Grouper advice & Why is my live bait dying when sent down 200ft?

Discussion in 'Fish Species and Techniques' started by b_erin, Mar 6, 2020.

  1. b_erin

    b_erin New Member

    Made my first attempt at trying for grouper using live piggy perch on a party boat out of Port A that was in fed water targeting vermillion snapper. Everytime I sent a very frisky and very alive perch down to the bottom they died- right away.

    First time I back hooked the perch below dorsal fin, next time I nose hooked, 3rd time I lip to nose hooked. All 3 times same result, dead perch after reeling up about 2-5 min after sending it down (boat moved spots frequently).

    Can someone help me understand what I need to fix to keep the perch alive? Deckhands rigged me with a 3way swivel to a circle hook and 2x12 oz weights on the other line. I let the line out at regular dead bait drop rate, thumbing the spool to prevent a backlash, do I need to drop down live bait super slow?

    Also, if the bait dies one deckhand said groupers won't eat it and get a new bait. Later an old salt on the boat told me dead piggy perch is fine just squeeze the eyes to get the juices running and maybe cut one side too. Which is right? Does the bIt need to be live, or is dead fine too? I'd really like to catch a grouper.

    My gear is a senator 114H USA made version and a heavy roller rod meant for trolling. If I hook one, will my gear be ok?

    Pic of rig deckhands tied attached.

    Attached Files:

  2. a1flyfishr

    a1flyfishr Retired Member Supporting Member

    I am not familiar with the Piggy Perch. It looks sort of like a pinfish? If it is, our pinfish live in shallow bay water up to 30’ maybe the deep water is just to much pressure. Or you hook and leader are to heavy for the bait to swim freely, restricting it’s oxygen. I use live, dead and even chunk bait for grouper with good results. Just my 2 cents if its worth anything.


  3. lite-liner

    lite-liner troll enforcement Staff Member

    if you're after grouper, I would recommend bumping your bait size up a bit and using a different species. Piggy perch cannot handle the rapid compression going from 0 to 200+'.
    My suggestion is catch some blue runners around 8-12". they're not as sensitive to barotrauma.
    they also are pretty rugged on the hook, and the size will keep all but the largest red snappers from messing with it.
    Those little piggies will, however hook you the largest mangrove snappers on the rig if you
    cast them close with no weight.
    get’n jiggy and a1flyfishr like this.
  4. b_erin

    b_erin New Member

    Yep, kinda like pinfish, I caught them around the dock before heading out. That makes sense they only live in shallow water and can't handle deeper pressure.
    a1flyfishr likes this.
  5. b_erin

    b_erin New Member

    Can blue runners be caught inshore? Any live bait I'd be trying with would need to be caught before boarding due to the 2ish hrs only of fishing time on the trips out to fed water.

    For using the piggies for mangrove snapper, are you saying just hook them on a hook tied directly to the main line/leader and let them freeline out there around the surface?
  6. jiggawhat

    jiggawhat Senior Member

    Whole beeliner on knocker rig just saying
    Gonefishings and a1flyfishr like this.
  7. tugasangler

    tugasangler Fishing Guru

    Drop it down slower .. a lot slower .. and let it stay down when you do . It will last a lot longer .

    but honestly a fresh dead butterflied bait from a fish I was using a live one just before has garnered some satisfactory results for me
    Gonefishings likes this.
  8. captjameswheeler

    captjameswheeler Well-Known Member

    Ok, you have to define the term grouper for people on I
    Here, because it has different connotations to each reader, based on their location and type of grouper they prefer to target. To the guys in Florida, they are an abundant fish in caught on just about anything in many depths of water. Here in Texas, when you say grouper, there are 3 thoughts that pop to people's minds deep water for yellowedge misty snowy etc, big grouper fishing targeting Warsaw, and what I instantly thought when reading your post: scamp fishing.

    To be honest, scamp fishing is one of my favorite past times and a good friend of mine, Capt. Timmy of the dolphin express and I have always had fun side beds with them. He's definitely better than me, and if you really want To learn a lot more, go blinker fishing with him in the cold months.

    For what it's worth, the rig is hardly fine, while there's some technical mods we have whittled down to hear perfect over the years, as well as technique tricks that help. However it's never perfect, and with the snapper problems we have, knowing when to continue or quit is important.

    For the rig, my version is very similar but has some special changes. To start with, I make sure to use an ultra sensitive pole with straight braid so I can feel a grouper even sniff the bait 180-360ft down. [Describing the setup gets a bit difficult, so after reading the how to, picture the basic layout of your rig in your head, and extrapolate] To this I tie on a small swivel and a 2-3ft section of 50# fluorocarbon. I tie a 4/0 black. Eagle Claw laser 196L circle (a bliner hook) to the end with a home miller knot. 6-8 inches back from the hook, I put a 3-4" loop. The loop is for the bank sinker, and the weight used varies, but is the lightest that is available and will go fairly straight down with the current.

    When picking out the bait to use, reverse thinking is in order. The smallest ones are the best, I'm always hunting for 1.5-3" perch only using larger ones when I'm forced to. The larger baits catch some scamp, but also attract more snapper and amberjack. But scamp like the little ones better. A trap is better for acquiring than a pole.

    Fishing at a Port A dock before a trip, you may have caught a few piggy perch, but more likely caught longish. It's ok, it's a colloquialism here, in local vernacular the terms are almost interchangeable. Piggy perch have a more streamlined body, slightly longer snout with squiggles on the side, and meatier lips, plus they usually grunt. They are less common but a better bait. Pinfish are a taller fish , that look a lot like a miniature pissed off steelhead, with sometimes vertical striping, pokey fins, and some mean little teeth behind thin lips. If you said, "Ouch"! while baitfishing you almost definitely had pinfish.

