As the waters cool, lots of saltwater fisheries fire off. For offshore junkies with a love for bottom-brawlers, December can be reserved for just one group of fish: shallow-water grouper.
Winter brings chilly weather and outstanding grouper action, not too far away from the sunny shores of Myrtle Beach, S.C. The harvest season will end Dec. 31 after the best bite of the year begins. Any angler with a grouper state of mind must get out this month to enjoy what the ocean has to offer.
Shallow-water grouper fishing is closed off South Atlantic states from Jan. 1 through May 30 annually while fish are spawning closer to shore, and Tom Cushman of Calmwater Charters keys on this migration and hits it hard.
“In November, they come in from offshore when the water gets cold and will move in as shallow as 60 feet at the peak of the season,” said Cushman (843-997-5850), “but my best depths with the largest concentrations are in 80 to 100 feet of water.”
Grouper associate with oceanic structure: artificial reefs, ledges and any structure with relief. Cushman fishes some of the artificial reefs off the Grand Strand, but prefers ledges with enough relief to recognize on his bottom sounder.
“The Bill Perry and BP-25 fill up with grouper this time of year, but they get smart at the reefs. I like to fish ledges with relief. They concentrate on these ledges and don’t get the fishing pressure the reefs get,” he said.
Cushman locates a ledge on his sounder and looks for bait.
“If you find bait, the grouper will be there, and usually in good numbers, this time of year,” he said.
Grouper will eat about anything scurrying along the sea floor, but live fish are their preferred forage — the bigger the better. Typically, baits 4 to 6 inches long are big enough to interest a grouper.
Cushman will either catch a livewell full of pinfish, jig up cigar minnows or bring a frozen box of cigar minnows. He also uses strips of larger fish that work very well, too.
Cushman prefers to use live or dead baits in combination with a jig over just a bare hook and sinker.
“I pair the bait with a 4- to 6-ounce bucktail or metal stickbait jig. If you lose the bait, the jig is still attractive,” he said.
Cushman bounces the offering off the bottom to gain the fish’s attention.
While the year dwindles away into the Christmas holidays, the cold weather brings hot fishing along the offshore waters of the Grand Strand. Anglers with a taste for grouper fillets can catch their limit quickly during the last few weeks of the legal harvest season off South Carolina’s coast.