What is a Grouper?
Grouper are one of the most sought after and targeted fish in Florida, both on the Atlantic Ocean side as well as the Gulf of Mexico.
Their bodies can be massive, and they have extra-large mouths with many sharp teeth. They are very aggressive fish, fighting and eating anything that moves near them. They are bottom feeders and vary in color and size, although usually very large.
Like many other bottom-dwelling fish like Snapper and Sea Bass, they are highly sought after and delicious fish. They are a treat for any seafood lover with tender and sweet flesh, and you haven’t lived until you eat a grilled or blackened Grouper sandwich.
Because of their size and fight, they are fascinating fish to reel into the boat. Angers everywhere come to Florida for fun and action-packed fishing for all types of Grouper on both coasts. Because of their size and the fight they put up, they are a really exciting fish to reel into the boat. There are a variety of Grouper that call the waters off the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico home.
Types of Groupers Found in Florida
The Goliath Grouper is the largest Grouper in the Florida water. It is also the most protected Grouper. You cannot harvest or bring one of these massive giants into the boat. Goliath Grouper can grow to epic proportions. They average about 400 pounds, but the largest in Florida weighed a whopping 680 pounds.
They are voracious eaters and have mouths large enough to even devour small sharks. Nothing is safe from these predators, including other Grouper you may be trying to reel in. Goliath Grouper have even been known to target divers. Imagine the feeling when one of the biggest fish comes swimming in to see what you are doing! They are true monsters and a real workout.
Despite their size, Goliath Grouper can be found in the shallow warm waters near artificial or coral reefs and in the many shipwrecks all over the Florida coast. They are a real fight, but to say that you conquered one of the true beasts of the sea is priceless and something you will tell everyone you know for years to come. Three other Grouper varieties tip the 100-pound scale; The Warsaw, Misty and Black Grouper. The first two are rare, and the third is one of the most prolific Grouper in Florida.
The Warsaw Grouper is the second-largest Grouper. It can grow up to 7 feet in length and over 400 pounds. Like the Goliath, they are ambush predators and are voracious eaters. Also, they are endangered and are protected from harvest in federal waters.
However, unlike the Goliath, you will find the Warsaw Grouper in deep water. You can find them in the reefs of the continental shelf break in waters at least 180 to 1700 ft. Your muscles will be aching after fighting one of these massive fish.
The Black Grouper is another extra-large Grouper. They are one of the most desirable Grouper because they are one of the biggest. They are also the largest Grouper that you can actually bring to shore.
They can be found in 60 ft. to over 250 ft. of water, and during the summer months, you might even be able to land one in as shallow as 30 ft. Black Grouper can grow to over 100 pounds and reach lengths of up to four feet. That is a powerful fish that gives you quite a fight. Along with the fight and size, they are one of the tastiest fish in the ocean.
With the Black Grouper, you get an added bonus because the yield of delicious white flesh is much higher than any of the other Grouper in the Florida waters. They are more sustainable and readily available, so they are easy to find and bring to the boat and your dining table. They are not endangered but could be in trouble in the years to come because they are very slow to breed.
The Gag Grouper is often mistaken for the Black Grouper and vice versa. Gag Grouper are not as large as Black Grouper.
They average around 15 pounds but can get as large as 50 pounds. They are usually found in waters 50-100 ft. deep near structures, wrecks, rocks, drop-offs and steep walls, but can be found in some areas of Florida in the shallows as well.
Gag Grouper are one of the three most fished after Grouper, along with Black and Red Grouper. They are delicious, but conservation measures are launched to deter overfishing for most Grouper species here in Florida.
Red Grouper are what many anglers think about when they think of Florida Grouper. They are voracious eaters and will gulp down anything large enough to fit in their big mouths.
The size of the Red Grouper are similar to Gag Grouper, but the Gag has a mottled gray color while the Red has a vibrant orange, red color. The Red Grouper is known to be one of the tastiest of the Grouper species. They can be found on the reefs and wrecks near the coast in 60 ft. of water, but you will also find them deep in the blue water at depths of over 1000 ft.
