Finding Grouper

Early season hunt for the big catch.

BY: ALAN BEASLEY

I hope everyone out there is as happy as I am to get a chance to get outside and have some fun! I have been dreaming of going out for an offshore fishing trip and I got my chance May 3rd. Grouper season had opened 2 days before and the trip was on for me and hopefully Mr. King! I had been more than ready to go for a good bottom fishing trip and I think he was to. It was just last October that we went out and brought in a nice catch of everything from Gag Grouper, Black Sea Bass, and Pink Snapper to King Mackerel. It was a very exciting day and we brought home the bounty that day. The only thing that was a real factor for us was the weather and was it going to be in our favor for an early season trip on my very shallow style 22’ Sea Mark Center Console fishing machine.

It turned out to be a decent forecast but hearing the 3’ every 13 seconds was a sure signal that we’d be riding some big swells for my vessel. The wind was N going to SE in the afternoon and the SE swell was hefty. We decided to give it a go and see if we could stand the weather to get offshore a little bit. Well we went and we took a pretty good whopping on some 3-5’ swells. We went for a 22 mile beater for old guys like us. We usually don’t want more than 1-2’ seas so we don’t ache for 3 days. Oh well, it was a bang up ride out there but we did it. Once we got stopped it wasn’t so bad however. We pulled up on the same area that we caught the Grouper last October and the expectations were that we’d catch some Sea Bass if nothing else. We got the anchor out and ready as I looked the bottom over on my Furuno Color Sonar.

I saw some nice ledges and a few fish hanging out around it so I just decided to go for the first spot and I gave the command to deploy the anchor as Mr. King slid it over the side. We were in 90’ of water and it was crystal blue and we could see down at least 50’. The anchor hooked up and we swung right around and on top of the mark as perfect as ever.

I was excited about that and was the first one to get a hook baited with a chunk of squid and topped off with a frozen Spanish Sardine. I let the line straight down beside the boat and as it dropped to the bottom it hit and I immediately took up the slack and waited for a second and wham-o something hit the bait. I set the hook and the fight was on! The fish was fighting hard and I could tell it was a good sized fish as it stalled out the electric motor on my fishing reel. I pulled and started to gain on the fish and as I got it off the bottom maybe 20’ I started to grumble and shout out unhappy remarks about the fact that I had a shark.

Oh yeah it’s easy to tell if you’ve been Ocean fishing as long as I have. I knew it was a Shark and told the King we might be moving. Just then he let out a quick jerk on his rod and boom he was hooked up as well. His fish seemed smaller and was fighting much different coming up from 90’ and it was pretty quickly declared to be a Black Sea Bass and sure enough it was a nice big one!

I was relieved that we didn’t have to move right away because the spot looked good on the Sonar. We kept fishing and would catch a Sea Bass here and there and a Grunt and just various smaller reef fish but it just wasn’t a hot spot as I had hoped so after 15-20 minutes I yelled 7 Minutes! I’m known as 7 minute Beaz to some of my fishing buddies as I set the clock to move if nobody catches a Grouper or nice fish that resets the clock. If time runs out we move. Well 7 minutes went by and I moved us back 20 feet or so by letting out some more anchor rope. Mine is 600’ so I have plenty to let out to try different areas around the anchor before pulling it up to make a farther move.

As I let us back Mr. King suddenly hooked up. He yelled for me to help as he was pulling on the rod with all his might! He had something nice for sure. He finally got the fish up and we could see it was an Amber Jack and we didn’t want any of those much less wanted to wear ourselves out fighting them. Luckily we only caught the one.

We spent several hours messing with Sea Bass of various sizes before a slight move back on another spot yielded a very nice American Red Snapper that weighed around 6-8 pounds.

It was so beautiful and would have been a fabulous addition to the cooler but those fish are closed to everyone and can’t be kept. Mr. King ended up catching 3 more of them that were even larger. It was nice to see those making a comeback. All were released in good shape.

