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Few families of fish are as widely appreciated throughout Florida and the islands as the Snappers. The reason is a happy (for the successful angler) combination of gameness and table appeal, plus their willingness to take a variety of baits. Despite their appetites, however, most Snappers can be among the wariest of biters when visibility is good enough to permit a close look at terminal tackle.
All the Snappers are hard fighters that generally wage a strong, head-shaking tug-of-war against the angler, and those caught in shallow water are also capable of making long and surprisingly fast runs. Numerous members of the family occur from the inshore shallows to as far out in the ocean depths as man will ever fish.
With only a couple of exceptions, noted in the descriptions, the Snappers can be identified as family members by their prominent canine teeth. Some, the Gray or Mangrove Snapper in particular, routinely snap at the angler’s hands with apparent viciousness—a habit that gave rise to the family name. Another family characteristic is a generally bright coloration, heavy on yellow and various shades of red.
Along all coasts of Florida and the Bahamas, from inshore cuts and holes out to the deepest water fishable by hook and line, Groupers of various sorts are among the most popular and widely available of gamefish. Their great variety is seen not only in the sheer number of species, but also in the many different approaches taken in fishing for them, and the seemingly endless array of baits and lures that are productive.
Although they rank as the No. 1 pets of offshore bottom fishermen, huge numbers of Grouper are also caught by casters and trollers. In many situations, they even respond well to fly casting. All Groupers belong to the same family, Serranidae, but can be divided into two broad categories that are identifiable by general appearance. Those belonging to the genus Epinephelus—typified by the Goliath and Red Grouper—are chunky and deep-bodied, whereas those belonging to the genus Mycteroperca—typified by the Gag and Black Groupers—are considerably more streamlined. Mycteroperca Groupers—at least the very large specimens—are more often implicated in Ciguatera poisoning (see Introduction) than the Epinephelus group. But all this need not cause Florida anglers any great concern, since most catches are of small to medium fish.