Photo By Rick Paolillo
Red Grouper from the Gulf of Mexico have magnificent markings.
By: Jeff Dennis
Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf Islands like Manasota Key can be found on the Southwest coast of Florida. Miles of mangroves and pristine waterways lead to the Gulf of Mexico where the saltwater fishing for red grouper can be as sizzling hot as the summer temperatures.
Punta Gorda is the hub in this Charlotte Harbor area which consists of two main waterways, the Peace River and the Myakka River. One can pretty well set a clock by the afternoon thunderstorms in this area, but they serve to cool down the atmosphere enough for the natural world to come alive before sunset.
Anglers electing for a day of offshore fishing can sign up to fish out of the aptly named Fisherman’s Village in Punta Gorda. The Kingfisher Fleet charter service has a wide variety of vessels to pursue fish both inshore and offshore.
Riding two hours from port into the Gulf of Mexico to reach the fishing grounds, Captain Rick Paolillo positions the 35-foot vessel over a live bottom area before anchoring the boat. The fishing party uses Sabiki rigs, a series of small flashy hooks, in order to reel in some small live baitfish such as pinfish.
Anglers switch over to medium or heavy tackle to drop their offering down to the bottom in search of grouper and snapper. These bottom fish will be holding right near the rocks on the bottom and getting your bait close to the rocks without getting snagged is just one small part of the challenge.
Once a bite is felt, any hesitation by the angler gives the fish an advantage, since it will move into the underwater structure and cause the line to part. At the first indication of a bite, begin reeling in line and raising the rod tip upwards with a pumping motion.
These first few moments are often a test of wills between the angler and the fish. If the rod is doubled over, anglers can bend their knees and use their body to generate more upward force, moving the fish away from any rocky outcrops.
If fortunate to get the grouper to the surface, a dip net can serve to hoist it into the boat in order to be measured. The season on Red Grouper in Florida is year-round, but the limit to keep is two fish per person, and they must measure 20-inches in total length or be returned to the estuary.
The coloration of the red grouper make it a compelling species to photograph, with a brownish-red body that is accented by irregular white blotches that serve as underwater camouflage. A 20-inch red grouper can weigh about 15-pounds and they have a lifespan of at least 25 years, and may grow to be 40-pounds or better.
Lane snapper are common in these same fishing areas, and are likely to add to your mixed bag of saltwater species encountered while fishing. A long day on the water is best followed up with a fresh fish supper, with many local restaurants offering the services of their chef to prepare the day’s catch any way the anglers like.
The author’s Lowcountry Outdoors blog is celebrating a tenth anniversary in 2019.