By Cameron Kirkconnell
How to engage this elusive predator of the coral reefs.
No matter how good you become as a spearfisherman, the black grouper or carbo (as it is called deep off the Gulf Coast) is a tough, smart and all-around fantastic fish to hunt.
How do you put one in the boat?
The two biggest black grouper I’ve ever seen landed were in completely different situations and required completely separate skill sets to land. Black grouper have a pretty set personality; in other words, 90 percent of them are going to act exactly the same. The other 10 percent are the well-educated ones that you and your buddies have already shot at a few times and more than likely that fish is going to have to make a pretty big mistake to end up in the boat.
So, I encourage you to let them make that mistake.
Dive bomb black grouper.
When you see a black out in the open on the bottom, position yourself as near as possible directly above them and drop straight down. He knows you are there. He has since you got in the water and the only reason he is still there is curiosity. He’s waiting to confirm if you are a threat or just another turtle or ray he can hang out with to get a free meal when they land and stir up the bottom.
Breath up, make a quiet surface entry, and start your descent. He’s watching you and fanning his fins slowly looking straight up at you. Because your profile is only your head and shoulders descending it is relatively small and chances are the sun is behind you throwing off his depth and distance perception, so close the distance steadily. If you can get within shooting range, extend smoothly with the gun and pull the trigger in one fluid motion. Sounds easy, and it should be. But pay attention to how the fish is acting to time your trigger pull. When he stops fanning his fins, and stiffens up, he’s getting ready to bolt, so take your shot.
From the moment you leave the surface, never take your eyes off the fish. This is a common mistake freedivers make because most freedive instructors don’t spearfish and teach tucking your chin. Well, you can’t see with your chin tucked and I’m not as worried about diving deep, I’m focused on putting fish in the boat and if you are looking for him after you’ve dropped down you are wasting valuable time and air and giving him a better chance to spook when you reposition to line up for a shot.
If the water is murky, it’s the same—once you see the fish, keep your eyes locked on.
With a good drop, often you can get a shot before they move. Aim for the head just between the eye and top of the gill and as soon as you shoot, “break” them off the bottom a few feet. By “breaking” I mean put immediate pressure on the shooting line and pull the fish off the bottom. All you need is 5 feet and then you can let line out on your reel or pay the float line out through your hands. The fish doesn’t have to rise any farther but you can go to the surface and he doesn’t have the chance to go in the rocks.
This is an acquired skill and guys and girls that are good at this generally are fantastic lobster divers as well. Never look in a hole without the gun pointed in front of you where you are looking. Nothing else matters if you aren’t ready to shoot. Often a split second is all you have to line up on a big fish and if you aren’t ready, well, it’s just another fish story.
Black Grouper Notes
Pay attention to the regulations. Grouper season is open through Dec. 31 on the east coast; it closes January 1 until May 1. Gulfside, black grouper is open year-round, but the related species, gag, closes January 1. Gags and blacks can be hard to tell apart.
Two big things to keep in mind when you hunt black grouper: Number one, the minimum size in Florida is 24 inches which is a pretty good size fish in the water. If he looks undersized, he probably is, so let him grow. He’ll be there next year. Secondly, these fish in the Caribbean are known to carry ciguatera poisoning. The best way to know which fish have it is to ask the locals. As a general rule, groupers under 30 pounds rarely have it and I’ve eaten them up to 80 pounds. It all depends on where they’re from. FS
First Published in Florida Sportsman Magazine October 2016