    You asked about dead perch... One of 2 things happened if your perch was dead after being down only 3-5 minutes" either you killed it, or a fish did. Although perch are typically thought of as inshore fish, they are a member of the porgy family, and are found in many varieties out to 300 feet. They are actually pretty hearty when treated right. When you hook your bait, be fast and efficient, and get him from the live well to the water asap. Picking the smallest lively perch, cradle him in your hand lightly but with enough pressure to keep the fins held back and from losing him. If you can keep his nose sticking out with your hand still covering his eyes, that's best. Your tackle should have been ready to drop before approaching the live well, so grab your hook with the other had and pin him in one cheek and out the other. This hook placement accomplishes 4 things : it keep him hydrodynamically stable for the ride down, allows him to breath freely, offers excellent hook exposure for such a tiny hook, and encourages him to swim in circles. If you need to wash your hands or get a drink or something before fishing this bait, put your rod in the holder with the bait only 4or5 ft down so he can stay alive til you're 100% ready.

    Once your ready send it all the way to the bottom at a pace your comfortable with, just be prepared when it hits bottom. Slow drops aren't too important for bait life, if you followed all the above steps 100%. If you have different rig, results will vary, but my rig keeps tangles to a bare minimum. If you hook your bait any other way, results will vary massively. Other than asphyxiation or squishing a bait up on deck, nothing kills them faster than a turbulent ride down through 180+ft of water. Back booked baits also drag water the wrong way over the gills. Cheek hooking keeps them straight and allows flow of water through their mouth. Personally, when working, I usually throw the clicker on and freespool it down in a rod holder, so I can still work while sending them. But you have to be ready right when you hit bottom. Usually there's not long to wait.

    As soon as you hit bottom you want to force that perch to swim around right on bottom, but still feel a bite. In seas this can be tricky, as well as on a swinging boat. But the idea is that you move your rod up and down with the sea so that you always have bare tension with the weight remaining flat on bottom. This way the little perch is forced to swim in circles 10" or less from the bottom , staying in the visual range of a scamp peaking out of his scamp-hole but off the radar of aj and snapper. If you get a bite from a grouper, it's not a hard hit bit more of a grab and hold, when this happens don't swing, just slowly crank until you get tension loaded or not. Regardless, reel up after every bite. The bait needs to be alive. [Regardless what that old man told you, how many grouper did you witness him land with that technique?] Also only stay down about 5 minutes max, you'll have more bites than you feel. When you get to the top quickly inspect your bait. If it's still hooked right and frisky , send it back down immediately. If it's bit in half, you've likely got snapper problems. If it was a grouper, most likely it's just going to look dead for no reason on a quick look. A closer inspection will reveal that it was crushed probably most scales missing as well. If you bring up a bait like this, discard, rebait, and get back down immediately, in the same fishing spot.

    Grouper don't like to wander much, and are very territorial. If you miss one you should try your hardest to get back down in the same spot fast, before the boat swings off spot. I've literally missed a grouper a half dozen times before finally getting him. If you get him, or go 15 min with no grouper bite, move up or down the rail 10-15 ft and try again. You pretty much have to drop your bait right in front of their hole to get bit. Thank goodness there's a lot of them down there!

    Now all this is good and well unless the snapper hoard shows up. I usually wait and see what happens before even dropping, but if you've seen a half dozen red snapper in the first 5 minutes, it's probably a safe bet you are screwed. If you catch 3 reds in a row on your live bait,you're absolutely screwed, definitely wait until the next spot so you're not wasting bait, time, and arm strength dealing with reds. There are certain types of live bottom that typically have less snapper, but every day is different. Don't get mad at your captain if every drop is covered with snapper, I promise he's more frustrated than you about it, and doing his best to avoid it.
    Last edited: May 5, 2020
  9. lite-liner

    lite-liner troll enforcement Staff Member

    that is some excellent information.
    Thanks, Capt. James!
    captjameswheeler likes this.
  10. Fish allure

    Fish allure New Member

    Wow, excellent response. I learned a lot from this. Thank you sir.
    captjameswheeler likes this.
  11. Snaphappy

    Snaphappy Senior Member

    Scamps like jigs too.
    captjameswheeler and Fish allure like this.
  12. captjameswheeler

    captjameswheeler Well-Known Member

    There is truth in this statement, but there's also truth in the statement, "a lot of Warsaw are caught in b-liner rigs". While true, no one would think it is the best method.

    I have seen a lot of scamp caught on pretty much every type of rig, bait, and bottom jig. I've even seen them come in from rig legs less than 50ft down. There's no doubt at all jigs are productive, some times especially so.

    But, in my opinion, based on an overabundance of comparative data and a weird brain that compartmentalize patterns and works out puzzles during periods of restless insomnia, the best way to isolate and target them is not with a jig. The more we have other aggressive fish becoming over populated by mismanagement, this becomes more true.

    As a person who spent his entire tenure, nearly a decade, as a party boat captain during the aftermath of mismanaged rebuilding and overstocking of red snapper populations, an most of his tenure as deckhand during a time the stock actually needed extreme help (92-04), I can tell you that fishing techniques and tactics have drastically had to change to actively avoid red snapper. To be blunt, I have spent thousands of frustrated hours trying every variation to change the results when my only two choices seemed to be snapper or skunk. This is one of the results.

    In the 90s jigs worked pretty good for scamp, but I'm tired of bringing up snapper in 250ft of water after waiting 2 minutes to get my 4oz big to the bottom without fouling, and not even getting 2 bounces before hookup.

    Jigs however are the most effective way to catch a scamp on a jig. And I understand that. Keep bouncing and enjoy.
    Last edited: May 11, 2020
    Snaphappy likes this.