You never know what you will catch in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Florida has dozens of sportfish valued by recreational anglers, some better known than others.
But one of the most prized offshore species, yet commonly misidentified by anglers, is water is the true black grouper, Mycteroperca bonaci. This deep-water grouper is often confused with its smaller cousin, the gag grouper, which is found closer to shore.
Black grouper are found in water 60 feet or deeper and feed on a variety of fish and squid. Common to 40 pounds, black grouper may grow to 100 pounds or more. Their cousin, the gag grouper Mycteroperca microlepis, is significantly smaller, usually 20 pounds or less. The fish have similar markings and many anglers, even experienced charter boat captains, mistakenly call the gag a black.
You will find juvenile gags on the flats. At certain times of the year you even will catch legal-sized fish in passes and bridges along the Intracoastal Waterway. Even though this grouper counts itself among the more popular recreational species, it is one of the least studied.
Anglers have the month of December to continue to fish for gag grouper before federal officials shut the harvest down on Jan. 1, 2011 to give the stocks time to recover and rebuild.