Key West Gag Grouper

Groupers are quite common in the waters surrounding the Florida Keys. Among the species most popularly sought after by fishing enthusiasts is the gag grouper, a bottom feeder with less distinguished color markings than its cousins. This fish has a delicious, flaky meat, and local restaurants serve it in a variety of preparations.

If you are planning some Key West fishing activity, add the gag to your list of preferred catches. All groupers put up quite a fight when hooked, making them a favorite among anglers of all ages and experience levels.

Description And Habitat

Groupers live in shallower reef areas, near intense growths of coral. They prefer waters in the 50-75 foot depth range, although the younger juveniles spend time closer to the shore. Most often, large harems of this grouper variety swim near the sea floor underneath outcroppings of rock, below stands of coral, and around sunken vessels. These fish feed on small animals such as marine worms, and they also scavenge on decaying flesh.

As this species matures, it becomes a rather mottled gray in color. Several lines of darker box-shaped spots appear on each side of the body. Unlike other members of the grouper family, the gag does not develop yellow lines around the mouth, nor does it grow streamer points at the end of the tail fin.

Like all groupers, the gag variety reproduces only females, with a few of the largest adults undergoing a sex change brought on by behavioral triggers. The average weight of an adult is between 10-20 pounds, with some individuals reaching 50 pounds or more. The world record gag grouper caught by rod and reel is 80 pounds.

Fishing For Groupers

The gag responds quickly to the motion of worms or other small live bait. Mullet or pinfish is often used, and some anglers prefer to bait their hooks with squid or octopus. The most successful worm used is the cigar minnow. Dropping in a heavier line straight to the bottom with a live bait hook is the preferred method of attracting this species. Some anglers prefer to use flashy lures that are slowly trolled across the sea bed.

Jigging will also prove successful in attracting this member of the grouper family. Most anglers use a 20-pound or 30-pound test line and a bait-casting or spinning rod. Experienced anglers usually prefer heavier equipment, especially if bottom fishing in waters exceeding a depth of 60 feet. Groupers do not tire easily, and a 20-pound fish will often take as long as a half-hour to reel in. A heavier line and a fully-cranked drag on the reel is the preferred method of holding these fish until they tire. Using a lighter line or softer drag often results in the fish escaping to a nearby hole or underneath an outcropping. This increases the likelihood of a snapped line.

Groupers are sometimes caught by anglers who drop in lines to attract snappers. Both fish have similar habitats, and most experienced fishermen suggest using the same bait for groupers that has been proven reliable for snappers and other locally found bottom feeders.

Key West Fish Excursions

Nearly every fishing tour company in the Key West area will book day trips for those wanting to catch gags and other groupers. These trips usually include all the equipment and bait necessary as well as lunch or snacks for the vacationers. Some of the most favored grouper habitats are within several miles of Key West, and many of these are on sandy reefs just south of the island.

Fishing for the gag grouper can be an exciting activity, and the reward is a tasty fish that can be prepared in a variety of ways. If you are considering a Key West Fishing adventure, remember to ask your excursion company about the gag or other grouper species. Hauling in a large grouper after a spirited battle between fish and fisherman might just be the highlight of your Florida vacation.