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The Grouper Fish: Prepare for them, find them and Identify Them

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The larger groupers like the goliath grouper, live in inshore waters and juveniles could be found around mangrove areas and estuaries, especially around oyster bars.

Groupers are members of the Serranidae family of sea bass. Unlike their name suggests, they are mostly non-schooling species that
generally gather in the same area. Many of the species live in warm seas and love the rocky shores and deep reefs. Groupers typically are tasty and are frequently caught by the use of rod and line.

It is interesting to know that some species of grouper can reverse sex later in life, i.e. transforming from male
to female. This may be as a result of evolution giving them a chance at survival.

Most groupers grow to sizes of 3 feet weighing about 30 pounds averagely but a few, such as the Warsaw and goliath grouper, can reach
sizes of about 8 feet and weigh about 800 pounds.

Where the groupers live

Groupers don’t go about in schools like other fish types and they lie resting camouflaged or inside cracks and holes. The adult grouper most commonly live in rocky bottoms, reefs, rocky ledges or undercuts, caves, and dropoffs. Smaller groupers are
commonly closer to shore and usually around seagrass beds.

The larger groupers like the goliath grouper, live in inshore waters and juveniles could be found around mangrove areas and estuaries, especially around oyster bars.

Groupers live as deep as between 10 and 100 feet over rocky bottoms, reefs, ledges, dock and bridge pilings, and wrecks.

What groupers eat

Grouper feed on other fish species, crustaceans, squid, crabs, mollusks, and the like. They hide in holes and cracks and ambush their prey or after a short chase. They usually swallow their prey whole.

How to catch a grouper

You can catch groupers when you focus on bottom fishing. The boat could be slowly trolling, drifting, or floating while you cast your baited rig down to the bottom. You can use whole or large-cut baits or live baits. You can bait with conch, clams, crabs, and spiny lobsters. To use Squid and assorted fish like mackerel, mullet, grunt, porgy, and snapper is a good idea.

For the bigger groupers like the Warsaw grouper and the goliath grouper, it is good to use wire leaders, heavy sinkers, and big hooks to avoid losing your fish to its strength. For smaller groupers, you can use heavy monofilament leaders.

To fish for groupers, you will need heavy tackle because the grouper when startled will run back to its hole to hide which will make it a challenge to drag it out. If your tackle is light, you just may lose you catch. It is therefore useful to mind your equipment here. Also, when they take the bait, you should start whisking right away before they get around some difficult crevices.

Types of Groupers

Black Grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci)

Black grouper
Black Grouper: By Amada44
Black grouper: By Albert kok

The black grouper appear in different colors in different areas of the world. It may appear olive, gray, or reddish-brown to black. The black grouper has black, almost rectangular blotches and spots of brass color. Some marks on the black grouper can pale or darken until its markings are hardly noticeable. The black grouper has a thin, pale border on its pectoral fins, a wide black edge, and a thin white margin on its tail, and sometimes a narrow orangish edge to the pectoral fin.
The tips of the tail and the soft dorsal and anal fins are bluish or black. The black grouper has a squared-off tail and a
gently rounded gill cover.

Goliath Grouper (Epinephelus itajara)

Atlantic Goliath Grouper
Atlantic Goliath Grouper
Atlantic goliath grouper
Atlantic goliath grouper: By Albert kok

The goliath grouper (once known as jewfish) is yellowish-brown to olive green or brown. It has dark brown blotches and around its entire body, it has blackish spots mottle. These markings vary but are more prominent on young goliath groupers. Along the sides of this species, the goliath grouper has irregular dark bands that run vertically, although sometimes the lines are obscure. The body of this fish grows darker with age as the blotches and spots gradually fade to the color of the body. The first dorsal fin is shorter than, and not separated from, the second.

The goliath grouper is usually mistaken for the giant sea bass but you can tell the difference by its dorsal fin soft rays, which are fifteen or sixteen but the giant sea bass has only ten. Other distinctive features of the goliath grouper are very small eyes, a rounded tail fin, and large rounded pectoral fins.

Nassau Grouper (Epinephelus striatus)

Nassau grouper
Nassau grouper: Photo credits

The color pattern of the Nassau grouper varies but it usually has a light background with a wide dark brown stripe running from the tip of the snout through the eye to the start of the dorsal fin. It as well has 4 or 5 irregular dark bars running vertically along the sides.
The Nassau grouper has 2 distinct features. They are the black dots that are always present around the eye, and a large black saddle on the caudal peduncle – they are always present no matter what color the fish is.
The third spine of the Nassau grouper’s dorsal fin is longer than the second, the pelvic fins are shorter than the pectoral fins, and the dorsal fin is notched between the spines.
It has the ability to change color from pale to almost black.