They are also some of the most popular fish in restaurants all over the state, and despite their small size, when hooked, they will duck for cover and give you quite a fight reeling them in.
Yellow Edge Grouper
Yellow Edge Groupers get their name from a yellow line that runs along the edge of the fish and sometimes to the tail.
They are not large, and the average size is 30 pounds, and a weight up to 50 pounds. They are often found in deeper open waters. Like most Grouper species, they are solitary.
They are usually found in reefs with sandy, muddy bottoms where they like to burrow in and wait for their prey. It is said that they are one of the three most delectable of all Grouper and one of the two or three most delicious fish in the world. Because of this, they are fished quite extensively and are slowly becoming endangered.
They are not currently under Florida or federal protection, but if things do not change, they will become overfished. Measures will be needed to keep this fish around.
Speckled Hind Grouper
Rock Hind Grouper
Red Hind Grouper
Coney & Graysby Grouper
The reason for pairing these two together is that they are two of the smallest Grouper in the world. They are both a maximum total length of 1 ft., but most are 6-8 inches. Despite their size, they are really aggressive fighters, but this fight does not last long. They are so small that there is hardly any meat on their bones. They live in the reefs and rocky structures in shallow and deep waters.
Snowy Grouper are one of the rare Grouper species. They live in depths 350 feet to as deep as 800 feet down. They are considered to be one of the top four Grouper for taste. They can reach lengths of 4 ft. and up to 70 pounds, but the average size is 3 ft. and 30-35 pounds. They like to live on rocky bottoms and, like other Grouper, are ambush predators. If you can land one of these, you are fortunate because you need to go way offshore to target them.
Where to Find Grouper in Florida
Fishing Techniques to Catch Grouper
The most common type of fishing for Grouper, especially since they live down on the bottom, is bottom fishing. Bottom fishing is pretty straightforward. You lower a weighted hook or lure just a few inches off the bottom. Simple but not so simple, as you have to take in factors like the currents and spook some fish trying to anchor to a spot. You can use either anchor down or drift when bottom fishing from a boat. Both ways have advantages and disadvantages, and the captain of your Florida fishing charter will know the best techniques.
To get the big fish in the deep water, you need to do deep drop fishing, which is basically bottom fishing just in bottomless water, 300’+ usually with live bait (octopus, squid, bonito and other tasty fish). Bottom fishing will bring in Gag, Black, Red, Scamp, and many other Grouper found in and around the reefs and wrecks.
If you go deep and do some deep dropping, you might be able to hook up with the more rare grouper species like the Snowy Grouper, Warsaw Grouper and Yellowedge Grouper. You can still find others like the Red, Yellowtail, Misty, Coney and Rockhind Groupers.
Another method some use is trolling. This method is frowned on by many fishermen in that there is not much skill involved in this method, and there is also no fight for the angler. You are pulling in nice-sized fish that you can take home to fill your freezer with, which is great, but many want to experience the thrill of reeling in one of these beasts all by themselves.
Florida Rules and Regulations, State and Federal
Florida Gulf Coast
On the Atlantic side, The seasons are much different. For Gag, Black, Red Grouper, Scamp, Yellowfin, Yellowmouth, Rock Hind, Red Hind, Coney, and Graysby Groupers, the season for both state and federal is from May 1 to December 31.
There are no season limits for Yellowedge, Misty, Warsaw, Speckled Hind and Snowy Groupers. Along with seasons, each fish has size and bag limits which can be very confusing.
Of course, there are no size or bag limits for the giant Grouper, Goliath and Nassau, but the rest do have both. On both sides of the state, Gag and Black Grouper have to be a total length of at least 24″. Red, Yellowfin and Yellowmouth Groupers all have a 20″ total length, and the Scamp Grouper’s total length is 16″.
