All snapper and grouper can be caught on dead bait, but live-baiting is often the difference between a fair and a great day. Blue runners, also known as hardtails, are always a good choice. These can be caught on sabiki rigs and jigging spoons at the rigs on the way out. A close second are pinfish, especially closer to port. Pinfish are easily caught on a cane pole around docks and jetties with shrimp and a small hook, as well as in perch traps. The best size of bait depends on the size of the fish sought. For smaller species, such as red snapper, scamps and gags, 5- to 6-inch baits are perfect. For larger Warsaw grouper, a 12- to 14-inch blue runner is hard to beat. Live baits should be fished on a bottom-drop rig designed to present the bait from 2 to 5 feet off the bottom. Smaller baits should be closer to the bottom, and larger baits fished higher.
It’s important to have a variety of sinkers, ranging from 6 ounces to 4 or 5 pounds. The heavier weight facilitates getting the baits down in heavy current, and past wily barracuda.
Know the Rules
All snapper and grouper are the finest of table fare, and have been heavily targeted by both recreational and commercial fishermen, which is detrimental to the stocks. Consequently, reef-fish species are heavily regulated, and it is important to know the rules, which seem to change as often as the tide. For example, when fishing for reef fish in federal waters, a non-stainless-steel circle hook is mandatory. A couple of other important details: It is illegal to possess a -goliath grouper, and the limit on Warsaw grouper is one per boat. These are but a few of the many regulations that fishermen need to know.
In addition, I cannot stress the importance of being up on both state and federal laws, and to be able to differentiate between the two and know when each is applicable. This is especially important when it comes to season closures, and size and bag limits.
Regulations for -snapper and grouper can be complex, and also vary by state and through the year. Familiarize yourself with current rules for the water you plan to fish. State fish and wildlife agencies post their regulations online; federal regulations, which often differ from state rules, cover the deep water you’ll be fishing for snapper and grouper, and are kept current at gulfcouncil.org/fishing_regulations.