Fishing For Grouper in Florida

Grouper are managed differently in the Gulf of Mexico versus the Atlantic and in-state versus federal waters.

Gulf state waters are from shore to 9 nautical miles.
Atlantic state waters are from shore to 3 nautical miles.

Several species of Gulf grouper (red, black, scamp, yellowfin and yellowmouth) are closed Feb. 1-March 31 seaward of the 20-fathom break. Recreational anglers are encouraged to use electronic charting equipment to plot the 20-fathom break.

Gag Grouper

florida gag grouper
Description: brownish-gray in color with dark worm-like markings on sides; strong serrated spur at bottom margin of preopercle, less noticeable in large specimens; fins dark, with anal and caudal having white margin; often confused with black grouper; most noticeable differences are brassy spots on black grouper; tail of gag is slightly concave, black grouper’s tail is square; gag has white margin on anal and caudal fins, black does not; under 10 pounds, gag’s spur on preopercle is distinctive, where black is gently rounded

Similar fish: black grouper, M. bonaci
Where found: adults offshore over rocks and reefs; juveniles occur in seagrass beds inshore.

Size: common up to 25 pounds

Remarks: forms spawning aggregations in water no shallower than 120 feet in Middle Grounds area, January through March; current research to identify similar aggregations off the Atlantic coast is ongoing; young gags are predominantly female, transforming into males as they grow larger; feeds on fish and squid

Red Grouper

Family Serranidae

Description: color brownish red; lining of mouth scarlet-orange; blotches on sides in unorganized pattern; second spine of dorsal fin longer than others; pectoral fins longer than pelvic fins; squared-off tail; margin of soft dorsal black with white at midfin; black dots around the eyes

Similar fish: nassau grouper, E. striatus

Where found: bottom-dwelling fish associated with the hard bottom; juveniles offshore along with adults greater than 6 years old; nearshore reefs

Size: common to 15 pounds

Remarks: spawns in April and May; prefer water temperatures between 66 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit; undergoes a sex change, young individuals female, becoming male as they age, the lifespan of at least 25 years; feeds on squid, crustaceans, and fish

Black Grouper

Family Serranidae

Description: olive or gray body coloration with black blotches and brassy spots; gently rounded preopercle

Similar fish: gag, M. microlepis; yellowfin grouper, M. venenosa

Where Grouper is found: offshore species; adults associated with rocky bottoms, reefs, and dropoff walls in water over 60 feet deep; young may occur inshore in shallow water

Size: common to 40 pounds, may attain weights exceeding 100 pounds; no Florida record because of identity confusion with gag, which are mistakenly called “black grouper”

Remarks: spawns between May and August; protogynous hermaphrodites, young predominately female, transforming into males as they grow larger; larger individuals generally in greater depths; feeds on fish and squid.