Grouper fishing techniques depend on the seas, drift rate, depth what is working that day. Below I will describe the most effective techniques and when to use them.
Before describing general fishing techniques we need to cover the way to use circle hooks. If not done right, you will not catch a thing.
Circle hooks were introduced to avoid gut hooking fish. When a fish swallows a circle hook the hook does not lodge in the internal organs. To hook the fish, the circle hook must be slowly pulled out of the fish until it lodges in the fishes jaw. You must reel SLOWLY when you get a bite on a circle hook. If you jerk the hook it will just come out of the fish without catching. This is a VERY different technique for using a J-hook.
So, wait for a bite, slowly wind the line until you feel it go very tight, the haul in the fish.
To get an idea of how different circle hooks are, leave the rod in the rod holder. You will hook almost as many fish that way (more if you can't resist jerking the hook!).
Drift fishing for grouper involves using the weighted rigs described earlier while allowing the boat to drift with the current and wind. The bait is lowered to just off the bottom. Then you just wait for a bite. While you are waiting keep a close eye on the fish finder and mark any interesting areas. Definitely mark areas when you get a bite. Both dead and live baits can be used while drifting.
When you find a producing area, drift back over it several times, starting at slightly different positions. That way you will get an idea how big the structure is and what its shape is. This is an excellent way to find new spots.
When to drift:
If the drift rate is too high, an impractical amount of weight would be required to keep the bait near the bottom. Also, the bait may move too fast to allow for a good chance of strikes.
When drifting with multiple lines out, it is a good idea to use different weights on the lines. The rod with the lighter weight should be to the back (up current) position of the heavier weighted rod. This will help avoid tangles when one line crosses the other.
The easiest way to fish is anchoring. Lines don't tangle from the drift, you don't have to watch for bottom changes and you can generally use lighter weights.
The hard part is anchoring. If you are lucky enough to have a windlass, dropping and retrieving an anchor is a snap. I installed one after a few years of pulling the anchor by hand (and back). Below is a video on how to do the electrical part.
The key to anchoring is making sure the spot will produce. Otherwise you are stuck over a dud area.
I will discuss the anchoring procedure in the boat handling section.
When to anchor:
Run and gun describes running at cruising speed while monitoring the fish finder for any signs of life. If fish or structure is encountered, immediately throttle back and make an S turn to go back to the spot. While in idle or slight up current thrust, a line is dropped to test the spot for fish. If fish are found, either anchor or repeatedly drift the area.
This technique is a lot of fun and full of surprises. For type-A personalities it is the way to go. However, if the price of fuel continues up it is a good way to spend a huge amount of money per pound of fish.
Use run and gun when:
An alternative to using live or dead bait is jigging. This is a very effective method of catching grouper under the right conditions. An example of a modern jig is pictured at the top of this page.
Jigging involves attaching a metal jig at the end of the mono leader instead of weights and a hook.
The jig is then lowered to the bottom and worked up and down. At some times, a jig will out fish live bait! Also, it brings back the enjoyment of setting the hook, lost when using circle hooks.
Jigging is only practical when the drift is low or when anchored.
Grouper can be caught on deep diving plugs. A plug is selected to run 10-15' from the bottom. A heavy rod with a tight drag is required due to the strain the plug generates to dive deeply.
This is an effective way to locate grouper and seems to do a good job on getting hook-ups. It is especially effective during the winter gag season when the fish are found in shallow (20-40') water.
The downside is this is meat fishing. The grouper is essentially dragged from the bottom and half drowned before you get it to the boat. I much prefer the jigging or natural bait approach.
NEXT: BOAT HANDLING