 

The day was coming to a close we were getting the feeling that we were not going to see a Grouper at all. We started talking about the nice Sea Bass and mentally preparing to settle for those which were OK. You just don’t always bring home the bounty when Rod-n-Reel fishing in the Ocean. It was then that Mr. King caught a smaller fish, accidentally hooking it in the tail. It was a Tom Tate. He asked me what it was and I turned around to look at it to tell him and I said, “Mr. King that is a Grouper if you send it back to the bottom”. He asked me if I wanted it and I, with a very big smile, said “why yes I’ll take it”. I took that little dude and hooked him near the tail on my rig and sent him straight to the bottom.

My weight hit the bottom and I tightened up the line and just like a freight train hits a bug, I got a hit that took the rod down. I immediately pulled back with every ounce of power I had and I could tell it was a Grouper. It was just different and I knew it was a nice one. I pulled and struggled to keep it from going under a ledge or in a hole. I finally started gaining on it and after 2 or 3 more serious struggles by both me and the fish I was gaining on him fast. I could see him coming up and sure enough it was a very nice Grouper, probably weighed around 16 or so pounds. My hook was barely holding him and as I saw that Mr. King yelled what should I do? I said stand back as I grabbed the Grouper in the mouth bare handed and slung him into the boat! “Ka Boom”, I yelled and told the King to catch me another Tom Tate!

He laughed and said “NO WAY PAL! If I catch another one of those Tom Petty’s he’s going on my hook!” I laughed so hard as I repeated “Tom Petty? What’s that?” He said whatever you called that thing that turned into a Grouper like that! I said it’s a Tom Tate! He just laughed and said that Tom Petty turned into a Grouper and I want another one.

I smiled and said OK pal, you hooked me up so I’ll hook you up. I grabbed another smaller Rod-n-Reel and tied on a Sabiki Rig and dropped it to the bottom. In seconds I had it up with 2 Tom Petty’s and several live sardines. I handed Mr. King a Tom Petty and he dropped it quickly to the bottom. He watched as I put one on my rig and dropped it to the bottom on my side. I said “well King, want to see ole Tom convert to a Gag Grouper?” He made a very sassy smart remark and about that time Ka Bam! I got another big hit! I locked down again with something and the struggle was on again! Just like before I pulled and pumped and started to gain on the fish and again I could tell it was a Grouper. I battled it to the top and swung it into the boat. I again yelled “Ka Boom” as the big Grouper hit the deck! I yelled, as I often do “WELCOME ABORD MATE”! Just then Mr. King again said foul things to me as he was not happy that I was now catching Grouper and he WAS NOT! LOL! I was laughing at him now and he was not pleased! Just then I saw that Grouper spit out a small sardine like the ones I caught on the Sabiki Rig! I wheeled around and put one of those on my hook and sent it over the side in the same place as before. The weight hit the bottom and it was instant! KA POW! I got hit harder than before and the deal was on again! I had another Grouper on! I battled it for a little over 2-3 minutes it seemed and then I saw it. It was larger than the first two Grouper and it was hooked very good in the jaw. I saw that so when I got it to the surface I snatched it over the side of the boat and over on Mr. King’s side of the Boat. I said, “Ahoy Mate! I guess I’ll let this Grouper catch you!” I laughed so hard as he turned around and gave me a snarling dog stare. It was so funny. I was wearing him out!

 

As it turned out, after that fish all we caught the rest of the day were a few nice Sea Bass and more sharks. The sharks moved in no matter where we moved to. The clock hit 4PM and we decided to call it quits for that trip. We ended up with 3 Grouper (that I caught) and about 30 Sea Bass mixed with some Grunts. It was not a terrible trip to be the first one for me for the season. I was sure happy to have a couple of Grouper to bring in and sell. I heard we did pretty good compared to most of the boats that went bottom fishing that day. It was also a full moon which makes it even harder some times to catch a Grouper.

Some of the local fishermen went out to the Gulf Stream and had nice Wahoo, Mahi – Mahi and King Mackerel. One local dive boat had a banner day with spear guns bringing in Grouper, Hog Snapper, Mahi – Mahi and Lobster! So I think it’s finally here! If the warm weather will get here and that rain will stay away we might just get the 2015 fishing season going into full swing.

Check back next month for another fishing story from mine or another local Southport fishing vessel.
So for now, go fish, good luck and be safe!

Life is short, fish hard!

Capt. Beaz

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