Gag grouper are such a great fish to target. They are one of two local grouper species that grow up inshore (Goliath grouper are the other). The juveniles are common in areas with a combination of seagrass and hard structure such as oyster bars. They were often caught by fishermen years ago before size limits were a thing, and the old-timers called them grass grouper.
Even as adults, gags occasionally return to the shallows, and we can find legal-size gags sometimes in the Harbor and along the Intracoastal Waterway. Alligator Creek Reef and Cape Haze Reef hold a few fish, but it’s a lot of work and takes plenty of luck to catch a keeper. Sometimes the holes in the center of the Harbor and the washboard bottom from Marker 6 out to Boca Grande will also hold gags.
There are also rocky areas where gags live in water as shallow as a few feet. Finding them takes some intense recon work, and no one ever reveals these spots once found. I can tell you there are more in Pine Island Sound than anywhere else.
The cool thing about gags besides their shallow habitat is the fact they can frequently be caught by trolling depth-specific lures in 20 to 60 feet of water. Rapala and other manufacturers make lures that go from 10 to 40 feet down with no need for a downrigger or planer.
Trolling is great for finding those secret little spots in the Gulf, and also for catching multiple species including kingfish, cobia and barracuda. It also keeps the air flowing over us on the boat. June is pretty hot, in case you haven’t noticed. Trolling speed for gags is about 3 to 5 miles per hour, roughly — just enough to keep you from roasting.
Braided line has much less line drag in the water than monofilament because it’s so much thinner. That means you can get your lures deeper by using braid. With a Rapala X-Rap Magnum 40, you can actually bounce bottom in 60-plus feet of water if you have enough line out.
Making this even more effective, gags are aggressive enough that they will come pretty far off the bottom to eat a bait: 10, 20 or even 30 feet up in the water column. If you do that math — 60 feet down for the lure, plus 30 feet up for the fish — you can troll for gag effectively in as much as 90 feet of water. Wow.
When you hook a gag, mark the spot and start doing small circles, widening your search to try to find the structure it was near. Gags don’t always sit right on top of structure, and are sometimes caught as far as 100 feet away from it. If you hook a red grouper, chances are you were right on top of some structure.
This Sunday is Father’s Day. As always, I’d like to thank my mom for being both mother and father while raising me after my dad was killed. If you’re fortunate enough to still have your father around, take this opportunity to do something nice for him. Thanks to all you dads for the hard work you do every day.
Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle, located at 4425-D Tamiami Trail in Charlotte Harbor and at 14531 N. Cleveland Ave. in North Fort Myers. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing info, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.