All of the other Grouper do not have any size limits. Bag limits are a little more tricky because each side has different limits for anglers and boats Again for Goliath and Nassau Grouper, there are no bag limits either In the Gulf of Mexico, 1 Gag Grouper or Red Grouper can be harvested by each member of the boat from a total of 4 Grouper in the boat and with the exception of the Warsaw Grouper a 4 per person out of 4 total on boat of 4 Warsaw Grouper are more protected with only 1 per angler out of 4 Grouper in the boat In the Atlantic it is also 1 Gag Grouper per person and Black Grouper not Red are allowed out of a total of 3 for the boat Red, Scamp, Yellowfin, Yellowmouth, Rockhind, Redhind, Coney and Graysby Grouper are limited to 3 per person with a total of 3 per boat.
A 4 per person/4 per boat limit is in place for Yellow Edge and Misty Grouper and the Warsaw and Speckled Hind Groupers are more protected like in the Gulf with a limit of 1 per boat for each species in state waters and strictly prohibited from harvesting in federal waters.
The Snowy Grouper has state regulations of 1 per 3 in boat and federal rules of 1 per vessel per three group aggregate.
Best Grouper Fishing Destinations
Grouper are found in Florida more than in any other part of the world. Many locations are known for excellent Grouper fishing throughout Florida, on the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico.
Gulf of Mexico
Destin has some of the best Grouper fishing in Florida and one of the largest fleets in all of Florida to take you out to catch them.
Located at the eastern end of the Florida Panhandle, many different species, including Black, Red, Scamp, Gag and Goliath Grouper, are found in the waters off the coast.
One of the beautiful things about fishing in Destin is that the deep waters are not a long drive out and back. No the deep water is close and it is full of all of the fish you want to catch including large sized Grouper With one of the most active artificial reefs that house thousands of fish, including Grouper Destin is one of the best places for fishing for Grouper and every other sport fish you would want to catch Along with the incredible fishing on the artificial reefs there is also excellent Grouper fishing at the wrecks that dot the shore as well as some fertile natural reefs Some of the more popular spots for Destin fishing charters are the Miss Louise, a sunken tugboat home to Gag Grouper and a host of other fish, the sunken Destin bridge and an array of army tanks about two miles offshore Grouper prefer warmer waters which is why the Florida’s Gulf Coast and Destin are an ideal habitat When you come to Destin prepare for a day of action With many species of Grouper but also a whole slew of other fish you will be sure to bring a full cooler home with you full of tasty Black, Red, Scamp and Gag Grouper (Goliath are not able to be brought home, or even into the boat)
Pensacola is located at the border of Florida and Alabama at the tip of the Florida Panhandle Pensacola is home to the Oriskany Memorial Reef or as locals call it “The Great Carrier Reef” because it is a 900 ft. sunken aircraft carrier, which is the most extensive artificial reef system in the world and home to millions of fish Included in these fish are Black Grouper, Red Grouper, Gag Grouper, Scamp Grouper.
The reef system is so large it is impossible for you not to run into many Grouper hiding throughout the reefs just waiting for a meal to come around If you go further offshore into the waters where you have to deep drop you can find Red Grouper as well as more rare species like the Warsaw and Snowy Grouper There are over 12,000 fishing spots to choose from in Pensacola.
A few of the hot spots, along with the Oriskany, for Pensacola fishing charters are the Trysler Grounds, a natural hard/live bottom with ledges and rocky structures that stretches across a large area and the Underwater Cypress Forest which is a massive area of petrified trees uncovered during Hurricane Katrina It is home to fish both small and large hiding between the tree trunks and the rocky ledges with perfect for giant Grouper.
Crystal River is unique as it is most known for its shallow Gag Grouper fishing. While most places in the state need to go at least 30-60 ft. deep in Crystal River, you can catch decent-sized Gag Grouper in less than 20 feet of water. The best time to come to Crystal River is October to December, but you can catch them year-round in these shallow waters.
Clearwater/ Tampa/ St. Petersburg
This huge area encompassing Tampa Bay, one of the most fertile waters in Florida, is home to many species of Grouper. In Tampa and St. Petersburg, you will primarily target Red and Gag Grouper.
While in Clearwater, Black, Scamp and Goliath Grouper are the most found. Grouper can be found in Tampa Bay channels if you look for the right structure of rocky areas, ledges, and wrecks. Gag and Red Grouper in Tampa are fantastic, with bites in the shallow 30 ft. waters of the Bay all the way out 100+ ft. deep for larger-sized fish.
