7 Tips on How to Catch Big Grouper

If you're going after grouper, it's possible that you'll be wrestling with a fish that weighs more than you. And when you do go, these 7 tips will help you know where to go, what gear to bring, and the know-how to catch big grouper.

Grouper are found in abundance in the Gulf of Mexico, along the Atlantic Coast, and throughout the Caribbean, providing anglers with a wealth of opportunities to catch one of the tastiest fish in the sea.

There are over 60 species of grouper throughout the coastal waters of the United States, with some species averaging between 50 and 100 pounds, and large specimens weighing much, much more.

How to Catch Big Grouper

1. Fish Nearshore in the Winter, Offshore in the Summer

The first step to catching grouper is knowing where they'll be and when.

In the winter when water temperatures cool down, grouper can be found in nearshore waters that are warmer than the depths of the deep blue. Start your search for grouper close to shore over reefs, gradually moving away from shore until you find concentrations of grouper.

Many times in winter, the biggest grouper will be posted up on ledges and steep drop offs slightly further offshore while smaller grouper may move all the way up into inshore passes and canals.

In the summer, as nearshore water temperatures rise, grouper relocate to deeper dwellings offshore. Shipwrecks, oil rigs, and offshore reefs are where you'll want to focus your efforts when fishing for grouper in the summer.

2. Fish Very Close to Structure

Grouper are extremely dependent on structure. They are classic ambush predators, spending most of their time holed up in heavy structure waiting for smaller fish to swim by. They snap open their giant mouths and engulf anything they can choke down.

To have the most success when fishing for grouper, your boat electronics need to be powerful enough to key into the structure you seek. Shipwrecks are the most notorious grouper hideouts, and fishing these tangled-up messes of debris requires accurate depth readings, patience, and the understanding that you'll probably lose some tackle. That brings us to our next tip...

3. Use Heavy-Duty Conventional Tackle

To catch big, heavy, powerful fish, your gear better be up to the task. While you can catch smaller grouper with spinning gear, conventional offshore tackle is what you need to catch the biggest grouper.

Conventional level-wind reels sit on top of the rod, utilizing more of the rod's backbone, and giving you more leverage against a heavy fish. Also, conventional reels often have much higher line capacities, and since you're going to be fishing deep, you'll need as much line as possible.

Your rod should be balanced with the reel, and while you do want a very powerful rod, something in the 30- to 50-pound class is sufficient; no need for a tuna rod.

Speaking of line, 60-pound braided line is the minimum for chasing big grouper, but don't be afraid to load your reel with 80 or 100-pound braid. For leaders, 4- to 6-feet of 80- to 100-pound fluorocarbon is a standard grouper leader, and in some cases, steel shock leaders are required.

4. Fish Live Bait on the Bottom

There are times when artificial lures work great for catching grouper, but you'll have more success if you show up prepared with the freshest live bait you can find.

Goggle-eyes, pilchards, blue runners, and grunts all make excellent live bait for grouper. Try to bring as many different varieties of bait as you can so you can zero in on what the grouper are biting that day.

Grouper spend most of their time on the bottom, so that's where you'll want to send your baited hook. Vertical jigging with live bait is a very popular technique for catching big grouper, simply because it works. A struggling baitfish bouncing up and down at the bottom of a shipwreck is irresistible to an opportunistic grouper.

5. Bridle Your Baits

If you implement only one of these tips, let it be this one: bridle your baits. This one little trick could mean the difference between a grouper actually getting hooked or just stealing your bait.

Bridling is a live bait rigging technique used by offshore anglers fishing for big game — marlins, tunas, sharks, etc. Basically, instead of hooking the bait directly onto the hook shank, you use a rubber band to attach the bait to the hook. This keeps the entire hook exposed which greatly increases your hook up rates.

To bridle a live bait for grouper, you'll need the following items that are relatively easy to come by.

  • Bridling hook (AKA baiting needle)

  • Rubber bands

  • Hook

  • Live bait

To bridle a bait fish, follow these simple steps:

1. Take a rubber band and attach it to the bend of your hook using a basic hitch knot (cow hitch).

2. Catch the other end of the rubber band with the hook end of the bridling hook.

3. Holding your live baitfish in one hand, pierce the sharp end of the bridling hook through the baitfish, either just in front of the dorsal fin or just in front of the eyes. Pull the hook all the way through so that it threads the rubber band through the baitfish.

4. Remove the bridling hook from the rubber band and catch the rubber band with the fish hook. The baitfish should be able to dangle from the hook, suspended by the rubber band.

5. Rotate the hook several times to twist the rubber band, bringing the hook tighter to the bait.

6. Slide the hook point underneath the twisted rubber band. If you twisted the rubber band enough, the bend of the hook should be touching the back of the baitfish and should be held in place by the tension of the rubber band. That's it!

Now, your bait is rigged up in the most efficient way possible and you're ready to drop your bait down to a hungry grouper.

6. Stock Up on Big Circle Hooks

No matter what kind of rig you're using to catch grouper, you'll have the most success with circle hooks. And since you're going after the big grouper, your circle hooks should also be big.

At a minimum, you should use 3X strong circle hooks in size 7/0 or larger.

7. Apply Maximum Pressure

How you handle the first few seconds of a grouper fight often determines whether you land the fish or get cut off by structure.

When a grouper takes your bait, as soon as it feels the pressure of your line, it will run straight back to the safety of structure as fast as possible. And if you hook into a truly big fish, it'll do whatever it pleases unless you take charge of the fight.

Once you get a bite, make every effort to get the fish away from structure as fast as possible. Ideally, you should have the drag of your reel almost completely tightened down. Reel and pump as fast as you can in the first few moments of the fight and try to get the fish to come up. Don't let the fish take even an inch of your line.

Conclusion

If you're looking for a new fishing challenge that yields delicious results, use these tips on how to catch big grouper to make your next fishing trip more successful. Load up your conventional reels with heavy line, bridle rig your live baits, and don't forget to use circle hooks. Then, when a grouper takes you bait, get ready to take charge and battle it out!

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