Art by Mike Sudal Text by Terry Tomalin
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 3, 2003
This is critical. Grouper don't stray far from structure, especially in the winter when cooler water temperatures slow down the metabolism of these bottom dwellers. Locate the structure with a bottom recorder, then mark the wreck or reef with a small buoy and a 4-pound weight. Make sure the line is taut before you tie it off or else the buoy will drift off your spot.
Most of the limestone outcroppings that fishermen refer to as "hard bottom" are the remnants of old coastlines when sea levels were much lower. Ledges generally run parallel to the coast, but scattered patches of hard bottom can be found throughout near-shore waters.
Surface and bottom temperatures may vary as much as 20 degrees. And just as temperature varies, so may water clarity. The surface may look clear, but down 60 feet, the visibility may only be a few feet. If this is the case, use a "stink" or dead bait to help attract the fish.
Use a minimum of 40-pound test with at least 2 feet of 50-pound leader. Resist the temptation to use heavier line. The lighter your leader, the greater chance of a hook-up. A 6/0 "J" hook is the standard, but some fishermen swear by circle hooks. A 4-ounce swivel or sliding sinker will get your bait to the bottom quickly. To tie your tackle together, use a uni-knot.
Black and gag grouper must be 22 inches long in the Gulf of Mexico and 24 inches in the Atlantic Ocean and Monroe County. Red grouper, scamp, yellowfin and yellowmouth grouper must be 20 inches. Anglers may keep five fish (aggregate or all species) per day. Gray (mangrove) snapper must be 10 inches long and anglers may keep five per day.
||This graphic was compiled with the help of Capt. Dave Zalewski. Zalewski has run 200 or more fishing charters a year for 20 years, but he says it is his recreational scuba diving adventures that have given him the greatest insight into the habits of reef fish.
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