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Catch (and Keep) a Slot Goliath

Pulled a permit to keep a goliath grouper this spring? Here are tips for finding slot-size fish.

Catch (and Keep) a Slot Goliath

The author releases a goliath grouper. With the correct permit, tag and reporting, a slot limit fish would be eligible for harvest this month and next.


On one hand, anglers have been complaining that goliath grouper are ruining inshore wreck and reef fishing. It’s a common refrain: Can’t get a snapper or grouper to the surface before a goliath grouper helps itself to the catch. On the other hand, in 2023 when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) opened a limited lottery for keeping a goliath, only 26 tag holders out of 200 were successful at catching one.

There’s a tight slot limit on goliaths: 24 to 36 inches. It’s obvious that many of the goliaths (fully protected since 1990) robbing anglers on the reefs are way bigger than that. Might it be that anglers aren’t fishing where the slot-size goliath are? Captain Tim Simos, in Fort Pierce, suggests that might be the case.

“If I’m targeting slot-size goliaths, I’m not looking for them in the ocean or nearshore reefs and wrecks,” he said. “That’s where you are generally catching the larger fish. If you want a slot fish, focus just inside the inlet on the edges of the channel, in 15 feet of water or so, or on one of the first bridges you come to.”

According to the FWC, a 36-inch goliath is approximately four to five years old. At 24 inches, the fish is two to four years old. During the 2023 season, the average goliath harvested was 31 inches.

Records from last year show most fish (22) were taken in Collier and Monroe counties. Eleven fish were harvested in Collier County (42 percent). Ten fish were harvested in Monroe County (38 percent). One goliath was reported from each of the following counties: St. Lucie, Manatee, Volusia, and Indian River. State waters of Martin County (including the St. Lucie River) south through the Atlantic coast of the Keys are closed to harvest. Also closed are Dry Tortugas National Park and all federal waters.

Simos said he feels he could catch a slot-size goliath on eight out of 10 trips. “If the water is super clear, your chances of catching a large goliath go down, but not so much with the smaller slot-size fish,” he explained.

Simos said your best shot is to downsize your bait, going with a pinfish or mullet. But, with the chance of still catching a much larger goliath, he recommends not going too small with your terminal tackle or rod and reel.

“A large spinning reel such as a PENN 6500 or 7500 spooled with 80-pound braid should handle a slot or slightly over-slot grouper,” he said. “From the braid, I’ll tie on 9 to 10 feet of 200- to 400-pound test leader. For a hook targeting a slot-size goliath, I’d go with an Eagle Claw 8/0 to 11/0 black or bronze circle hook.

“You’re generally not fishing too deep for the smaller fish, so two or three ounces of weight is sufficient. I’ve used knocker rigs with the weight sliding down to the bait. And I have used waxed nylon to secure the sinker three feet away from the bait. In either case, I avoid using swivels.”

Simos has one final tip: “If I had a choice, I’d fish the incoming tide.”

Goliath Grouper Harvest Program

Map of Florida
FWC image
  • Season: Through May 31
  • Bag Limit: 1 fish per person, with permit and tag.
  • Slot Limit: 24 to 36 inches, total length.
  • Post-Harvest Requirement: Must apply goliath tag to lower jawbone and report harvest data within 24 hours via www.gooutdoorsflorida.com or through the Fish|Hunt app.
  • When to Apply for Next Year: October 1-15 will be the next round of permit lottery applications. Note: It’s $10 to apply, and if awarded, $150 for Florida 
residents, $500 for non-residents. Expensive, but not far off the cost of a limited-entry alligator hunt permit.

  • This article was featured in the April issue of Florida Sportsman magazine. Subscribe now.



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