Electronics, numbers and luck
Perhaps the most experience-dependant aspect of groper fishing is knowing how to find where the fish are. The more things you can do before the trip to identify potential productive areas the better your chances of putting fish in the cooler.
The most closely guarded secret of grouper fishing are "numbers". Numbers are the GPS locations for grouper hot spots. Some captains put a towel over their GPS screens to prevent their charters from seeing where they are. No one talks about numbers over the radio or puts them on the internet.
There is a good reason for this. In the Gulf, the grouper are found on relatively small patches of reef or rock piles. These areas don't hold many fish and are easily cleaned out after a few trips. Grouper take years to grow to legal size so once an area is depleted it won't be productive again for a long time.
An experienced grouper digger will have hundreds of numbers. They are from various sources. A few may be passed on from friends. Most are the result of many fishing trips. Eventually you will find areas to focus on where grouper holes can be found after a limited amount of searching.
ALWAYS WATCH YOUR FISHFINDER. Mark every likely spot and drop a line on as many as possible. This is how you will find the best spots. Later I will provide some NUMBERS that have been productive for me. They may not produce but will get you in the right area.
Below is the process I recommend for finding grouper spots.
There are many reefs and wrecks documented in fishing charts and on the internet.
The first step in building your numbers cache is to get all the known numbers in your reachable fishing area entered into your GPS unit. If you don't know how to enter them, it is worth the time to dig out the manual and figure it out. Examples of where to get these numbers are:
A dedicated grouper digger will amass hundreds of numbers. For each number, there is important associated data that should be recorded, When I find an area that looks interesting or produces fish I record the following:
When I get home I put this data in a spreadsheet using the above columns. The reason to use a spreadsheet is the ability to SORT the data. If you don't use spreadsheets (Excel, Microsoft works...), at least use a program where you can COLOR code the data. A row of the table looks like this:
|141||11.5||234.4°||26° 46.551||82° 30.688||Mike's #18 -|
The data is color coded in two ways. I use two text colors for the dates: red for summer and blue for winter.
The second one is important. I highlight the fishing productivity of a spot using four categories: no good, ok, good and great (gray, green, red and yellow). The color choices should be the ones you choose.
The result is a table you can eyeball and quickly see where you have been catching fish and what time of the year. The latter is important because grouper migrate seasonally to different depths as the water temperature changes.
Let's go fishing!
The weather for tomorrow looks great (seas 2' or less), no rain, no moon tonight, tide high in the morning.......perfect.
A little planning will enhance the chances of a productive trip. The first thing to do is figure out how early you can leave. One-half hour before sunrise is ideal. You will have time to stop and get some live bait before heading out to deeper water.
So you sit down and sort the spreadsheet for range and look at your red and yellow highlighted fishing spots. Make some notes. Ideally, have a printed copy of the spreadsheet with you and just jot down the index numbers you will be targeting.
If you do your homework, you will have the satisfaction of being able to plan the trip to optimize your chances of having a good day!
After 50 or so grouper fishing trips I decided to put all the productive gps coordinates on a chart. There are many charting software packages. Raymarine offers one for $49.99, Voyage Planner. To my surprise, the good spots were clustered in one area!
That area was in the vicinity of a large wreck called the Bayronto. The Bayronto is loaded with all kinds of fish as you can see in this video:
On many days, the Bayronto looks like a parking lot 20mi out to sea! Fishing boats, dive boats... I prefer not to fish directly on the Bayronto for a couple of reasons. One is the crowd. The second is the overwhelming number of barracuda. It's hard to get good fish to the boat in one piece.
If you want to try the Bayronto, the GPS coordinates are 26° 45.937N, 82° 50.756W and 26° 45.938N, 82° 50.783W. These are two huge parts of the wreck at about 90' rising 20' or more.
Some good fishing spots can be found within a mile of the Bayronto. Some good starting places are:
1.6sm SW at 26° 45.179, 82° 51.912
2.4sm NW at 26° 47.193, 82° 52.708
new numbers for red snapper (7/9/11): try this area: 26 34.600 83 07.100
These will get you within 1/10 mi of places I have caught fish in the past. As always, if you find fish, take one or two only.
NEXT: FISHING TECHNIQUES