico is like 85 to 120 or 130 feet.
Grouper are structure oriented, and really like to hold around rocks, particularly those rockpiles that are holding bait. It doesn’t have to be a large area—it can really just be a rocky ledge the size of your boat or some hard bottom structure that has some holes in it for the fish to hide in.
The thing about grouper fishing is that you’re fighting a fish for a very short length of line. You know the fish is going to eat your bait near the bottom, and then immediately try to get into one of those holes or ledges and break you off, so you have to be aggressive and use heavy leader and line to quickly winch them away from the structure before they can cut you off.
Most of the time I’m grouper fishing I’m using 80 pound conventional tackle with a high-speed reel to quickly gain line and a 80 to 120 pound monofilament or fluorocarbon leader. Depending on the size of the fish, I’ll rig up with anywhere from a 4/0 to 7/0 circle hook and just enough weight to get the bait to the bottom and hold it there.
You can catch grouper on dead baits like a grunt plug or large chunk of ladyfish or bonito, but you’ll get a lot more action on live bait. Grouper like baits, so a 4 to 6 inch pinfish, threadfin or pogie are all good options. If you’re marking a lot of fish or are on small structure, you can anchor up, but it on a reef with moving current you can also drift.
Drop the bait down to the bottom and hang on. Make sure you’re drag is locked tight, and be aggressive getting the fish out of the rocks. When the bite slows down, you can either chum to try to light it up again, or move to another spot.
If Goliath grouper are your thing, you’ll find them in the Gulf in anywhere from 40 to 100 feet of water, and also around the larger deep-water structures like bridges and markers—anything that has any relief that the grouper can get under.
While the average Goliath grouper is around 100 pounds, they can get to 600 pounds or more, so don’t bring a knife to a gun fight or you’ll get blasted. Don’t go out there with anything less than a 50 wide reel with the drag locked. I’ll use a 500 pound test wind-on leader and 12/0 to 16/0 4X strong circle hook.
Bait up with a dead ladyfish, jack crevalle, stingray or any other large bait and put it up-current of the structure. They key is to get the Goliath grouper to come as far away from the structure as possible to eat the bait, so you have a better chance of keeping it from reaching a ledge or hole after it’s been hooked. Once the line comes tight, try to retain possession of the rod while the fish works to get back into the structure. With a little luck and a lot of sweat you’ll stop the fish and get it to the surface. Remember that Goliath grouper are a federally protected species that cannot be removed from the water, so take pictures with the fish in the water at the side of the boat, then let it go to fight again on another day.