One of the most exciting angling experiences to be had along the coast of Florida is fishing for grouper. Exceptional tasting and hard fighting, grouper in Florida are most often found in deeper waters as these broad, heavyweights favor rocky bottoms, outcroppings and underwater wrecks. Popular along the deeper near shore waters of the Atlantic coast, fishing for these big brutes can also be exceptional along many areas of the Gulf of Mexico portion of Florida’s coast. Many anglers might be surprised to learn that Naples is a fantastic location for grouper fishing, as its unique offshore environment littered with wrecks and reefs provides the structure these underwater bruisers love to haunt.
Sport anglers fishing out of Naples are usually after one of three species of grouper. Red grouper, gag grouper and occasionally big game fishermen are hunting the ultimate fat boys of the reef, goliath grouper. Red grouper are perhaps the most common target for sport anglers, as these beautifully patterned fish are allowed to be recreationally harvested in Florida. They have a strong brownish red coloration, with bright scarlet orange mouths. Young red grouper can be found in inshore environments, but they seem to prefer hard bottom habitats. As they mature in age, they seek deeper waters with abundant structure, like reefs, ledges and wrecks. Most adults will be caught in waters 60 feet deep or more. Squid, shrimp and various crustaceans make up the bulk of their diet.
Gag grouper are also widely distributed in Florida, and Naples has some of the best gag grouper fishing in the state. Gag grouper can be distinguished from their more brightly colored red cousins by their duller coloration. Usually a shade of brownish grey, they have several worm like markings on their sides, arranged in a haphazard pattern. Not quite as large on average as red grouper, 10 to 20 pounds are commonly caught in the waters off Naples. But they can get huge. The state record was just over 80 pounds!
The last grouper species commonly sought by sport fishermen out of Naples is the biggest grouper species you are going to find anywhere in the world… the aptly named “Goliath” grouper. These giants reach enormous sizes, growing up to 8.2 feet long and weighing as much as 790 pounds. Mature specimens usually average 400 pounds, which is still plenty for sport anglers looking to lock up with these brawny powerhouses of the Florida’s reef and wreck ecosystems. There great taste combined with their generally fearless disposition to make them easy targets for spear fishermen. Until harvest bans were placed on the species, their population was in rapid decline.
When going after grouper for the first time or in an area you have never fished before, a great tip would be to charter a local fishing guide. They will have extensive knowledge of the local waters and know all the best spots to make your day fishing for grouper a success. And take heavy gear. Grouper may taste great, but they are heavy fish that will make you work hard for that meal!