I stumbled upon this technique by accident while targeting Snook and Tarpon at night around local bridges. This time of year, large breeder snook are finishing their migration inshore to back water wintering areas and the last few lingering tarpon stage and feed on the last few schools of herring and sardines left at the bridges. Recently, while trying to target these fish on a full moon, we ran multiple bridges looking for surface snook or tarpon activity, but came up empty handed.
I opted to drop down a 3/4oz Barbarian Jig Head and Hogy 10inch Original in silver to see if anything was feeding on the bottom in 18′ – 24′ of water. On the second cast parallel to the fender system, as I worked my bait slowly across the bottom, I felt the solid thump of what I thought was a decent snook. After a few bull dogging head shakes, I realized I had hooked up on a feisty gag grouper. This one turned out to be just over 23″ and full of energy.
Of course when something seems to work, you’d better try it again. Low and behold, three casts later, another heavy thump on my jigging Hogy yielded a very respectable gag grouper, about 15lbs. I’ve been on many offshore adventures down here (Florida) and have been happy to find grouper that size 30 miles offshore.
Winter Grouper Staging Patterns
Here in Florida, winter time signals an inshore migration of gag grouper. Any piece of structure within a short distance of deep water will probably hold reasonably sized gags. Currently, gag grouper are prohibited to harvest in the winter months, but a quick fight, photo and healthy release are a good way to enjoy this seasonal fishery.
Searching around large man made structures close to the coast are a good place to start. In this case, we were fishing the Causeway Bridges going to Sanibel Island.
Barbarian Jig Heads: Choose the lightest size jig head needed to maintain contact with the bottom. Generally, when fishing inshore, 1oz or less is plenty, although certain deep water ports may require weights up to 3 or more ounces to maintain contact with the bottom.
Hogy 10inch Original Series: For several years now, the 10inch Original has been one of my top baits to jig for grouper. The eel like profile and wiggling action proves to be irrefutable for multiple grouper species. I usually use solid black, but this night fishing inshore at night, the 10inch sliver colored bait proved to be hot.
Night time presentations need to be slowed way down for any species. Predators expect to sneak up and ambush prey at night with out them noticing presence. So a slow, rhythmic retrieve works best. I had the best luck working baits within 18″ of the bottom, really working the pauses and being ready to set the hook when beginning a new lift with the rod.
Rod: 8′ Temple Fork Outfitters XH Swim Bait
Reel: Shimano Saragosa 8000
Line: 60lb PowerPro Super Slick Braid
Leader: 80lb Monofilament
Connection: Spider Hitch in my main line (braid) tied to the mono using an albright special knot with a loop knot to the Barbarian Jig Head.