Trash to Treasure

Very few offshore anglers intentionally target grunts. Rather, the small statured rockpile and reef residents most often referred to as trash fish are typically caught as bycatch by seasoned bottom fishermen seeking far more glamorous snapper and grouper. Truth be told, times are changing and grunts are starting to fill the void for many Gulf Coast sinker bouncers looking for a few fresh fish dinners. While they don’t yield large fillets, fresh grunt rivals nearly any snapper when it comes to taste and versatility in the kitchen. Given the chance to show their true colors on the appropriate light tackle outfits, these scrappy fighters pull just as hard as any other similar size reef dweller. And with red snapper, grouper, triggerfish, amberjack and other highly regulated species under constant scrutiny, the fabled Florida grunt is one target that’s wide open 365 days a year…at least for the time being.


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Photo: Joe Richard/

Shamefully, this small sensation doesn’t get the respect it deserves from fishermen partially because of its name, which is derived from the grunting sound it makes by grinding its pharyngeal teeth, and also because the majority of grunts are caught on beefy outfits better suited for slamming the breaks on mature gag grouper. Try scaling down to a light conventional or spinning outfit with 20 lb. leader and you’ll soon realize that grunts are as fun to catch as they are good to eat. Isn’t that what fishing is supposed to be about anyway…steady action, fresh fillets and fun in the sun?

You may be surprised to learn that a number of charter captains in the Gulf specifically target white grunts and count on these highly abundant fish to provide their clientele with a bag of tasty fillets when all else fails. While fish under 12 inches are best prepared whole like other panfish, the most famous method of enjoying this fish is a historic Florida dish called grits and grunts. The name says it all, with a stack of pan fried grunt fillets set atop a pile of freshly prepared grits.

The same head boat and charter boat captains also know grunts are schooling fish that will readily consume just about any offering sent to the depths. With a bucket of squid strips and a handful of 3/0 circle-hooks, an entire group can stay entertained for hours.

Preferred habitat includes exposed coral heads along with natural and artificial reefs in 25- to 125-feet of water, with most of the action occurring in water less than 80 feet deep. No matter their location or preferred depth, white grunts, often mistaken for bluestriped grunts, primarily feed on small finfish, shrimp, mollusks, echinoderms and a variety of crustaceans. Grunts are especially fond of live rock and limestone bottom with the presence of soft coral and algae.

Truthfully, nearly every rockpile in the Gulf seems to hold a population of grunts and they are generally more than willing to cooperate. Sometimes they can actually be a downright nuisance when you are fishing for grouper, but this scenario provides the perfect opportunity for novice and impatient anglers to cull through the smaller and more aggressive fish while you hunt the larger predators lurking below.

While white grunts only average a pound or two, larger fish are always a possibility and it’s not uncommon to see a five pounder come over the rail. Although they will readily bite a baited hook both day and night, grunts prefer to feed under the cover of darkness, meandering off reefs to sandy, muddy or grassy areas to pick off unsuspecting prey and scavenge on recent kills. They typically begin their nightly hunting rituals shortly after sunset and return to the security of the reef just prior to sunrise.

Best Hook

VMC #7381 3/0 SureSet Circle-Hook
– 1X Strong
– Offset
– Forged
– Vanadium Steel
– Needle Point