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Catching a Grouper in Florida is both fun and delicious.

Few Florida fish provide both fight and fine dining in one package. Some might argue the snappers rule supreme, others the mighty cobia, but survey the captains of the top Florida Keys fishing charters and you’ll surely receive the same response – grouper.

These thick-bodied bottom dwellers make for some of the best Florida Keys fishing. You’ll find the various members of the grouper family in shallow water during the cooler months and deeper water during the warmer months.

“These thick-bodied bottom dwellers make for some of the best Florida Keys fishing... ”

Grouper fishing, a mainstay for the Hawks Cay charter boat fleet, is as much of an art as it is a science. These voracious feeders are usually found around structure – reefs and wrecks – so most captains try to anchor up and fish in one stop.

In the Florida Keys, good grouper spots can be found just a few miles from shore. Some captains will even hit a grouper spot on the way back in from a blackfin tuna or dolphin fishing trip.

There are nearly a dozen different species of grouper found in Florida waters, but most charter boats fishing in The Keys target the big three – gag, red and black grouper.

The top Florida Keys outfitters, including those that run out of the Hawks Cay Marina, can also target other species of grouper, including the mighty Goliath, a true behemoth that enjoys full protection under federal law.

The marina has five offshore boats that specialize in everything from big game fishing to mahi mahi. The Tailwalker, the Final Final and the War Eagle are full-cabin, air-conditioned sportfishing boats that can accommodate parties of six.

But if you are looking for a little adventure, check out the Snapshot, a center-console takes up to six anglers or The Eagle Eye, a 26 foot center console. Both of these fast open boats fish everywhere the larger offshore boats travel.

Once you’ve lined up your crew, you’ll need to learn a little bit about your quarry. The black grouper, Mycteroperca bonaci, has markings similar to those of its smaller cousin, Mycteroperca microlepis, the gag grouper, and as a result, the two are often confused.

Deep-water black grouper are common to 40 pounds but can weigh as much as 100. Gag grouper are common to 25 pounds and may weigh as much as 71 pounds, 3 ounces, Florida's record. The red grouper, Epinephelus morio, yet another grouper species found off Duck Key, can weigh up to 40 pounds. While all three species fish pull hard, the battle with grouper is won or lost in the first few seconds after the strike.

The Goliath grouper, Epinephelus itajara, is the largest member of the grouper family and a times, the bane of offshore anglers and spearfishing divers because of its affinity for eating hooked fish.

Protected since 1990, these massive bottom dwellers can grow to be more than 7 feet long and weigh more than 800 and provide quite a battle when hooked. But these fish must be left in the water and released unharmed.

Conservation-minded grouper fishermen use circle hooks, which are more likely to hook a fish in the mouth instead of the throat or stomach. Nonstainless steel hooks are preferred because they rust out in a matter of days if they have to be left in a fish.

Grouper regulations are constantly evolving and very from season to season and region to region. Check the latest rules before you head out.