Gender Bender

It's disturbing. All grouper start life as females, then some of them turn into males. But when you think of how tasty a grouper sandwich is - and how many you can get out of a 100-pound warsaw - a don't-ask/don't-tell policy makes lots of sense. No matter which sex or species of grouper you're after, they all have some things in common that should simplify your approach. Unlike most gamefish, grouper tend to stay in one spot, which makes it easy to predict their whereabouts. There are also some basic techniques that will keep them on the hook. The majority of mature grouper can be found in deep rocky water or around wrecks. Dr. Bob Shipp, author of Guide to Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico, says, "Rocky outcroppings at depths of 70 to 400 feet with water temperatures in the 60-to-68-degree range will usually hold grouper." And any place you find one grouper usually has more. Shipp points out that large males have harems of many smaller females, so catching lots of small ones may mean there's a huge one lurking nearby.

Okay, now you know where they are. The next step is getting the big ones to the boat. Use big bait for big fish, and forget about finesse - set the hook hard as soon as you feel a hit and keep the pressure on until the fish is well off the bottom. You might yank the hook away from a few grouper, but you'll get more of your hookups boated this way. Maybe those big grouper get so big by grabbing a bait and then running with it back into the rocks or wreck, where your line often gets cut. Keep the line tight and the drag set hard, so you can horse them away from the snags.