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  • How to Catch a Grouper


    Any more than 8 seconds and you are hung!

    Captain Judy Helmey of Miss Judy Charters is holding up a nice gag grouper. Who caught it? Terrell Gooding Tybee Island, Georgia. You know I am always saying “Freight train pull grouper!” It is because once this fish grabs the bait they head right back to the safety of the ledge. Your first move determines whether or not you are going to have grouper for dinner. You know I had a 4 bull riders on my boat last year and of course I had to ask, “What is so exciting about riding a bull? One the young bull riders answered quickly, “it’s the first 8 seconds for sure!” Taking this knowledge into consideration I now have another way of better explaining about the old freight pull grouper. To sum it up it goes something like this: Once the grouper grabs your bait it heads like a freight train towards the safety of its ledge. At this time, if you first don’t disorientate this fish meaning turn its head it will go straight into the ledge. And you know it is hard to stop a train. I mean you most likely could stop the grouper, but in the process your leader/line will mostly break. So therefore keeping bull riding in mind you have just about 8 seconds to disorientate and turn this fish’s head! This is the best case scenario!

    However, most of the time the grouper runs right back under the ledge very fast and this is before you can think much less do anything quick enough to stop it. Since over the years I have fought caught and landed lots of grouper I have gotten some grand experiences with these fish. After all I have had years of practice! Terrell’s fish once it took the bait made a generic move, which was to head straight to the ledge. This move took place while I was picking up the rod and handing it over to Terrell. Once Terrell got the rod situated in his hand the fish was in the ledge about 6 feet. How did I determine the distance Terrell’s grouper went into the ledge? Its simple all I had to do was check the leader for roughness. And I measured about 6 feet of the leader that had been pulled into the ledge! So with Terrell at the rod the big grouper fight began. I situated the boat at different directions over the ledge. While always keeping the main line tight Terrell and I knew that if the grouper moved two things would happen.. first it would go deeper into the ledge and or second it would come out. I ran up to the helm, turned the Miss Judy Too around, and situated it right above where the fish had gone into the ledge. Since I have a single engine to make a turn back it pulls lots of main line off the spool. What does this mean? Well, it means that if the line comes off the fisherman in this case Terrell has to reel it all back in. Since Terrell and I had been in this grouper holding in the ledge situation plenty of times we both knew this could take a reeling while.

    Another thing I would like to add about our 2019 grouper. These fish are staying closer to the bottom, which means they most likely right by a big ledge or hole. With there being so many genuine red snapper occupying the upper water column it is hard for the grouper to feed. Snapper are more of upper water column side to side feeders. The grouper likes to look up and grab its intended meal. It could be a year where you are going to get hung up just about every time you get hooked up!

    A little about our resident offshore grouper

    This fish doesn’t burrow itself on the bottom, but what it does do is once it grabs it intended meal it heads back for cover. The cover that I am talking about is a ledge, hole, or ditch. When the grouper does make it back into the structure (ledge) it’s hard to get them out. The reason being is most of the time the fisherman doesn’t know that they still have a fish on. They presume that their hook is hung up! However, if you have fished as long as I have you can normally tell if the fish is still on the hook, but in the structure. My customers after landing their fish always say, “I thought I was hung on the bottom!”

    Guitar playing can be popular when catching grouper…I always love this tune!

    When a grouper takes the bait it normally runs hard parallel with the bottom contour. It makes a hard dash to get to the structure. Once in the structure it pulls the leader as well as in some cases part of the main line too! Now what you have is the grouper, the leader attached to the fish by your hook, the egg sinker sliding on the main line, and in some cases the main line all the way into the jagged ledge. At this point I grab the main line and apply pressure waiting for the fish to make any sort of move and once it does I know I am hooked up not hung up. Once I have ascertained that I/we are not hung up, but hooked up, I get straight in my mind exactly where the fish is in relation to the location and drift of my boat. Normally I lighten up the drag and I maneuver the boat above and beyond the scene of the hit. Once above the structure that the grouper is lodged in I grab the main line and strum it like a guitar. These vibration sounds run down the main line causing the fish to move a bit. Once it makes a move I pull hard on the main line and drag the fish right out of the structure. At this point I have the fisherman reel as hard and direct as they can so as to keep the fish’s head up. While all this is going on we get our big saltwater dip net ready!

    And there is this that I know about the old grouper. It is a known fact that when a grouper advances from the ledge it does so most of the time in cadence with other same size grouper. Before making this move the grouper slaps it jaws and makes a sound that is known by many in the underworld. I truly believe that when I strum the main line that the vibration/noise delivered to the one hooked under the ledge it thinks, if not for a moment, that it is being summoned to advance from the ledge. And that’s all I have to say about that!!