AKA: black grouper, gag
Description: Gag grouper have long, compressed bodies and 11 to 14 rays in the anal fins. Their color varies and changes with the size of the fish. Large gag are dark brownish-gray on top and paler on the bottom, with traces of dark wavy markings on the sides. Smaller fish are much lighter and have numerous dark brown or charcoal kiss-like marks along the sides. Gag grouper have deeply notched gill covers, distinguishing them from black grouper.
Size: Gag grouper grow to 51 inches and 55 pounds. Citations are given for grouper weighing 20 pounds or more.
Sometimes confused with: black grouper, scamp
Habitat: Adult gag grouper can be found from North Carolina to Brazil over low and high profile hard-bottom waters 60 to 250 feet deep. Young gag inhabit estuaries from Massachusetts to Cape Canaveral, Fla. They often congregate around rocky ledges and swim in small groups.
Eating habits: Gag grouper feed on round scad, sardines, porgies, snappers, grunts, crabs, shrimp and squid.
Life cycle: Gag change sex from female to male with increased size. Sexual transition occurs between 10 and 11 years of age. Sexual maturity is attained at age 5 or 6, when fish are 27 to 30 inches long. Spawning takes place in February off the coast of the Carolinas and in January through March in the Gulf of Mexico. Gag may live for 15 years.
Fishing tips: The best way to catch gag grouper is by bottom fishing with live bait, such as cigar minnows and squid, using depth finders to locate deepwater rock piles, ledges, wrecks and artificial reefs.