Gag Grouper Fishing

Gag Grouper Fishing

Gag Grouper

Gag Grouper
  • Size 5 to 20lbs
  • Food Value Excellent
  • Game Qualities Good
  • Habitats Inshore, Nearshore, Offshore, Reef

(Mycteroperca microlepis)

Gag, or, as they're referred to by the old school guides, Grey Grouper, are the most widespread member of the grouper family in the Gulf waters and, are, therefore, extensively fished due to their excellent game qualities and delicious meat. Somewhat smaller than, but in appearance very similar to Black Grouper, Gags also boast the nickname "freight train" and will not go down (or rather, up) without a fight.

Gags have a relatively short lifespan of about 15 years, seeing as they reach reproductive maturity at 5(f) to 8(m). When 10 to 11, some female fish will undergo a common Grouper-type sex transformation into males in order to ensure sustainable reproduction. The larger specimens are usually the ones to transform and, of course, they're also the most desired catch. For this reason, the Gag population might soon be under threat of overfishing, but, luckily, as they're so widely distributed, their status is still far from decimation.

Adults are usually found in schools of 5 to 50, with the largest fish being mostly solitary. They commonly inhabit bottoms 60 to 250ft deep, such as natural and artificial reefs and ledges. However, smaller ledges of 1 to 3ft will often yield big catches as well. Younger fish are found in small groups in estuaries, around seagrass beds, mangrove forests and rocky bottoms.

Happy angler with his catch of the day and dinner of the night. Grabbed aboard Ruthless in Destin, FL

How big

Gags are considered mature at about 28''(f) to 39''(m) with a corresponding weight between 5 and 20lbs. However, they can grow to almost 5ft and upwards of 80lbs. Males over 30lbs are referred to as "black bellies" and are considered trophy catches.

When & Where

This species can be found throughout the western Atlantic waters and all over the Gulf coast, so from the Carolinas to the Yucatan Peninsula, and then farther down the Brazil coastline. They're present in both nearshore and offshore waters, and are attracted to wrecks and oil rigs as well. Juveniles are spread out as far north as Massachusetts.

As with most grouper, cooler weather brings them closer to shore, while the summer will see them heading out 15 to 30 miles into the ocean. They spawn in February on the Atlantic side and January through March in the Gulf.

Some notable spots to try for Gags will be off Fernandina Beach, throughout the rocky ledges from Cape Canaveral, down to Ft Pierce, the Miami waters and both sides of the Keys, then northwards towards the Panhandle all the way to Destin and Pensacola.

On the west coast of Florida, the months of October through December (sometimes up to January and even February) will show them migrating all the way into the Tampa Bay. This holds true for the Sarasota Bay and Charlotte Harbor as well.

Throughout the summer, good spots on the east coast will be ledges off Jacksonville, St Augustine and Daytona Beach at 100 to 140ft of depth. Cooler weather will allow for productive fishing of waters around 60ft deep.

Two generations enjoying Grouper goodness aboard Dawn Patrol in Destin, FL

How to catch

As with all bottom fish, the most effective technique will see you lowering live bait to the sea floor, eliminating all slack from the line and bracing yourself for some serious pull. Remember that Groupers don't allow multiple shots and that their first impulse will drive them towards their homebase in a high gear. If they're faster than you, your line will be cut by sharp rocks surrounding their hole.

Good bait choices include live pinfish (spring and summer), frozen herring, squid, scad, porgies, sardines, smaller snapper, crabs, shrimp or grunts. Crushing or stepping on the bait will help with spreading the scent through water and hooking it too deep in will likely cause you to lose the bait.

Lately, due to the Gag abundance in inshore waters, plug trolling in bay waters 20-50ft deep has been increasing in popularity. This allows for more water to be covered and, upon discovering a grouper hole, chumming them to the surface and sight casting will yield good results too.

Good to eat?

Excellent. Firm white flesh, with a little red. Cases of ciguatera (fish poisoning) have been reported.


Season - Atlantic waters - Closed January 1 - April 30 (open year-round in Georgia); Gulf waters - state waters off Franklin, Wakulla, Jefferson and Taylor counties - open April 1 - June 30; off all other counties and in other state and federal waters - open July 1 - December 2 (until December 31 for Louisiana); 
Size limit - Atlantic waters - minimum 24"; Gulf waters - minimum 22";
Bag limit (per angler per day) - Atlantic waters - 1; Only 1 fish may be gag or black within the 3 grouper aggregate. Gulf waters - 2; 4 grouper aggregate limit applies;


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