Back To Grouper Basics

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By CAPT. MEL BERMAN, 970-WFLA

There is a strongly held assumption that most who fish for grouper know what they’re doing. Well, without sounding like “Mr. Know-it-all,” many grouper diggers don’t really have a clue! They leave early in the morning, burn lots of fuel and get out to that “magical GPS number,” only to occasionally catch a few keeper gags.

That’s why it comes as no surprise when at seminars; participants crave information on the basics of grouper fishing. It could be that they are too dependant on electronic coordinates instead of learning how to find and catch grouper the old fashioned way.

We all saw the difference before the advent of the inexpensive loran. Back in the 1970s, only a handful of skilled anglers managed to bring back grouper in any respectable numbers. Quite frankly, I loved that period. It wasn’t that I coveted the grouper holes all to myself. It was simply that in those days the challenge of locating fish with our more primitive equipment forced us to use more the reliable basic grouper fishing tactics. And, of course in those days, fishing pressure on grouper populations was much less. They were less ‘spooky,’ and seemed a lot friskier.

There was also the “thrill of the hunt.” Each trip started with a fundamental decision, “in which direction should we head out today?” Armed with a small Gemtronics paper recorder, the next decision was the depth we’d like to fish. As was often the case, we’d rarely go beyond 35 feet.

Slowing the boat down, it was time to crank up the Gemtronics. Its circular-turning stylus began its noisy revolutions, scratching out a rough representation of the bottom. When the ‘tails’ on the echoes became elongated and the line representing the seabed thickened, we knew that we were over some likely grouper habitat. We knew the short, pencil-like lines coming off the bottom represented individual gags. Then, instead of anchoring and fishing, we’d ‘motor-fish’ (keep the boat over a spot with the boat’s engine) until someone caught a grouper.

On calmer days, the technique was to drift the area in search of grouper. As soon as some were located, the person nearest our jug (Clorox bottle with a string and lead) was dropped over the side to mark the spot.

Some of the more successful grouper diggers of the mid ’70s would also troll plugs, spoons, or skirted lures with strips of mullet until they connected with a pod of fish. I can assure you, these proved to be very productive techniques in the 70s.

By now you’re probably wondering why I would bore you with all this seemingly esoteric information about pre-GPS grouper fishing. Well, the techniques are still quite valid… and really lot of fun!

A few years back, many grew weary of “fishing by the numbers.” They knew they could very well have been overfishing the same set of rocks, rapidly depleting any resident grouper populations. These dedicated grouper diggers also recalled what a joy it was to literally hunt for fish… and that magical moment when finding a cooperative bunch of gags with these basic techniques. Once located, they hit the “Memory” on the GPS – but invariably kept looking the old fashioned way – finding other rocks and other grouper with each outing.

Why not give it a try yourself? Become a “grouper hunter.” You be amazed and delighted with the results.