The days are getting shorter, the air a little drier, and the temperature outside nothing but perfect. I am starting to get the fever, the grouper fever that is. The bait has started to move a bit and that means the grouper will not be far behind them.
Last week, I already caught some nice keeper grouper in 30 feet of water, and I know where I will be just after the next little cold push that comes our way.
This is definitely one of my favorite times of the year. The mullet start running the beaches, the threadfins ball up just offshore a bit, and the pinfish seem to be just about everywhere. This causes some of the best fishing action that our area gets, so try to keep the golf clubs up till the ladyfish and trout bite in January and get out to witness what the Gulf can offer this time of year.
I start my mornings just before the sun comes up by trolling deep diving plugs around rocky bottom areas and little ledges that hold these fish. When the sun is out a bit, I then switch to live bait and dead sardines and start working the harder bottom areas by either drifting or anchoring, and chumming the water with cut threadfin herring.
The biggest factor in grouper fishing is the hard bottom. If you are not over hard bottom then you are not catching grouper, so learn your bottom machines enough to at least know if the bottom is hard or soft. Once you learn this, then comes the tackle. Don’t over do it! Fifty-pound braided line with a 60-pound fluorocarbon leader is perfect in my opinion as long as your drag is set properly and you turn the fish quickly.
You will get considerably more hits using this tackle than sending down 100-pound mainline and a 150-pound leader. Keep your weight to a minimum and your hook size around a 6/0 or so, especially if you are using live bait. You want the bait to be as natural as possible, so the less restricted the bait is the better. You do want to have enough weight to make sure that you are fishing close to the bottom, but this time of year the grouper are in closer and a tail hooked pinfish the size of your hand for instance will swim down to 35 feet or so with no weight at all. So try it with a split shot or a rubber core weight first, and then add a larger weight if needed. Keep this in mind while you are fishing and see what works best for you. First things first, find the rocks and you will find the fish!
Once your grouper is on ice chillin’, then hit the market on your way home and pick up a few ingredients for this month’s mouth watering recipe!
Gulf grouper strudel with roasted red pepper cream
For the roasted red pepper cream sauce:
1 Spanish onion (diced small)
5 red bell peppers (roasted)
5 cloves of garlic (peeled and chopped)
1 ½ cups chicken stock
1 cup white wine (Chardonnay)
12-14oz. heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil, char, steep, peel and seed your peppers. In a medium sized pot start sweating off your Spanish onion and garlic with a touch of olive oil on medium heat. Once the onions and garlic are slightly brown, add the peeled and seeded peppers along with the white wine and the chicken stock. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and let this mixture reduce until about 1/3 of the liquid remains (about an hour and a half).
Next, puree this mixture in a food processor until smooth. Place the mixture back in the pot on low heat, add your cream and let cook for about 30-45 minutes.
For the strudel:
3-4 yellow squash (fine julienne)
2-3 zucchini (fine julienne)
2 shallots (fine julienne)
1 red bell pepper (fine julienne)
5-6 carrots (fine julienne)
6 ounces of mushrooms (sliced thin)
¼ cup fresh chopped parsley
6 4-ounce grouper pieces
1 package phyllo dough (available in grocery store freezer section)
1 ½ lbs. butter (melted)
Cut the julienne vegetables with a mandolin or a chef’s knife and set aside in separate piles for even cooking. Next, slice your mushrooms thin and also set them aside. Take a sauté pan, get it screaming hot and cook off each veggie for less than 1 minute with a touch of olive oil.
After each veggie is flash cooked lay them out on a sheet pan and mix with a touch of salt and pepper along with the chopped parsley. Be careful to not over cook your veggies!
Wipe your pan out between each sauté session and when you have cooked every item, then place the sheet pan in the fridge until needed.
Next, take your grouper filets and season with salt and pepper and sear them at extremely high heat (about 30 seconds per side if your pan is hot enough). Lay these to the side and get ready to assemble your strudels.
Clean off a flat work surface and melt your butter. Cut down the phyllo sheet on the end by about 3 inches and discard. Start laying down the phyllo dough and butter each layer. Build this layer with butter and phyllo until you have roughly eight layers.
Next, place a portion of veggies on the phyllo and then the seared grouper piece on top of the veggie mixture. Fold the strudel up and place on a sheet pan for cooking. The built strudel if buttered and covered properly can be made a day ahead if needed.
When you are ready to cook, place them in a 425-degree oven for about 12-15 minutes. Place the roasted red pepper sauce on a plate, set the strudel on top and dig in.
I paired mine up with some nice grilled asparagus and the leftover Chardonnay from the sauce recipe. This turned into seconds with the food and the wine and I have a feeling that the same will happen to you!
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Seth and Astrid Hayes run Snookin ‘N Cookin, a Naples-based fishing charter company that also offers private dinners and parties. They can be reached at either (239) 994-1593, (239) 994-3253, via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or online at www.snookinncookin.com.