On The Hook: Goliath gagging

BILL WALSH
Submitted by Bryan Fluech
Collier County Extension Director/Florida Sea Grant Extension Agent
 
The goliath grouper; one of the worst predators on earth consuming fish being retrieved by anglers.

Submitted by Bryan Fluech Collier County Extension Director/Florida Sea Grant Extension Agent The goliath grouper; one of the worst predators on earth consuming fish being retrieved by anglers.

The Moran's made reservations for a charter trip the first week in July to coincide with the announced opening of the gag grouper season.That doesn't sound unusual, right? But how about if they made them last December and then proceeded to check in with me via email at least five or six times in the interim. This couple was obviously loco over the gag grouper. As well they should be, there is little seafood more delectable than a fresh gag grouper filet prepared same day caught; mouth watering.

So when July 3 dawned, they were at the marina before I was. Weather was hot but wind was under control, at least early morning, so sea conditions to our gag grouper spots some seven miles southwest of Capri Pass would be comfortable.

As they ducked out to get a cup of coffee, the boat was fueled and loaded with chum, fresh shrimp and bait squid; armed and ready to go at the appointed eight a.m. start time.

The Moran's were excited at finally getting their long awaited chance at some great gag fishing. Even knowing they each were limited to two gags with a minimum size of 22 inches didn't faze them a bit. They described how they would flash freeze the fillets not wolfed down that evening and would enjoy a grouper feast weekly until they'd have to fish again.

Our first stop was on the first reefs just off the South Seas complex in 20' of water. We hoisted some light rods with tiny hooks and filled the bait tank with a nice supply of lively pinfish and a few small grunts.

Everything was proceeding par excellence so far.

We headed for a small fishing boat wreck some seven miles out in 45 feet of water. The GPS coordinates had been in my equipment but seldom used for these past few years, as our norm near shore was limited to the two to five mile spots; but today had been planned as an exception.

Seas were flat, water clean and green as we honed in on the coordinates. When "Distance To Go" hit 50 feet the wreck literally jumped on the fish finder screen and I tossed the marker. We were there, all alone here with but a few boats on the distant horizon.

As we set the chum, I cautioned the Moran's that we were somewhat inside the deeper federal waters that started at nine miles offshore, so we certainly would see our share of smaller gags to release but had a better than even chance of accomplishing a limit catch over the span of the trip.

We baited the big rods with frisky pinfish and went to the bottom. It didn't take long. Both had major strikes and were exercised bringing two formidable gag grouper alongside. A quick trip to the ruler said we had twins, both 20 inches and releasable. We tossed the first back and it exited stage right quickly. The second, not quite as swift, was enveloped with a creature the size of a Volkswagen.

Edith Moran was aghast. "What was that … a manatee?"

"Not quite" was my metered response.

Before we set bait in the water, I went through a lecture on the goliath grouper, one of the worst predators on earth consuming fish being retrieved by anglers.

By way of a quick history: Before 1990 these gigantic fish (Florida record 680 lbs.) were over harvested mainly by spear fishing and stocks decimated to near extinction. Authorities imposed a ban on any harvest in 1990, some 22 years ago. In the interim, none have been legally taken in Florida, and thus the Goliath Grouper aka Jewfish; have proliferated into an immense biomass that stalks the "easy catch" of any fish being retrieved by anglers.

Enough of the narrative. Over the next hour, Jim and Edith Moran got a bellyful of the Goliath. They began recording the steals. It was 30 steals of big and little grouper and they had only managed to slip one harvestable size gag through the melee.

We decided to move to a spot that we could drift over hard bottom that we hoped would not hold the concentration of goliaths.

We moved to some hard bottom that showed pronounced ledges and outcroppings on the finder that was just inside the nine mile limit. Our live bait had been expended on the first spot, so we were downsized to using cut squid and sardines.

Edith's rod went off with a bang 10 minutes into the new venture. Sure enough we landed a nice 25-inch gag all fat and sassy. Hope soared that we had vacated the goliath lair. That euphoria lasted all of five minutes as Jim had a Goliath repeat on a major retrieve. So, the goliath had found us and we were at the battle again.

The Moran's were doing herculean work trying to retrieve 8-plus lb gag grouper at breakneck speed to outrun the goliaths. We stopped counting the steals but I'll bet we lost another 20 grouper to the goliaths on the drifts.

We moved once more and were able to land one take home gag before the goliath gang took over. With that our day was over and we headed home with just three grouper in the box.

Discussion on the way back home was focused on the mornings encounters with goliath grouper. I recounted our Charter Associations efforts, some five years back, to assist the federal/state authorities in working out at least a controlled minimally invasive harvest of these destructive creatures; yes, destructive; many captains have personal experiences of these Goliaths taking highly protected species like snook near shore.

The worst for me might be the day we landed a 50-pound class goliath near shore Marco and had it disgorge a belly full of baby loggerhead turtles boat side.

Jim was incensed. Why doesn't government do something?

Reminded him of the now famous Beltway axiom of "Never let a crisis go to waste."

Maybe this is just a prolonged "crisis."

Capt. Bill Walsh owns an established Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a current U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments or questions to dawnpatrolcharters@compuserve.com.

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Comments » 4

SkeeterBeater writes:

I have heard of People catching and killing the ones that hang around under certain Docks , Just so They can catch a Fish there.
Shame as They are good to eat.... From what I,ve heard...

fortl writes:

So you helped kill 30+ to get your three?
And slaughtered how many baitfish?
All for your precious charter fee.
You deserve to have to go over 9 miles to find a fish.
I think you all have fished yourself out.
Pig

josbergers writes:

AHH I remember the days before the ban on Goliath.
I was a kid in the 60's fishing with my Grandpop on a head boat in Ft. Myers
They must have caught 20 plus of the big boys.
I thought then... there was at least 2 or 3 other head boats going out that day. If they all caught this many, OK (Jewfish) they wont last long.

Then in the eighties.. Yea, I'm Getting old, My brother caught a 300 lb one.

You know what we did with it? We donated it the the church fish fry. (It was probably Lent)

So I am sure it was wrong to over-fish the big boys, But, lets open it up during Lent. One per boat limit.
Let see what that does.

Native
Phil Josberger

ratsnake writes:

Like all of nature, there's a balance. Maybe under-harvesting can be just as bad as over-harvesting.

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