Due to regulations, one of Florida’s most popular Gulf reef fish, gag grouper, is off limits until June. And when February gets here, expect a two-month closure of all other Gulf grouper species, especially tasty red grouper. However, in the meantime, there are excellent opportunities for feeding your family with offshore fish. Anglers leaving Big Bend ports (Steinhatchee, Suwannee, Horseshoe Beach, Cedar key and Yankeetown) can run to the relatively close-in and shallow 30-foot waters and catch easy limits of black sea bass and pink-mouth grunts. These fish are relatively small, but usually lots of fun on light tackle and excellent at the table. Fried or broiled, many Floridians consider either species a better alternative than any of the grouper species!
Don’t let the name “pink-mouth grunts” give you the impression that these are junk fish. They’re not! And if you’ve ever had “Chilean sea bass” in a fancy restaurant, you’ll find the tender flesh of our black sea bass better!
Several Big Bend charter captains offer trips dedicated to catching these fish. Two, Captain Brian Smith and Captain Steve Hart, who fish from the Sea Hag Marina in Steinhatchee, offer full and half day trips for groups up to six anglers. And often, if you stay in touch with these captains, a “seat” for a single angler may come available at short notice.