It’s shallow-water grouper time

By Capt. Mike Manning

We’re in the sweet spot between seasons, when water temperatures are not too cold and not too hot, and that means shallow-water grouper fishing is on.

While grouper typically require a long run offshore to deeper waters, at this time we’re slamming the big gags in 10 feet of water, give or take a couple of feet. We’ve got some killer spots that feature limestone bottom with rock outcroppings and holes where the fish take up residence in the fall. They are feeding aggressively now as they try to store up fat and body weight to get them through the lean winter.

That’s good news for anglers, as aside from spring, when the same pattern returns, now is the time to bag big gags within easy site of land.

My approach is simple: Have live and dead bait on board, as well as large diving plugs. This virtually guarantees success, as one or the other is going to be what the grouper want.

This style of grouper fishing is far different than dropping weighted baits straight down to the bottom in deep water. In shallow water, we’re fishing more like we might for snook or redfish, anchoring up current and casting back to the rocks we want to fish. Medium-heavy spinning tackle is rigged with live bait and we wait for fish to pop out of their holes to smash it. If it doesn’t do the trick, we’ll put some dead bait on the bottom and allow the scent to travel to them with the current. If that isn’t doing it, one of my favorite methods is to throw large, lipped plugs like Bombers or Rappalas, swimming them across the rocks. A lot of the time we find that the artificials work better than natural baits, and that’s fine, as this style of fishing is a lot more thrilling for my anglers.

One might think that grouper in such shallow water would be smaller fish, and while some are, some of the biggest grouper we catch come from these minor depths. Fish to 15 pounds are not unusual, and trust me, there’s nothing like battling one of these bruisers on spinning tackle in shallow water.

The gettin’ is good right now, so don’t miss out on some of the best and most exciting grouper fishing of the year.

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