Like most grouper species, Mycteroperca bonaci, or black grouper, really doesn’t disappoint the hard core angler. Even the small ones, at 20-30 pounds can put up a physically draining fight, being known for their short, high torque runs. That makes them an especially fun catch . . . . when you’re prepared for it!
These giants of the deep have been known to go over 120 pounds, though they’re commonly caught over 50 pounds. That’s quite substantial, considering they’re some of the hardest fighting bottomfish in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.
Black Grouper in Their Atlantic Home
Many species of grouper consider the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico home, and the black grouper is no exception. These guys tend to hang out around offshore wrecks, ledges, reefs, and other structure. If you’re looking for larger ones, you’ll want to head for areas not frequented by other anglers, leaving the fish unpressured with a chance to grow.
They’re found on the bottom, but they don’t tend to be very finicky as to what depth to call home.
They can be found as deep as 300 feet, or as shallow as 30 feet. They tend to prefer the deeper waters during the warmer summer months, but they can be found pretty shallow in the winter and spring. They spawn in March and April over a reef bottom between 30-120 feet of water.
Common Bait Choices for Black Grouper
Blue runners, cigar minnows, or any small grunts make good live bait choices. If you’re drift fishing, frisky live fish like blue runners or other small jacks work best. If you’re looking to land a really big one, live speedo mackerel tend to work best.
Placing the bait on the hook is critical, as you don’t want to hook your bait too deep. Baits with tough skin should be hooked lightly. Try to have most of the gap of the hook exposed. This will allow the hook to penetrate when the black grouper decides to take the bait!
Gearing Up For Black Grouper
These guys really pack a lot of punch, so anglers left unprepared will find themselves short a leader… or four. You’ll want to grab a shorter heavy action, stout rod rated for 50 to 80-pound test. Pair it with a high speed reel. Your best bet is to spool it with 80-pound braided line. If you’re set on using lighter gear, use 6’-8’ of #6 or #7 wire leader. They’ll nab that almost as well as mono, but the wire will greatly increase your chances of putting the fish in the boat.
Larger circle hooks work well for these guys since they’re less likely to snag bottom.
Make sure that your hooks are large and heavy, as they can often straighten out or break during the runs from these heavy fish.
Most of the black grouper fishing on the reef is done with a carolina rig and a 4’-8’ leader.
Dead bait fishing gets a little trickier, employing the use of a hi-lo dropper rig with a 230-pound barrel swivel and a four-foot section of 100-pound fluorocarbon leader, with three dropper loops tied at 16-inch intervals and a 16 to 32-ounce bank sinker looped on at the end by an overhand knot. The dropper loops should be fixed with size 8/0 to 10/0 Octopus hooks and chunk baits consisting of anything from chunks of squid, grunts, mackerel, herring, or any other chunk from fish you may catch. Obviously, there’s more than one way to rig up, but this method seems to get the job done!
Landing the Black Grouper
Your heavier line, coupled with tight drag are instrumental in making sure you can muscle these fighters away from the structure. When you find one of these giants, you’re likely going to only get one chance at him. Unlike many other grouper, the black grouper isn’t likely to hit the bait again for some time once it’s bit.
You’ll need to pay close attention and have lightning fast reflexes. Once they strike, they make a fast, mad dash back to the nearest hole, often before you even get a chance to react.
That means your reaction time needs to be spot-on. Suspend the bait about a leader length off the bottom with your rod in a holder. Always have the drag engaged. Do not, under any circumstances, leave it in a free spool or on a clicker. Approximately every 15-20 minutes, pick up the rod and very slowly drop the bait and sinker all the way to the bottom, keeping the sinker absolutely motionless.
Once you feel that “tick,” do not hesitate at all. Give a couple of quick cranks to turn his head up and prevent him from dogging back down into the structure. Then slowly and steadily reel him up through the water column and into your boat. The hook will usually set itself.
Your job will be made easier if you’re drifting instead of at anchor. The drift of the boat adds to the power of your tackle and may give you just enough momentum to hep drag the fish far enough from his hole that he can’t get back.
If he does happen to get rocked up, you’ll never muscle him out. Just set your pole down and wait for five minutes or so. You’ll either sense that he’s left his hole, forgetting about you, or you can try to gently reel him in. Otherwise, consider your leader and the fish lost.
With so many different types of grouper out there, homing in on a certain species can be tough, so when you’re bottom fishing for these beasts, be prepared for other reef dwellers to pull back as well! These fish are a blast to catch, so don’t miss out on an opportunity to do so!
This article was contributed by an ANGLR Expert
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