Captain George's Fishing Center and charter service



Sarde Howell with a nice inshore Gag Grouper
Sarde Howell with a nice inshore Gag Grouper
David's new friend
David's new friend
Grouper like this one Brian caught on light tackle are a tough fight
Grouper like this one Brian caught on light tackle are
a tough fight
When the weather cools, grouper move inshore and provide great fishing for anglers with smaller boats
When the weather cools, grouper move inshore and provide great fishing for anglers with smaller boats

Tommy and Cody with an 8lb gag grouper 11-20-2005


Keep hearing stories of the big one that got away? Sure, we all exaggerate a little when we get excited. During that moment when the fish is hooked and the rod bends down toward the depths, adrenalin begins to flow and our minds wonder about the possibilities of what monster just snapped the line on the wreck below. Fortunately for anglers here in Southwest Florida, there are lots of large fish living both inshore and further out in the gulf. Species like the goliath grouper inhabit a variety of areas common to recreational anglers. These oversized sea creatures are more than capable of starting some "big fish" stories.

Goliath grouper ( Epinephelus Itajara ) are the largest of the grouper family, reaching lengths of just over 8 feet and weighing as much as 800 pounds! It's not uncommon for anglers with the heaviest of tackle to catch fish between 200 and 400 pounds. Endangered on a worldwide level, the heart of their range begins right here and in Florida and extends south to Brazil. They are also found in the East Pacific from the Gulf of California to Peru, and on the west coast of Africa from Senegal to Congo. Stocky in build, the widths of these beasts are half as much as their total length. They are long lived with slow growth and reproduction rates. Ages have been confirmed at 37 years, and most scientists believe that 50 years would be a better time frame for their lifespan.

This large heathen begins its life as pelagic larvae, hatching from eggs to be swept away with the ocean currents. At this stage it looks more like a creature from the depths of a scary movie than a grouper. The main spines from the dorsal and pelvic fins are greatly elongated, possibly to act as "sails" to help it travel with the moving water. It feeds on small plankton until it becomes a benthic juvenile at about 25 days. From there, it takes a lot of eating to become a 500-pound tackle buster!

Maturity does not come quickly for goliath grouper. With such a long lifespan, males don't reach maturity until 4-6 years of age, and females even later at 6-7 years. Such slow growth and reproductive rates make the species much more susceptible to over harvesting, as it will take longer for them to replace the older, mature fish. Spawning occurs during the months of July, August, and September around the full moons.

One advantage the goliaths may have on their side is that they are believed to be protogynous hermaphrodites like their cousins the red and gag groupers. This means individuals that begin their lives as females are actually able to physically change sex at some point and become males. Not all females change however; usually environmental or population related issues prompt the transformation. Many protogynous hermaphrodites change because there is a lack of one gender in the population. Others usually have local populations that are run by an "alpha" fish of one gender that may need replacing, prompting the most mature member of the group to change and take over the area. The specifics of goliath grouper reproduction are not totally clear, but the ability of a species to change gender would clearly help it reproduce under less than ideal circumstances.

In their early years, goliaths live in the middle of the food chain. Natural predators include sharks, barracudas, king mackerel, moray eels, and even other grouper. Once maturity reaches, and the goliaths begin reaching weights counted in the hundreds, their only predator is man. Taking refuge in and around heavy structure like reefs, wrecks, and bridge and dock pylons, these adults can be very territorial. A goliath grouper will often flare its large mouth and shake its body in order to intimidate other creatures trespassing in its area. They are also able to make a low rumbling noise from their swim bladder; this is used both to intimidate other creatures, and to locate other members of the same species.

It would be very hard to reach sizes approaching half a ton without having a healthy appetite, and goliath grouper are opportunistic feeders to say the least. With very large mouths, several gallons of water can be instantly consumed, along with helpless prey that never knew the well-camouflaged predator was there. This method is particularly useful in catching spiny lobsters, one of the goliath's favorite snacks. Most fish that venture too close cannot even escape the sudden vacuum created when the grouper opens its mouth. Like other grouper species, goliaths will also chase prey such as fish for short distances. Extra rows of bottom teeth help grab larger, faster fish such as snapper, crevalle jacks, and other grouper.

Excelling at eating this variety of sea life also means trying a few human offerings every now and then. Keeping or taking possession of goliath grouper is prohibited, as they are a protected species. If you do catch one, even a small juvenile, do every thing in your power to ensure you release it unharmed. With larger ones, use caution not to damage the spine or organs by bending the heavy fish over the side of the boat. Also their small eyes can be easily damaged if the weight of the fish presses them against something. These fish are made to live in the water; the forces of gravity can be very damaging if not applied evenly and carefully.

Every year a few monster goliaths are caught under the Sanibel Causeway, as well as the old phosphate docks of Boca Grande. These fish are accessible to small boaters, and even shore fisherman. They are year round residents, and have surely frustrated many anglers un-equipped to battle such a large foe. Remember that next time your friends come back from the Sanibel Pier saying they hooked a fish that was 5 feet may have been longer!


Keep On Pluggin'

Capt. George Howell


Home | Services | Goliath Grouper Fishing Trips | Charters | Fish Photos | Tides | Contact | Valid CSS!
Copyright © 2010
Captain George's Fishing Charter, Florida Captain George's Fishing Charter, Florida Captain George's Fishing Charter, Florida