The Black Grouper is one of the most popular Key West game fish because it gives a hard fight and is delicious.
Black Grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci)
(Florida Record 113lbs. 6oz.) The Black Grouper is one of the many members of the Grouper family, a variety of fish that have long been popular as game and table fish. The Black Grouper is a large fish, and most that are caught average a little over 2 feet in length. They can grow up to 52 inches long and weigh up to 179 pounds. Most of their growth occurs during their first ten years of life, but they can live over 30 years.
The Black Grouper has an oblong body shape and a large head with a protruding lower jaw and prominent canine teeth. The body is olive or gray-colored, with dark rectangular blotches and small hexagonal bronze spots on the head and lower side. The borders of the soft dorsal, anal, and tail fins are black or bluish, and there is sometimes an orange color along the edge of the pectoral fins.
Black Grouper Habitat and Behavior
The Black Grouper is a solitary fish that is associated with rocky bottoms and coral reef environments, but it is not dependent on them. Black Groupers mainly live near the surface at depths ranging from 19 to 108 feet, and juveniles can be found in seagrass beds off of the coast of Florida. Black Groupers range in the western Atlantic as far north as Massachusetts, and south to southern Brazil, but it is most common in the southern Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean.
Black Groupers are ambush feeders, and they like to have a hole where they can hide and wait for prey. Adult Black Groupers feed primarily on smaller reef fishes including grunts, snapper, and herrings, and they also feed on crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs. Juvenile black groupers feed only on crustaceans.
All Black Groupers are born as females, with some of the fish changing from female to male later in life so that the species can reproduce. This process occurs when the fish reach a size of about 39 – 48 inches long. Black Groupers are reproductively active from November through May.
Fishing for Black Grouper
Grouper fishing usually involves baits fished just off the bottom on or near structures such as reefs, wrecks, or rocks. Black Grouper are plentiful around such structure, and they bite readily when large baits are lowered. Live fish and cut or whole dead bait can be used. All Groupers are known for their strength when hooked, and the Black is no exception, so fairly heavy tackle will be needed to bring one to the surface.
Since Black Grouper always live near structure, when hooked they will try to run for their shelter, and a fish of 20 pounds or more will usually be able to get into its hole unless the angler is ready to keep it out with heavy tackle and plenty of strength. When a fish does make it into the structure, a common technique is to let the line go slack, which may cause the fish to eventually emerge back into open water where it can be fought. Larger fish frequent deeper waters, and hooking one of these brutes will result in a serious battle.