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How to Catch Grouper in the Keys

a man holding a fish in the water

Grouper is one of the most highly valued fish species on the planet. Not only are they a blast to fight on a rod and reel, but their fillets are revered as one of the finest tasting. A lot of fisherman visit south Florida wondering “how to catch grouper in the Keys?” Here’s an overview of where, how, and when to catch the most popular species of grouper!

The BEST way to catch your limit of grouper is aboard a split or private charter with Captain Conch Charters in Key West – CLICK HERE FOR INFO

Most Popular Species of Grouper

Before you figure out how to catch grouper in the Keys, you need to know which type to target. Here are the most popular species of grouper found in the Keys (from

  • Gag Grouper – Gag grouper is the most common grouper species found in restaurants. Characterized by a brownish gray color with worm-like markings on its sides, adults are found offshore over rocks and reefs. They commonly grow to around 25 pounds, but may grow as large as 100+ pounds.
  • Black Grouper – Commonly confused with gag grouper, black grouper have an olive or gray color with black blotches and brassy spots. Commonly growing to around 40 pounds, black grouper may exceed 100 pounds.
  • Red Grouper – Red grouper are bottom-dwelling fish that grow to around 15 pounds. They are defined by brownish red coloration, and a scarlet-orange lining around the mouth.
  • Scamp – Scamp are a smaller species of grouper caught in both nearshore and offshore reefs. They are colored light gray or brown with some yellow around the corners of their mouth.

How to Catch Grouper in the Keys

Grouper are super fun to catch… if you know what you’re doing! Key West deep sea fishing charters will take the guesswork out of grouper fishing, but if you want to try it yourself, you’ll have to plan ahead. Let’s go over some of the essentials for catching the perfect grouper to feed your family and friends!

Where do you catch grouper in the Keys?

Grouper are well-known bottom feeders. Young grouper can be found in shallow waters, but if you’re looking for keepers, you’ll have to venture out to nearshore and offshore reefs.

Grouper Bait

Any fisherman will tell you that grouper are not very picky about their food, so frozen and fresh are both good choices. The top baits for grouper include sardines, squid, and pinfish. Squid can be bought frozen at any bait shop. Pinfish and sardines are commonly caught by cast net and used whole or chopped.

a close up of a fish
Squid make for incredible grouper bait

Grouper Season

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, grouper are managed differently in Gulf vs Atlantic and state vs federal waters. Gulf state waters are 9 nautical miles off shore, Atlantic state waters are 3 nautical miles off shore. Regulations vary based on species. Here are the seasons for each popular grouper species you would catch in the Keys.

Grouper Species Season Size/Bag Limit
Gag Grouper State: June 1-Dec 31
Federal: June 1-Dec 31
Black Grouper State: Open year-round
Federal: Closed Feb 1-March 31 seaward of 20 fathoms
Red Grouper State: Open year-round
Federal: Closed Feb 1-March 31 seaward of 20 fathoms
Scamp State: Open year-round
Federal: Closed Feb 1-March 31 seaward of 20 fathoms