Offshore Fishing in Florida’s Nature Coast for Grouper and Snapper
Offshore Fishing for Gag Grouper and Mangrove Snapper with Reel Gulf Predator Charters
We met Captains Tom and Chris of Reel Gulf Predator Charters before dawn at the Clark Street Boat ramp in Hudson, Florida. We were staying in St. Pete, about 45 minutes south of where we were fishing. An early wake-up, a quick breakfast, and leave the bananas at home.
Mike Rodriguez, who we went bass fishing with on Lake Tarpon earlier in the week joins us, and we head out as dawn begins to break.
We pass shrimpers, dolphins, through thick fog, and glassy water as we jet out around 30 miles or so to the grouper fishing ground. Reel Gulf Charters has a gulf offshore fishing permit – one of only 1000 federal permits to fish the gulf offshore from Florida to Texas. These permits are highly sought after, so finding a charter with the right offshore licensing is key if you want to experience true offshore gulf fishing. We pick up some bait from traps they set earlier and jet.
We ran for about 45 minutes or so and put a trolling line the water. Reel Gulf Predator operates a beast Dakota 36’ center console that makes light work of covering water. Trolling lines in the water and it isn’t long before the calm water breaks with grouper on the plug. A keeper, nice 26 incher and we’re on the board. Soon enough, Mike is on the next one – his first fish caught in saltwater! Another keeper. Feels like it’s going to be a banner day. 24 inches is a keeper grouper, over 30” is a big fish.
We get to our first spot where Tom and Chris drop the trolling motor and we hold over some rocks. We’re prepped on how to hold the rod in the crook of your armpit before the take. As all of us hadn’t caught grouper, we were soon to find out why we needed the schooling. Our arms were sore for a few days after, if it’s any indication. We set up the rods and get the lines in the water.
We started bottom fishing, and almost immediately, we started getting hits from grouper. The fish have a huge first hit – and then once hooked – will try to bury you in the rocks or break you off. It’s a wild first 10 seconds fighting what feels like a bull. With light tackle, this is an exhilarating style of fishing! Then, you still have to wrestle the fish up from the deep.
Chris, AKA Snappa Slappa, makes his own jigs for grouper, and they are working their magic. Nearly every dropped bait gets a hit. We start fishing with bait runner setups and free-swimming baits. Another level of fun when the free-swimming bait gets slammed by a big grouper.
At this point, we’ve limited out. The biggest of the day is a 32 incher – that’s a Real Big Fish. Time to queue the Ska. As Chris said, we “had our limit early and must’ve released 30+ keepers caught after – with some monsters over 30 inches that got to swim free for another day.” Talk about a full day. We decided to motor to another spot to catch some mangrove snapper, as it’s on the way back in and we’re still well offshore.
We’re in the snapper, also catching some trigger fish, but still catching big grouper. We all have a hang of it and Captains Tom and Chris are helping everyone make sure we’re catching the most fish possible.
Sore arms and full coolers, we start the run back to land, with speakers blaring. A great day.
We get back to the slip in Hudson and Tom and Chris clean the grouper we caught. We went home with a freezer full of grouper and a delicious meal. Blackened grouper and an early bedtime after a great day offshore fishing on the Natural Coast of Florida with Reel Gulf Predator Charters.