Challenge Accepted

Battle Gear for Gargantuan Grouper

Capt. Steve Dougherty November 15, 2015

Across inshore and near-shore fisheries statewide, goliath grouper are some of the largest and most powerful predators anglers will ever encounter. Known to engulf hooked cobia, permit, sharks, grouper, amberjack and more in a single bite, goliath grouper are so large they have little to no predators and as a result are incredibly inquisitive and fearless by nature. This makes them easy targets, and at one point the fish was so pressured it was almost completely wiped out. However, with federal protection since 1990, goliath grouper have since made an impressive comeback and are now commonly encountered across the entire Gulf of Mexico.

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Photo: doughertyphotos.com

If you want to challenge one of the Gulf’s largest predators in a true battle royale, you’re fortunate to know that the opportunities are plentiful. Whether it is around bridge pilings and passes inshore, or deeper reefs, wrecks and springs offshore, goliath grouper gather in large concentrations and are typically more than willing to accept your lowly challenge.You see, these fish are so large and tenacious that even if you’re prepared for the most extreme battle of your life, you still stand very little chance at beating the mighty goliath grouper.

While juvenile goliaths encountered in the backcountry can be subdued with relatively light tackle, even with a specialized heavy-duty outfit it is very challenging to turn the head of a mature goliath grouper. Around the Gulf 500-pound goliaths exist, but even with unlimited tackle these quarter-ton giants do whatever they want. You really don’t want to mess with a fish of this caliber, but fortunately there a plenty of manageable goliaths in the 200-pound range.

In regards to rigging, this is one of the most specialized fisheries in the world and inferior tackle simply won’t stand a chance. Since goliath grouper are protected, and mature fish are upwards of 50- to 70-years old, circle-hooks are the only option. When targeting triple-digit goliath grouper with giant baits like an 8-pound jack crevalle or whole bonito, I recommend nothing less than a 19/0 circle-hook crimped to a 6-foot length of 400 lb. monofilament leader.

With your hook attached, crimp a sleeve on the leader approximately 12 inches from the mainline connection and slide on an 8 oz. egg sinker. The crimp only needs to be compressed enough to keep the lead from sliding down the leader toward the hook. From here attach a 500 lb. test ball bearing swivel to the opposite end of the leader.

While you’ll see crazy salts with giant 16/0 reels spooled entirely with Dacron or multi-strand cable, 300 lb. test monofilament mainline loaded on a 50-wide is a better choice because it’s more manageable and the stretch is a major benefit when fishing a nearly locked down drag. When it comes to rod selection you’ll want to choose a short and stout 80 lb. class e-glass blank instead of graphite, as it’s much less inclined to shatter under such extreme strain. This will give you fighting odds, but you still won’t stand a chance at stopping the largest fish. Serious captains focused on landing the biggest goliaths in existence utilize unlimited class rods that are so bulky and heavy you can barely wrap your hand around the foregrip, and all but take the sport out of the fight with complete outfits weighing around 30 pounds!

In this fishery the angler or fish often wins or loses in the first few seconds, so after you detect an unmistakable strike it’s time to get to work and attempt to coerce the mighty giant away from nearby structure. Since you’ll be fishing with a tight drag and potentially strapped into a fighting harness, it’s important you have a spotter within arms reach ready to help should you need assistance. With a heavy tackle fishery relatively accessible to anglers of all experiences, it’s important the foremost goal is to ensure the safety of the angler on the rod.

While tackle selection is critical, proper boat positioning is also important. Anglers want to position themselves close enough to the bridge piling, wreck or structure they are targeting, but far enough away to draw these giants from their lair so you can put on the brakes before they head back to their hole. Hooking goliaths isn’t the issue, but pulling them from nearby structure is the real challenge. Once the circle-hook finds its home you can expect a hard fought battle as you attempt to keep the massive fish from slicing the leader in the sharp structure below. No matter what gives up first—angler, fish or tackle—the end result is always the same with the mighty fish swimming off in search of
its next meal.

Release Done Right

On the water observations indicate populations have clearly strengthened, but removing goliath grouper from the water for the purpose of taking a picture, or for any other reason, is strictly prohibited and these giants deserve a quick release using proper fish handling techniques.

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