Clearwater is one of the best places to fight with a true monster of the deep, the Goliath Grouper. These babies get over 400 pounds, But you cannot take one home. You have to be very careful because they are endangered. If they tire out too much, they could die.
Offshore, you can battle with large Black Grouper and Scamp Grouper Tampa has a few hot spots to check out that Tampa Fishing Charters take anglers to. First is the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, or under the pylons where there is excellent Grouper action. There are also a few very popular reefs.
The Inshore Reefs of Pinellas Beaches are home to a very fertile population of Grouper and Snapper. Clearwater Fishing Charters target the Clearwater Reef for a great day of reef fishing for giant Grouper. St. Petersburg is home to many artificial reefs that attract many fish and many St. Petersburg fishing charters. There is a 200-foot barge, sunken bridge material from building the Skyway Bridge and 10 U.S. Army tanks, all of which attract many types of Grouper.
The Florida Keys
One of the best places to catch Grouper in Florida is the Florida Keys. The Florida Keys are actually around 1,700 islands that border both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. This gives them the added bonus of being able to fish on both sides of the state. Therefore, you can find all of the 19 different species of Grouper in Florida in and around the waters of the Keys.
The big three targets are the Gag, Red and Black Grouper, but others are sought after, especially deep dropping off the coast in 300+ waters. Snowy Grouper and Yellowedge are both popular because of their incredible taste. While deep dropping, you can also hook up with Misty Grouper and Speckled Hind, Rock Hind and Red Hind. One beautiful thing about fishing in the Keys is that you can target Grouper directly by going to the reefs for an all-day fishing charter, or many of the charters, after a long day of offshore fishing, will stop at the hot spots for Grouper on the way home, giving the anglers the best of both worlds.
There are so many places to fish for Grouper in the Florida Keys. Still, a few of the most popular are Key West, Islamorada and Marathon. Each has its own charm and attracts many fish species, including the many groupers found in the Gulf and Atlantic. Key West is the southernmost point in the U.S., just 100 miles from Cuba. Marathon is halfway between Key Largo at the beginning of the Keys and Key West, and Islamorada is halfway between Marathon and Key Largo. You will not be disappointed no matter where you decide to go for your Grouper fishing trip.
Islamorada is known as the “sports fishing capital of the world” because of the incredible fishing here. Islamorada has several wrecks created to make artificial reefs where many sports fish species, including giant Grouper, can make home. Eagle Wreck is one of the best of these wrecks. Large predator fish have their fill of the abundance of smaller fish roaming the wreckage. Spiegel Grove is also a great example of artificial reefs in the area. This is the intentional sinking of the USS Spiegel Grove so that it could sustain a fertile habitat for many fish, including Grouper.
There is an abundance of baitfish near this wreck, providing plenty of food for the larger species. Spiegel Grove is another wreck that was intentionally done for fishing and diving. The USS Spiegel Grove was sunk in 1998 to provide a habitat for many fish, Grouper being among the popular ones here. There is also the Islamorada Hump, a must-go place for all anglers, whether you want to target Grouper or any of the other sportfish in the area.
Marathon has some of the best fishing in the Florida Keys.
There are plenty of fertile reef systems offshore and numerous wrecks. These are great spots to find large-sized Black Grouper as well as Gag, Red and Scamp Grouper. There is the Sombrero Reef, The 7 Mile Bridge Reef and the Thunderbolt Wreck, an intentionally sunk ship in 120 feet of water providing a home to numerous fish. Marathon like Islamorada have the Marathon Humps, which again is a must-go destination for all anglers. Big fish, including Black, Red and Gag Grouper, can all be found at the Humps. Roughly located in the middle of the Gulfstream, it forces a lot of the bait upward toward the surface. For this reason, many pelagic fish gather here to feed.
