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Grouper Trolling Keeps It Cool

On the move to boat great-eating grouper.


Hotter weather means hot red grouper fishing out of the Big Bend. Find the fish and land them by trolling them up.

Captain Brian Smith of Big Bend Charters in Steinhatchee has a big boat, a 32 Twin Vee, and a lot of water to himself in the summer—about a 40-mile run to the grouper grounds. His general plan for a summer day includes live-caught pinfish, frozen threadfins, cutbaits, speed jigs and a breezy return in time to hit the scallop grounds to cool off and stock up on bivalves.

“Normally in the hot months, that’s red grouper season,” says Smith, “and there are big red grouper out there, up to 17 pounds.” A lot of hungry ones, I might add, after fishing with Smith and his crew last summer.
In preparing this month’s feature article on Steinhatchee and the neighboring Big Bend coastline, we decided this issue wouldn’t be complete without covering the grouper techniques used there.

Out there in the 80-foot zone, it’s the hard flat lime rock with live corals and soft sponges. Most of it is that swiss-cheese bottom with cracks and crevices that don’t really show up on the sonar, Smith says, but the fish are there. They move around a bit, but if you find a productive spot it should hold fish from year to year. Traditionally, it’s been about drifting and hunting. You can also troll up those big reds for smashing hits and fast action in the hot summer.

Smith likes to deep-troll, using a 24-ounce trolling weight to get down plugs like the Bomber Long A, with its small lip that keeps it running straight. He’ll also run a 20-ounce trolling lead and a 3 ½-inch Drone Spoon. Other anglers choose big-lipped diving plugs, but Smith has confidence in the sinker-lure combo.

Optimal trolling speed will vary from day to day with the changes in current and depth. As a rough guide, take the testing experience Smith provided while using a line-counting trolling reel outfit in 85-foot depths. That day, at 3 knots and with 100 feet of 50-pound Power-Pro line out, the Bomber lure didn’t quite stay in touch with the bottom, but at 2.1 knots, it was in the money. Picking back up to 3 knots, he had to let the lure out 180 feet to near the bottom, and found that trolling as much as 520 feet of line was best to keep the lure in close proximity to the bottom, where the red grouper hang.

On a second trolling line, he used a No. 6 planer with 15 to 20 feet of 60-pound leader and a Mann’s Stretch 30 lure. To get deeper with the Mann’s, he’ll troll faster and let more line out, going as fast as 5.5 knots to get the lure scratching the bottom in 65 feet of water.

“I like going with doubled braid straight to the plug to get deeper, more consistently,” Smith says. “A mono leader will affect the depth the plug trolls.” He adds, “In the spring and fall I put a 3-foot section of No. 5 wire on for the kings. In the fall for gags, and in the winter, I’ll slow down my troll to about 4 knots.” FS