Shallow-water grouper at Frying Pan Shoals

Shallow-water grouper like this gag make a move closer to the shoreline in December as the water cools, putting the rocks around Frying Pan Shoals into play.

Grouper fishing is world-class at Frying Pan Shoals

Southeastern North Carolina rarely gets nasty, cold weather in December. And when it happens, the cold runs out in a few days and the weather is nice again. December also often offers a break from fall’s occasionally gusty northeast winds. And this allows fishermen to go offshore. Some of the best places to head are the rocks and shipwrecks along Frying Pan Shoals, which often provide world-class bottom-fishing.

The cooling water fires up bottomfish, and they bite exceptionally well. A huge variety of bottomfish live in this area. Shallow-water grouper tops the list in the last month before the season closes down to protect the spawn.

Ryan Jordan of Fugitive Charters in Southport, N.C., has clients that book annually for December; he has developed several ways of making sure they return home with limits of grouper.

“During this late fall, gag grouper move shallower and feed more aggressively,” said Jordan (910-933-4242). “Most other times of the year, we’re running to 100 feet-plus to catch them. But they move up into 60 to 80 feet of water when the water first cools in the fall. They’re also feeding more aggressively, and that makes them easy to catch.”

Check regulations frequently due to annual allocations

Jordan uses a rig that begins with a large, 3-way swivel, with the line from the rod and reel tied to one eye, an 8- to 12-ounce sinker on a short leader from the second eye and 10 feet of 130-pound mono tied to the third eye with a 7/0 Eagle Claw Circle Sea circle hook on the business end.

“We primarily use live pinfish and live pogies for grouper baits,” Jordan said. “When we use cut bait or dead cigar minnows, we catch a lot of red snapper. They have to be released. So we try not to catch them. Occasionally, they get so thick we have to move.”

Fishermen should always check the snapper and grouper regulations before heading offshore. Many species in the snapper-grouper complex have size and creel limits. And several species tend to close in the late fall as their annual allocations are caught. All shallow-water grouper seasons close from Jan. 1  to April 30, and red grouper season is closed through May 31.

In addition to black, gag, red and scamp grouper, the December offshore bottom catch may include vermilion snapper, triggerfish, black sea bass, porgies, grunts, hog snapper, African pompano and more. This is a great way to fill a freezer with tasty fish to eat all winter.

About Jerry Dilsaver 1153 Articles
Jerry Dilsaver of Oak Island, N.C., a full-time freelance writer, is a columnist for Carolina Sportsman. He is a former SKA National Champion and USAA Angler of the Year.

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