I used to love December. It was always the time when gag grouper were schooled up in large numbers in shallower waters. Now, it's probably the month where most species are off-limits for the dinner table. Inshore anglers know snook season closes Dec. 1, and gag grouper will close Dec. 4.
Trying to relive a bit of grouper nostalgia, Nov. 27 was circled on my calendar about a month ago. Normally, this trip would take place in late December, but with changing regulations our schedules had to be adjusted as well.
With steady 20-30 mph winds on Thanksgiving, it looked like there might be no trip at all. That, combined with a full moon that usually spoils shallow water grouper fishing, left me almost trying to find a reason not to go.
Against our better judgment, my Friday morning talk with boat owner Caleb Grimes ended with "let's get out and see how it looks," meaning we would venture into the blustery Gulf of Mexico and see how the seas were firsthand.
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After a late start, we still caught pinfish, shiners and threadfin. It seemed like the quick trip would produce. We poked out around Bean Point, and seas weren't bad with a Northeast wind around 15 mph. Six miles further west and we'd be at a ledge that has produced gag grouper throughout the year -- especially as the water cools.
We dropped anchor and begin firing down frozen Spanish sardines, waiting for a sign a of life. It was times like these I wish I dove with cold steel that fish can't refuse, as the grouper below laughed at our various offerings. After a few smaller fish, Caitlin Grimes finally had a fish that looked like it would break the ice.
She struggled to get the handle turning of the Penn Senator despite our encouraging words, telling her how easy it is to turn big grouper off the bottom. Eventually the fish was coaxed upward, making its way to the surface. It was nice gag grouper, about 28 inches, and destined for the cooler. As the gag hit the deck, Harrison Irons was tested with a healthy 25-inch red grouper.
It seemed like the fish would turn on, but they never fired up. It turned out our catches were just few breakoffs of fish that found their way into the ledge, so we decided to venture into 50-foot waters about 8 miles offshore.
The action was much better there, as scamp grouper and porgies came to play early on our lighter offerings. Caitlin asserted herself as the trip's most valuable fish catcher when she hooked into another nice fish, this time landing a 17-pound gag. Her next drop was another legal red grouper.
We worked up a few smaller-sized gags before calling it a day. The dream of a grouper limit ended up as on hold until next year. Until then, I'll be hoping December stays mild, keeping fishing good on kingfish, hogfish, snapper and more near-shore species that will become the target.
Upcoming Solunar fishing table
This table lists top fishing times and days for the coming weeks. For best results, begin fishing one hour before and continue one hour after the times given.
Sunday 2:45 a 3:10 p
Monday 3:35 a 4:00 p
Tuesday 4:25 a 4:50 p
Wednesday 5:10 a 5:35 p
Thursday 6:00 a 6:20 p
Friday 6:40 a 7:00 p
Saturday 7:20 a 7:45 p
12/6 8:05 a 8:25 p
12/7 8:50 a 9:10 p
12/8 9:30 a 9:55 p
12/9 10:20 a 10:45 p
12/10 11:10 a 11:35 p
12/11 Noon 12:25 a
12/12 12:50 p 1:20 a
12/13 1:45 p 2:15 a
-- Source: U.S. Naval Observatory data