Grouper! One of the monsters of the deep here in the waters at Los Buzos. These fish are generally not on many anglers lists prior to arrival as most come for the legendary cubera snapper and roosterfish. However, these beasts are one of our favorites to catch and we want you to know the best method of targeting them and successfully getting them to the surface! In our fishery we mostly catch broomtail grouper and the occasional goliath grouper and leather bass. Check out the video below where our guest Gunnar lands the biggest grouper in Los Buzos history!
Grouper mainly stick to structure near the bottom, often sitting in holes, caves and under ledges. Our most proven technique to entice the bite is dropping a whole bonita down. If possible we always try to catch a fresh bonito, hold it out of the water for a few minutes, hook it in the tail so the hook is exposed as much as possible and slowly let it sink down head first. Generally, we do not use a weight as we like to have the bait drop as it naturally would if It were dead or almost dead. Many times it will get hit on the way down by other fish like roosterfish and giant almaco jacks. Once it is on the bottom, slowly continue to let out line so it stays in one place. Using a conventional reel with 60-80lb mono makes this easy. Keep the reel in free-spool and put your thumb on the spool to adjust the pressure on demand. It is important to know you are dropping your bait off to the side of the structure and not directly on top of it. Otherwise the chances of getting snagged is very high. If there is lots of current, (2mph or more) only let it stay on the bottom for up to 5 minutes at a time. Any longer than that and you are risking having two much bow in the line. (If there is lots of bow in the line, a fish can take the bait and get to his home in the rock before you are able to put enough pressure on it to slow him down.) If there is not much current, you can leave it down there longer.
Once you get the bite, you need to make sure it is THE RIGHT bite. Many times little fish will pick at the bonita. You will feel small taps. This is good, they are creating commotion down there and attracting the larger fish. Also, this is why it is important to use a WHOLE bonito that is not cut. A whole fish is harder for little fish to pick apart and will be more appetizing to larger predators. It also will not get sharked as quickly. Once the RIGHT BITE comes, you will know it. Many times line will just start coming out of the reel after two strong jerks. The first is the fish inhaling or tasting the bait, and the second is him making sure the whole bonita is in his mouth or throat. Grouper have large mouths and almost always eat the bait head first. So, you do not need to let him eat long. We like to give around 3 seconds before engaging the drag or just make sure you felt those two big thumps. Once you come tight you need to put as much drag as you can handle immediately and just start reeling. Reel like you are trying to winch him up. Do everything you can to keep his head pointed towards the surface. If he is able to turn and get his head aimed straight down you are in trouble and chances are he is going to get into his rock and it is game over. If you pump the rod up and reel down, make sure you are not letting up pressure when you let the rod back down to reel. That will give the fish the one chance it needs to turn and head to the bottom.
This is where the low gear function on a two-speed reel comes in handy. You can rest the reel on you knee, or the side of the kayak, keep that tight drag on and consistently reel without letting up any pressure. Keep this up as long as possible. While doing this, make sure you are counter balancing in the kayak. You may need to lean significantly the opposite way of your rod. Also, do your best to point your rod towards your bow, if the rod is perpendicular to the kayak, the fish has more leverage on you and you can lose balance or flip easier. The further off the bottom the fish gets the easier the fight will become. Grouper have big air bladders that will expand and lift them to the surface. The higher in the water column they get the more buoyant they become. We have even seen several times they come off the hook after a few minutes of fighting but then float to the surface because they don’t always have the strength to battle their own buoyancy and get back down to the bottom.
Once the fish hits the surface, the hard part is not over. Boating the fish can be tough especially for the bigger ones. These grouper have razor sharp gill plates, gill rakers, and Dorsal and anal fin spines… not to mention many rows of big teeth! Always the best method is gaffing the fish with a hook gaf through the bottom of the mouth. If you plan to release the fish, or if you plan to keep it, this method works great. Once it is on the kayak just makes sure you know where the spines are and do not let them poke you!
We like to release most of the large grouper we catch. A great tool to use for getting them back down to the bottom is the “Fish Descender”. Once weight is added to the device, it can be attached to line from another rod and reel, placed in the fish’s mouth and with enough weight it can bring the fish down to the bottom and with one upward tug, it pulls out of the fishes mouth and can be reeled back to the surface, while the fish is back home safe and sound.
Do you think you have the skill to land one of these giant fish of your own? Book a trip and catch one of these monsters of the deep sea!
Video by Denes Szakacs Photography