With many offshore species now closed to harvest, sport fishermen have had to adapt. While not usually a common catch-and-release target, gag grouper can be fun with lighter tackle. Recently we've caught and released gags with plug-casting gear. Start by spooling bait-casting reels with braided line. A section of 80-pound test leader is added at the terminal end and the diving lure tied on with a loop knot. Drags are kept very tight to keep fish from pulling out enough line to make it back to their holes. When approaching a rock pile, shut off the motor, drift within casting range and avoid putting the boat over the spot. In shallow water, grouper are often suspended over the rocks but retreat into holes when a boat moves overhead. Drift along the perimeter with the wind or tide. Cast the deep-diving lure across the rocks and reel back rapidly with the rod tip low and to the side. This not only helps the lure go deeper, it gives the angler a good pulling position when a grouper grabs it. Battles are brief but intense. Recently we've landed gags up to 15 pounds using this method, along with a few kings and mackerel. Typically, if fish in a spot are going to bite, they do so within the first 4-5 casts. If no strike within a few minutes, move to the next spot.
Ed Walker charters out of Tarpon Springs. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (727) 944-3474.