September 27, 2023
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In 2023 FWC opened up goliath grouper to a limited harvest. Not since 1990 has any type of season or harvest been allowed for the species, when it was listed under the Endangered Species Act, and later downlisted to a species of concern.
I’d say concern for the species has continued, but if you ask a lot of anglers around the state about goliath grouper the concern you hear from them isn’t about the long-term viability of the species, it’s about whether or not they’re going to get their hooked snapper to the surface, past the biggest grouper on the reef.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) program was a good place to start, said Capt. Tim Simos, Ft. Pierce. But Tim went on to say that there’s a lot more room for harvesting larger fish. “Big goliath are the ones eating everything. Whether it’s ten goliaths on reef or 30,” he said.
Tim isn’t alone with thoughts about opening up the slot to include fish over 36 inches. But, FWC has opted to move forward with essentially the same program in 2024 as 2023, partially, I expect, due to 97% of survey respondents saying they were either very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the goliath harvest opportunity.
Goliath Grouper Harvest Statistics for 2023
So, we move forward with the same 24- to 36-inch slot for keeper fish. But, in 2023 when all 200 tags were awarded when the lottery was run and license holders were selected only 26 tag holders reported harvesting a fish, according to Emily Abellera, FWC Public Information Specialist.
I wonder why the catch rate for slot fish was so low? For a Florida resident to pony up $10 for the application and another $150 for the tag once selected, you’d think if slot-size fish were that abundant, we’d have a higher success rate.
One reason for the low catch rate could be you don’t look for the smaller fish in the same areas as the larger fish. Captain Simos, goliathguru.com, said, “For me on the east coast, if I’m targeting slot size goliath I’m not looking for them in the ocean or nearshore reefs and wrecks. That’s where you generally are catching the larger fish. If you want a slot fish, I’d 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.”
For starters, a 36-inch slot goliath grouper isn’t a small fish. Small goliath, yes, but not small compared to most inshore recreational catches. While fishing a patch reef just south of Looe Key, off Big Pine Key, in about 50 feet of water in August, I had a live bait on the bottom while we chummed and caught yellowtail snapper. After losing two snapper to sharks we were getting ready to move when the bottom rod doubled over.
My first and second thoughts were, damn, another shark. But, the mono leader held, as I strained to lift the very heavy shark to the surface. I was using appropriate tackle, an 8000 PENN Clash Spinner loaded with 50-braid mounted to a heavy PENN jigging rod so I figured I could best the beast and get my hook back.
As we got color, my brother-in-law, Al Cowan, yelled, “There’s a goliath going after your shark!” After a couple more deadlifts it proved to be the other way around, the shark was going after the goliath, which I was hooked up to.
And as we pulled the hook, we measured the goliath right at 36 inches. I instantly had a newfound respect for a slot-size goliath. I suddenly was absolutely fine with never catching a grouper any bigger.
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 harvest season, the average size goliath harvested was 31 inches.
When I asked the FWC where most of the caught fish came from, they said that most fish (22) were harvested from Collier and Monroe counties. Eleven fish were harvested in Collier County (42%). Ten fish were harvested in Monroe County (38%). One fish was reported from each of the following counties: St. Lucie, Manatee, Volusia and Indian River.
So, based on last year I probably don’t need to promote the idea of entering the lottery to catch a goliath, but maybe should dig around for tips on catching a slot-size fish.
How to Catch a Slot-Sized Goliath Grouper
Simos, the goliathguru, was willing to provide some intel. He said that he felt he could catch a slot-size fish on eight out of ten 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,” Tim said.
As for your bait for the smaller goliath, Tim said your best shot is to downsize your bait, going with a smaller live bait such as a pinfish or smaller mullet. But, with the chance of still catching a much larger goliath, Tim recommended 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,” Tim said. “From the braid, I’ll then tie on 9 to 10 feet of 200- to 400-pound leader. For a hook targeting a slot-sized 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 generally two or three ounces of weight is sufficient. I’ve used knocker rigs, with the weight sliding down right to the bait. And I’ve used waxed nylon to secure the sinker three feet away from the bait. In either case, I avoid using swivels,” Tim said.
“During the first goliath season I was contacted by an angler who drew a tag and we caught his fish in the first hour of the day,” Tim said. “But, then we didn’t catch another the entire day while fun-fishing.”
The goliathguru’s final tip to me: “If I had a choice I’d fish the incoming tide.”
For more information see: https://myfwc.com/license/recreational/saltwater-fishing/goliath-grouper-harvest-permit/
Goliath Grouper Harvest Permit 2024: What You Need to Know
A Goliath Grouper Harvest Permit is a type of limited entry permit required to participate in the Goliath Grouper Harvest Program.
Each successful applicant will receive a goliath grouper harvest permit with a designated harvest area, and a physical tag, authorizing the harvest of one goliath grouper. The goliath grouper harvest period opens on March 1 through May 31, 2024.
Applicants who are awarded a Goliath Grouper Harvest Permit will be charged automatically. The permit, tag, and additional information will be mailed to the successful applicant no later than one month prior to the start of the harvest period.
Application Dates: October 1-15, 2023. 200 permits will be made available.
The application period will begin at 10 a.m. eastern on the first day of the application period and run through midnight on the last day.
Bag Limit: 1 fish per person during open season, with permit and tag.
Slot Limit: 24-inches to 36-inches, total length.
Season Date: March 1 through May 31.
Cost Application: $10.00 (Charged at time of application)
Goliath Grouper Harvest Permit and tag for verified Florida Residents: $150.00
Goliath Grouper Harvest Permit and tag for Non-Residents: $500.00
Applications and Permit Issuance: Applicants may submit one application per category but may only receive one permit. If an applicant is successfully awarded a Category I permit, they will not be included in the Category II random drawing. Permit categories:
- Category I: Allows harvest in all open areas, including Everglades National Park
- Category II: Allows harvest in all open areas, excluding Everglades National Park
Transferability: Goliath Grouper Harvest Permits are not transferable.
How to Apply: Applicants can apply online at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com (sign on and choose “Apply for Limited Entry/Quota Permits”) or at any license agent or tax collector’s office. Applicants may submit an application for both permit categories.
Drawing Results: Drawing results will be posted to customer accounts at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.
How to Get the Permit: All successful applicants can expect to receive their Goliath Grouper Harvest Permit and tag no later than one month prior to the start of the harvest period.
Reporting Requirements: A person who harvests a goliath grouper under a Goliath Grouper Harvest Permit must:
- Immediately apply a goliath tag to the lower jawbone of the harvested goliath
- Report harvest within 24 hours at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com, through the Fish|Hunt Florida app on Apple and Android devices, or by calling 888-486-8356.
- Provide a biological sample of such goliath grouper if required by the terms of the permit.
A person who has been issued a Goliath Harvest Permit and does not harvest a goliath grouper must report that no harvest occurred to the Commission’s harvest reporting system within 24 hours after the assigned harvest period closes.
For more information see: https://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/goliath/#harvest