Gag Grouper are excellent gamefish. With an aggressive strike and intense fighting power at all water depths, they are perfect targets for all anglers! Gag Grouper are also known by various other names: Copper Belly, Gray Grouper and Grass Grouper.
Gags are the most common Grouper that are distributed throughout Florida. You can catch them inshore or offshore, and with light tackle or heavy tackle. For most of Florida, open season starts June 1st and lasts until December 31st.
How can I identify Gag Grouper?
Gag Grouper tend to be light brown to gray. They will have dark lines that radiate from around their eyes. Their signature marks don’t quite fully form circles or boxes; the markings can sometimes come off as ‘wavy’ or ‘worm-like’ but are generally a deeper brown. Their fins will match the color of their skin, then transition to whiteish or blueish colors towards the edges. Once caught and on dry land, the colors will change to a dark brown.
The usual size of these gamefish averages about 25 pounds. When Gags are found deep offshore in shelters like wrecks and ledges, they can weigh up to 50 pounds or more. With many anglers catching these fish, you are likely to catch some Gag Grouper that may only weigh between 2-15 pounds.
Rules and Regulations
The Gulf and Atlantic coast state waters begin at different points; Gulf state waters are from shore to 9 nautical miles out, while Atlantic state waters are from shore to only 3 nautical miles out. With these strict regulations, be sure you have a valid Florida fishing license on you while you are fishing. If you wish to fish for Gags on offshore reefs, you will need to have ‘Gulf Reef Fish Angler’ added to your license.
The Gulf coast regulations require a 24-inch size limit. The bag limit in the gulf is 2 per person, per day within the 4-grouper aggregate*. State water seasons on the Gulf start June 1st and end December 31st, but this does not include Franklin, Wakulla, Taylor or Jefferson counties. You can only fish for Gags in those counties in state waters from April 1st through June 30th and then again on September 1st through December 31st. Federal waters off the Gulf of Mexico are open to all between June 1st and December 31st.
The Atlantic coast offers a slightly tighter bag limit but offsets the stricter bag limit with an extra month of the open season. The Atlantic regulations still require a minimum length of 24-inches. The Atlantic’s bag limit is only 1 per person, per day within the 3-grouper aggregate**. For both state and federal Atlantic waters, the open season begins May 1st and lasts through December 31st.
Where can I find plenty of Gag Grouper?
Gag Grouper can be found all throughout Florida and the Bahamas. Grouper of all sizes can be found around inshore ledges and shallow holes. Juveniles like to gather on seagrass flats, earning their nickname, Grass Grouper.
Adult Gags like to stay close to deep water structures and ledges. However, they may not be isolated to those spots; they are just as likely to be found in any fishable depth offshore. Waters over 60 feet deep are their happy place.
Gag Grouper are interesting. All Gags are born female but a portion of them transition into males as they grow. With that said, spawning season can begin as early as January for some Gags. The season then lasts as late as May. The more tropical Gags may spawn year-round.
Tips & Tricks for catching your Gag Grouper
Luckily, for Gag Grouper fishing, just about any type of gear, bait and tackle will work for these gamefish. If you are a natural fisher and like to use real bait, live or dead bait will work. If you prefer live bait, we recommend you stick with the smaller bait fish like grunts, pinfish and sand perch. For those who like using dead bait, keep with whole bait that is small so they can chomp on it. However, larger bait that has been cut up will work just as well. Don’t be afraid of trial and error.
Fishing offshore requires slightly heavier gear. Try using a stout rod with up to 80-pound test, keeping in mind you only need this kind of heft when fishing in deep offshore water. If you are in water only about 50 feet deep, standard rigs with a max of 30-pound test should be plenty. Catching your Gag Grouper via fly fishing is also a fun run.
Since just about anything goes, a wide array of artificial tackle can be used. Popular Gag Grouper catching lures tend to be plug or spinner baits. Fly fisherman like using large streamers to catch the attention of shallow dwelling Gags. If you prefer to troll, try using deep diving plug baits. If you are a hard lure caster, we think you will love using leadhead jigs.
How to cook my Grouper catch
Gag Grouper season is popular because they are fun to catch and delicious to eat. They can have a slight red tint, but they generally have firm white meat. Grouper skin is quite strong and fishy, so cooking the fish with the skin on can throw off the delicious flavors.
When cooking Gag Grouper, you will want to start with filleting/breaking down the fish. As mentioned above, you will want to be sure to remove the skin while filleting because of the strong fishy taste. You can simply fillet it like you would the average fish or you can break down the fish by pieces. Grouper cheeks are a popular recipe, but they take consideration when separating them from the head.
With the Gag Grouper having firm white meat, you can essentially cook it any way you would like. You can try baking it, grilling it, cooking it on a stove top or even frying it. We suggest you play around with the ways you cook it. You can never go wrong with a simple Grouper sandwich, but if you want to try a bolder recipe, try your Gag Grouper over pasta with a garlic butter drizzle.
Gag Grouper have distinct ‘worm-like’ markings and their colors range from gray to light brown. Their fins will gradate to white or blue at the edges and they will have marks that radiate from around their eyes. Their average size can range from 10 – 25 pounds with the largest being about 50 pounds or so.
These Grouper can be found all throughout the state of Florida. There are various open seasons based on what coast you are fishing from, but for our local readers, the open seasons for Gag Grouper on the Gulf of Mexico are: State Waters (excluding 4 counties) & Federal Waters open June 1st – December 31st.
When cooking your Gag Grouper, be bold and experimental; try all different cooking methods. One thing is for sure though, don’t cook it with the skin still on.
Happy tides….and eating!!!