Story + Photos by Collins Doughtie
Mention grouper to anglers and almost immediately it elicits a response much like a bell and Pavlov’s dog. I used to have that very same reaction, but I believe after all these years bottom fishing, I don’t have a drop of spit left in me. In all honesty, groupers are about the only species I reel in or more accurately, reel up just enough that I know they won’t try and scoot back in their rocky den before I hand the rod to whomever is next to me. There is just something about grouper that rocks my world. Using live bait, mostly pinfish, that I use scissors to cut off their sharp dorsal fins, the bite is unmistakable. One solid thump, then wait until the rod starts bending double before cranking like crazy. What an awesome, delicious and powerful fish!
So many types of groupers but know the regulations
I have caught a dozen different types of grouper here over the years but the two most common types are gag grouper and scamp grouper. Gags can get pretty darn big while smaller scamp are the “lobster” of groupers with delicate white meat that melts in your mouth. Others you might catch are graysby grouper, red grouper, rock hind and the monster of all groupers, the goliath grouper that can reach weights approaching 1,000 pounds. But a word of caution, there are closed seasons for many of these while some, like the goliath, are federally protected. To avoid huge fines, know the rules and regulations.
Tips on catching grouper
A grouper can and will eat squid, ballyhoo or cut fish but live bait like pinfish, croakers and spots up your chances big time. I prefer long fluorocarbon leaders (approximately 4 to 5 feet) with 7/0 Owner Mutu hooks. At the top of the leader a heavy-duty swivel and above that large egg sinkers between 10-16 ounces that slide on the main line. The size weight depends on the current. Allow the weight to hit the bottom then reel up just enough so the live bait swims naturally above the bottom. When hooking the bait, either hook the pinfish up top just behind the head or down just behind the anus toward its tail. Most importantly, when you feel that thump, let it pull the rod tip down before reeling like crazy. Mutu hooks are circle hooks, so don’t jerk to set the hook. It will set itself when reeling. Most groupers are lost in the first five or 10 seconds if you are unable to get them away from the bottom and the hole they usually occupy.
Fried grouper fingers, broiled, grilled or baked, you can’t go wrong
My favorite grouper recipe is fried grouper fingers (small strips) using a light batter mix, Paul Prudhomme’s Redfish Magic spice and remoulade sauce for dipping. Broiled on low and served with yellow rice, a dollop of sour cream and fresh fruit on the side is another crowd pleaser. It is darn near impossible to screw up cooking grouper, that is, unless you overcook it. Less is best when cooking any fish.
LOCAL Life Test Kitchen – Grouper fingers with tartar sauce and sweet potato oven fries
4 grouper fillets, cut into 2-inch strips (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons dried dill
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 teaspoon ground mustard
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 dill sprig (garnish)
Vegetable oil (for frying)
Directions  In a large Dutch oven, pour the oil to a depth of 3 inches. Heat the oil to 350 degrees.  Combine flour, cornstarch, dill, salt and mustard in a plate. Pour the buttermilk into a shallow dish.  Dredge the grouper in the flour mixture, dip in the buttermilk, then dredge in the flour mixture again to coat.  Fry the grouper fingers 4-5 minutes until golden brown. Drain on some paper towels.
Ingredients (tartar sauce)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup grated onion
1/2 cup dill relish
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
Squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Directions In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, onions, relish and dill. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Cover and chill.
Ingredients (sweet potato oven fries)
2 large sweet potatoes
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Directions  Peel sweet potatoes and cut into 1×3-inch wedges.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees and spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray.  Toss potato wedges in oil and arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet.  Bake 18-20 minutes, until tender and golden brown.
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