Florida Keys Grouper season is closed in Monroe County waters from January 1 through April 30 each year with an anticipated opening on May 1. The closure, which started in 2010, has been said to be good for the grouper stocks, but also a pain to some charter and commercial fishermen.
“Catching grouper is great the first few days, but then three days in, it’s back to normal,” said Ryon Logan, the charter captain of Cheerio out of Hurricane Hole Marina on Stock Island, who is not a fan of the closures, saying it hurts local charter and commercial fishermen.
Charter captain Ryon Logan on Cheerio out of Hurricane Hole Marina fishes for Florida Keys grouper with longtime friend and customer Phil Rambosek. Rombosek is seen here with a 25-pound black grouper caught in 75 feet of water. “May is our busiest month anyway,” he said with tarpon, sailfish and dolphin fishing happening at the same time. “It’s a terrible system to target the fish and then flood the market.”
Florida Keys Grouper fishing from a boat typically involves baits fished near the bottom, with heavy tackle and line to bring grouper to the surface. Last year, Charter Captain Chris Mendola of Far Out Charters in Key West suggested live bait for the best bites, like pinfish, grunts and blue runners. Some also like to get in the water and try their hand at hunting down their tasty meals with a speargun.
Logan says he knows 10 years ago there were a lot more grouper on the reef than there are now, but says other things can attribute to the grouper’s numbers, like weather patterns and more. He’s been fishing these waters for the past 15 years professionally as a commercial fisherman and a charter boat owner.
Fishermen target gags and blacks longer than 24-inches total length and reds at 20-inches total length or more. Scamps and snowys can be found on deeper Keys wrecks. Warsaw, Nassau, and goliath grouper harvest is prohibited year round. Recreational fishermen can’t have more than three grouper on their boat per person and can only have one black or one gag per person, i.e. a black grouper and two reds, or a gag grouper and two reds, but not a black, a gag and a red.
Middle Keys resident Kyle Franz has charters lined up on Main Attraction out of Key Colony Beach for the opening of grouper season. “We usually anchor at the reef and on wrecks and fish with yellowtail,” he said moving from the commercial fishing sector to charters a couple years ago. “We have a couple spots lined up where we’ve been catching two or three grouper a day. We’ve been throwing back.”
Franz added that he will personally be targeting snowys and blueline tiles in the deeper water, which have also been closed and reopen on May 1.
If the closures were up to Logan, he would do a two month closure like they used to reopening March 1, or a closure that would reopen in September, when season is slow. He noted that the grouper spawn is during the current closures, but suggested a quota per boat like kingfish and amberjack. “It would keep the price higher for the fishermen,” he said.
Logan did say that the fisheries did do a good job by lowering the limits. “That’s probably been the biggest help of all,” he said.
More information about seasons and closures in Monroe County can be found at myfwc.com.