Key West has many wrecks and reefs up and down its coastline. These coral reefs and artificial wreck reefs are great spots for catching various Florida fish and make excellent fishing grounds for large-sized Grouper of all kinds. A popular hotspot in Key West is the Key West Tournament Reef, with two large ships sunk to provide shelter and artificial reefs for predator and prey fish of all sizes.
This reef is in 180 feet of water. Other popular sites are the Adolphus Busch, a 200 ft. former cargo ship, the Hoyt S.Vandenberg, a 500ft. ship 7 miles off Key West in 145 ft. of water and Joe’s Tug, a 90′ tugboat 65 ft. deep. These and more structures off the coast provide excellent fish habitat. In Key West, along with the three major Grouper targeted throughout the islands, Scamp Grouper is also found in numbers. This is a delicious fish that is said to be one of the best in the world.
All of the Florida Keys have excellent reef fishing nearshore. When you leave the comfort of the reefs and head deep, 300+ ft. deep, you will find some of the huge Grouper and many rarer Grouper like the Snowy Grouper, Yellow Edge Grouper, the Misty Grouper and the Speckled Hind Grouper.
The “Magic City” can be magical for anglers who desire Grouper of all sizes and species. Many drop-offs and ledges, wrecks and reefs, and other underwater structures attract giant Groupers and other bottom feeders.
Here you can find the three main Grouper; Red, Black and Gag, but also Scamp, Goliath, Warsaw and rarer breeds like Speckled, Rock and Red Hinds, Snowy Grouper, and Yellow Edge Grouper. These fish live in the over 250 wrecks and rocky structures, and if deep dropping, you are bound to encounter one of them.
There are many hotspots, too many to mention, but Bache Shoal and Liberty Ship with drops of up to 400 ft, both south of the city and Haulover Inlet north of the city. The Government Cut is also an excellent place for Black Grouper. There are also over 60 deep drop spots in 800 ft. to 1200 ft. of water for real giant monster Grouper. Biscayne Bay is not known as a great place for Grouper, but there are Gag Grouper in significant numbers in the Bay.
If you troll the Intercoastal Waterway, the bridges and other sites with rocky ledges and underwater structures, you will catch a slew of these tasty fish. Florida is one of the best places for Grouper, and Miami is known as one of the best places in the state for incredible Grouper fishing.
Florida Grouper Season
Fishing for many of the species of Grouper mentioned is open year-round. There are reasons for some of the types of Grouper, and of course, there is no time of the year to harvest Goliath or Nassau Grouper.
In the Panhandle (Pensacola and Destin), winter is the best time to fish for Grouper. November to January is the best time for Grouper because the big ones are offshore, and off-season are not as many boats out on the water. The summer is busy with Red Snapper season, but there are plenty of great Grouper selections. But be forewarned, the prices skyrocket in the summer months.
In the Tampa region, the best time for Grouper is in the winter months as well for many of the same reasons. Fishing for Grouper, Black and Reds are also good in the late spring and early summer, and Gags are targeted in late Summer.
The best time for the Keys is May through December because the fish are off-limits in the springtime. However, the bite is hot during these months.
In Marathon, the bite is not as strong in the late summer, but for both Black and Red Grouper, the winter and most of the spring are the time to be there. There is excellent fishing throughout the year, but these months are when they are really striking.
In Islamorada, the best time for fishing Grouper is May through December for Black Grouper. Red Grouper are great in May and October through December, but they are hiding in the early summer months and not biting. Like the Keys, they are forbidden in the late winter and early spring.
Miami Grouper fishing is best from May to December, like Key West. Miami is one of the best places for Grouper, and when there is not the closed season, the bite is powerful, and the chances of a great day and a full bag are great.
The Best Place in the World for Grouper
Florida is, without a doubt, the choice for anglers looking to fight a Grouper. So many of these Grouper make delicious meals and fight for their lives, although this fight is not for long for the smaller ones.
There are so many fishing spots all along the Gulf and Atlantic coast. This was only a teaser of the places where these fantastic fish can be found.
If wrestling with a Goliath or a bag full of tasty Grouper is on your bucket list, then head to Florida, where you will be able to check those off your list. And while Grouper fishing, you might be able to check off a whole lot more in the process.