Enormous Goliath grouper await anglers on the Southeast coast these days, and a few lucky fishermen will be allowed a permit to harvest some of the smaller fish in the coming year off Florida. (Shimano)
Goliath grouper, AKA the “Volkswagen with Fins” of the southeast coast, have been off limits to angler harvest for more than 30 years. Not surprisingly, this has given them time to become abundant—and huge.
The species, largest of the grouper clan, is known to reach sizes of up to 800 pounds and lengths to 8 feet, and can live at least 30 years. Consequently there are a whole bunch of really, really big ones on the nearshore reefs of the Southeast these days.
In fact, they have become so abundant that anglers say some grouper/snapper reefs are off limits because every hooked fish goes down the maw of a giant goliath before it can be put in the boat. The big ones can easily swallow a 15-pound gag grouper!
Goliath’s are a classic fishery success story because by 1990 they had been fished down to a level where NOAA Fisheries declared them an endangered species and ended all harvest in U.S. waters.
They came back fast. By 2006, NOAA researchers concluded that the continental U.S. population of Goliaths had undergone significant increases in abundance and had become re-established throughout its historical range.
The population has swollen from there. Now, there are so many big Goliaths that some anglers are calling for a limited harvest of the species to reduce predation on the reef fish they’d like to have for themselves.
Giant tempered steel hooks like this 20/0 from Daiichi are the ticket for landing monster Goliaths. (Daiichi)
Opposed are diving fans, who naturally enough view these giants as a fascinating part of the natural fauna of accessible nearshore reefs. Take away the Goliath’s and you’ve got Africa without elephants, India without tigers, is their argument.
Be that as it may, Florida’s FWC has determined that taking a few of these critters will cause no harm to the overall population and is opening a limited season again for 2024.
You won’t be able to catch and keep the giants, though, and you’ll need to win a lottery to be allowed to take a smaller Goliath home, however
The size limit on harvestable fish is 24- to 36-inches. Larger fish must be kept in the water and released immediately. And only 200 tags will be issued. (Odds are most won’t be used: In 2023 when all 200 tags were awarded only 26 tag holders reported harvesting a Goliath.
Anglers say this won’t do much good re fish being “stolen” from their hooks, but it does add a life-list opportunity for anglers—and also allows a few select anglers to learn what Goliath’s taste like.
It’s probably best to view Goliath’s as a fascinating part of what makes coastal fishing so interesting and exciting and put them in the same category as the “Tax Man”, the sharks that also grab reef fish with frequency in some areas.
They definitely make an awesome photo, especially for those intrepid anglers who hop in the next to a giant boatside.
But before you break out your trusty 12/0 hooks, there are a few things you should know about what it takes to whip one of these beasts.
For one thing, forget the 12/0’s.
Big Goliaths are among the main attractions on many nearshore diving reefs, and the larger fish remain on the protected list because of this. (Florida FWC)
A big Goliath can straighten them like a paperclip. What you need is a beast of a hook like the Daiichi Monster Metal 20/0 for the job--$12 a copy, with a bight about the size of most gaff hooks.
The reel, something like a Shimano Tiagra 130, weighs over 10 pounds on its own and can put almost 100 pounds of drag on the line. Goliaths never make long smoking runs like offshore giants including marlin and the tunas, but for 10 yards, they are one of the strongest fish in the ocean. The reel is typically loaded with 400-lb test mono—not braid
This is one place where monofilament still gets the nod over braid among the few guides who specialize in this action, mostly found from Tampa southward to Marco Island on Florida’s west coast. The deal is the drag is completely locked down, and the only “drag” is the stretch of the mono. If there’s no “give”, the giants often break even the stoutest, heaviest rods, and braid does not stretch.
The bait will typically weigh 5 to 10 pounds—a whole stingray or jack crevalle are among the favorites.
So yeah, you’ll want to bring your big boy pants. And you’ll definitely want to shackle that $2,000 rod and reel to the boat because there is always the chance that the fish will win the battle unless you are an Olympic-class weight lifter in your other life.
If you want the chance to harvest one of the slot-sized Goliaths, you have to enter a lottery with FWC. Only 200 tags will be awarded, and applications are $10 each. If you are drawn, the harvest fee is $150 for residents, $500 for non-residents—the Goliath becomes sort of Florida’s elk.
You can apply online here:
— Frank Sargeant