Red Grouper (Epinephelus morio)

Red grouper
Red grouper: By DelphFishing

The red grouper has varying coloration. It is usually dark brownish red, especially around the mouth, and is known to have dark bars and blotches similar to those on the Nassau grouper. It also has a few small whitish blotches spread in an irregular pattern. You can differentiate it from the Nassau grouper by the absence of a saddle spot and its smooth, straight front dorsal fin. The Nassau grouper instead has a notched dorsal fin.

The red grouper has a blackish tinge to the soft dorsal, anal, and tail fins. It also has pale bluish margins on the rear dorsal, anal, and tail fins. Some have small black spots around their eye. The lining of the mouth of the red grouper is scarlet to orange.

The second spine of the dorsal fin is longer than the other dorsal fins, the pectoral fins are longer than the pelvic fins, and the tail is noticeably squared off.

The red grouper pales or darkens in accordance with its surroundings.

Warsaw Grouper (Epinephelus nigritus)

Warsaw grouper
Warsaw grouper: By Max_Ryazanov

The Warsaw grouper has a gray-brown or dark red-brown body. Occasionally, it has several small irregular white blotches on the sides and the dorsal fins, although you will not be able to discern them when they are dead. The young Warsaw grouper has a yellow tail and a dark saddle on the caudal peduncle.
The Warsaw grouper is distinctive as it is the only grouper with ten dorsal spines, the second of which is much longer than the third. It also has a squared-off tail. In contrast to the goliath grouper, the rays of the first dorsal fin on the Warsaw grouper are much higher and the head is much larger.

Yellowfin Grouper (Mycteroperca venenosa)

Yellowfin Grouper
Yellowfin grouper: Por Albert kok

The yellowfin grouper’s color varies so much. Their background color is usually pale with horizontal rows of darker rectangular blotches covering the entire fish. The ends of these blotches are rounded, and they can be black, gray, brown, olive green, or red. The yellowfin grouper has small dark spots running across the body, which grow smaller toward the belly and usually appear bright red. The outer third
of the pectoral fins is bright yellow, and the tail has a thin, dark, irregular edge. An overall reddish cast is present in fish from deep water, and the yellowfin grouper has the ability to change color dramatically, or to pale or darken.

Gag (Mycteroperca microlepis)

Gag grouper
Gag grouper: By T. Potts – National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

The gag is pale to dark gray or sometimes olive-gray. The larger gag is darker than the smaller gag and has blotchy markings on its side and an overall indistinctly marbled appearance. The smaller gag is paler and has many dark brown or charcoal marks along its sides. The pelvic, anal, and caudal fins are blackish with blue or white edges. The gag is distinguished from the black grouper by its deeply notched preopercles.

Red Hind (Epinephelus guttatus)

Red hind grouper
Red hind grouper: De Fernando Herranz Martín

Like all grouper, the red hind has a stout body and a large mouth. It is very similar to the rock hind in appearance, although the red hind is slightly more reddish-brown in color with dark red brown spots above and pure red spots below over a whitish background. It differs from the rock hind in having no spots on the tail or dorsal fin, and no dark splotches on the back or tail. The outer edges of the soft dorsal, caudal, and anal fins are blackish and are sometimes also edged in white. Like most groupers, it can pale or darken to blend with its surroundings.

Rock Hind (Epinephelus adscensionis)

Rock hind grouper
Rock hind grouper: By Betty Wills
Rock hind grouper
Rock hind grouper: By Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble


The rock hind has an overall tan to olive-brown cast, with many large reddish to dark dots covering the entire body and fins. Similar in appearance to the red hind, it has one to four distinctive pale or dark splotches along its back, appearing below the middle of the dorsal fin, behind the dorsal fin on the caudal peduncle, and below the spinous and soft parts of the dorsal fin. The tail and anal fins have a broad, whitish outer edge but lack the additional blackish margins found on the dorsal, caudal, and anal fins of the red hind. It can pale or darken dramatically.

Coney (Cephalopholis fulva)

Coney grouper
Coney grouper: Photo credits

Because the coney experiences numerous color phases, it is inadvisable to try to identify this fish by color. These phases range from the common one in which the fish is reddish-brown, to a bicolor period in which the upper body is dark and the lower body is pale, to a bright yellow phase.
The body is covered with small blue to pale spots, although the spots are uncommon in the bright yellow phase. There are often two black spots present at the tip of the jaw and two more at the base of the tail, as well as a margin of white around the tail and the soft dorsal fin. The tail is rounded and there are nine spines in the dorsal fin.

The maximum recorded total length recorded is 44 centimetres (17 in)

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