With gag grouper season opening Tuesday, anglers will be venturing to their favorite honey holes to once again bring home a few for the dinner table. The average angler will fish the same favorite spot(s) every time they head offshore, but is this really the best method for keeping a spot productive year round?
With summer in full swing, gag grouper will remain fairly resident until the water temperature cools. Fish will hang on the same ledges, rock piles, wrecks and reefs for months at a time as long as there is food, safety and comfort.
Depending on how much you fish offshore, you should really consider how many gag grouper you want to catch and keep on a spot. A "new school" thought of fishing is not to take more than a few legal-sized fish off a spot, especially in the summertime.
Capt. Billy Nobles suggests to leave the bigger fish behind, and it will keep your spots full of fish all season. "I think if you take all the big fish on a spot it takes them awhile to find the spot again. They're called grouper because they tend to group together. Like a farm or crop, you need to leave some seeds."
Travis Andrews says to keep in mind how much structure is nearby, as more structure might have them relocate in close proximity. "If it's a ledge with breaks and undercuts a short swim away, they will take up residence in a grass-is-greener kind of deal."
I include artificial reefs where more structure is usually never more than 50 or 100 yards away. The artificial reefs like the 7-mile north have a lot of gag grouper on them right now. These areas have fish that constantly move between structures, so they often replenish faster after keeper fish are taken off.
Another factor to consider is the depth of the spots you're fishing. Shallower fish appear to move around more, and on shallower spots there is more light, more bait and more life.
Tournament-winning offshore angler BJ Grant explained it well: "The shallower you are, the more life there is. The deeper you go, the ecosystems become more fragile and slower to replenish."
Grant continued, "My meat spots inside 200 feet seem to replenish themselves with 5- to 20-pound gag grouper every seasonal migration, moving in shallower with winter. Most of my trophy spots are 200 to 470 feet deep and once I pull a handful of 30-plus pound gags off of them, they are much less reliable after that."
The solution not to risk overfishing your favorite spots is to find new ones that produce fish. Earlier this month, visibility was great in the 40- to 50-foot depth range. On the way in from a red snapper trip, I was able to see rocky structure below and took the time to mark those pieces of structure for future exploration.
On calm days with bright sun, be on the look out for the ability to see the bottom offshore. Darker, rocky bottom is ideal for gag grouper. If weather remains calm with little rain, it could remain this way. Mark the spots and drop a few baits to check for fish. The more spots an angler has to choose from, the better your honey holes will remain.
Play it smart, and you'll have gag grouper to catch year round.