A week into the season, it's all about the grouper

The Fladeland group from Vernal, Utah, caught a 15-pound black grouper aboard the 'SeaSquared' on opening day of grouper season. The next day, they caught an 18-pounder.
The Fladeland group from Vernal, Utah, caught a 15-pound black grouper aboard the 'SeaSquared' on opening day of grouper season. The next day, they caught an 18-pounder.

From all accounts, the eight-month grouper season that started May 1 has started off with a bang.

The greatest numbers of grouper came from the main reef line, with lots of blacks and reds and a few gags. The gag grouper catch was better further out on the deep wrecks in 150 to 300 feet.

Favored yellowtail spots were the go-to for the groupers, making for very productive outings. The SeaSquared boats fished in 80 to 90 feet of water and we had loads of yellowtails in the 14- to 18-inch class.

Mixed in were really nice-size mangrove snapper in the three- to five-pound range along with decent-size mutton snapper. The bigger muttons were taken on the wrecks and rough bottom areas in 100 to 200 feet.

The higher-profile wrecks and natural bottom areas are holding plenty of amberjack of all sizes. So fire up the smoker and get ready for a workout.

There are still some sailfish around. We've seen plenty of them free-jumping, but the interest in catching them seems to be waning in favor of heading offshore for dolphin.

The high winds and big seas we experienced starting late Saturday and continuing through Tuesday hampered many anglers' efforts to get out deep.

Still, kudos to all who persevered in the Marathon Offshore Bull and Cow Dolphin Tournament that ended Sunday. Congratulations to Team Conetagious on its first-place win for the largest bull and cow dolphin combined weight of 42.8 pounds. We'd like to give a shout-out to our marina neighbors, Team Captain Pips, for winning the division for largest blackfin tuna with its 15.8-pounder.

As the weather settles down this week, the dolphin fishery should become strong again. Frigate birds are finding the largest fish, so all you need to do is find the frigate birds. There are also plenty of fish on any kind of floating debris and weed lines. A few wahoo and some good-size blackfin tuna are mixed in the offshore catches.

Tarpon fishing remains pretty good around the bridges and passes throughout the Keys. Each area is unique in which bait works best, so check with your local tackle shop for advice on what to take along.

The week's best

The SeaSquared boats took full advantage of the opening of grouper season.

Our groups caught black grouper among their limits of nice-size yellowtail, mangrove and mutton snapper. We also did some catch-and-release shark fishing with Michelle and Kevin McClaflin from Sulphur Springs, Ark., landing 15 lemon sharks up to about 200 pounds.

Andy and Leslie Payne from St. Louis, Mo., fished two days aboard Blue Magic Charters with Capt. Larry Bell and mates Alex Bell and Steve Steenstra. They caught 20 yellowtails, three large mangroves and some dolphin.

Brian and Shannan Duncan from Chesterton, Ind., had big hopes for the opening day of grouper season, and Capt. Kevin Wilson of Knee Deep Charters in Geiger Key came through for them. They caught their grouper plus a nice bunch of yellowtails, and Brian released a six-foot reef shark.

Capt. Chris Johnson specializes in offshore, gulf/bay, reef/wreck, sailfish, shark and tarpon fishing with SeaSquared Charters in Marathon. You can reach him at (305) 743-5305, http://SeaSquaredCharters.com and http://Facebook.com/MarathonFishing.