Gag, Gray Grouper, Copper Belly
Description and Diagnostic Characteristics: Coloration is highly variable in gag and changes with the size of the fish. Large male gag are dark brownish-gray above and paler below, with traces of dark wavy markings on the sides. Smaller fish and females are much lighter and have numerous dark brown or charcoal kiss-like marks along the sides. The Scamp, M. phenax, and Black Grouper, M. bonaci, closely resemble the gag and often occur in the same habitat. Tail of Gag is slightly concave, Black is square; Gag has white margin on anal and caudal fins, Black does not; under 10 pounds, Gag's spur on preopercle is distinctive, where Black is gently rounded.
Size: Usually around 20-30 pounds
Age at Maturity: Protogynous Hermaphrodites- They begin life as female, however after a few years of spawning as a female, some gag groupers change sex, becoming functional males. This transition generally occurs at 10-11 years of age corresponding to lengths of 37-39 inches (95-100 cm).
Range: Florida to Cape Hatteras, can get up to Cape Cod and also down to Bermuda.
Habitat: Can be found inshore around holes or ledges and grass flats. Also like to be around any kind of structure such as a wreck, reef, or pier and fairly deep.
Bait and Tackle: Bottom fishing requires a stout rod with 50-80 pound test, but shallower fishing with 20-30 pound test is adequate. Fly-fishing also works with Gag, as they will take large streamer flies. Live baitfish of most any variety, small dead fish, or cut bait also work well. Leadhead jigs and large deep-diving plugs are good artificial baits.
Fishing Method: Trolling, drifting, still fishing
Food Value: Excellent firm white meat
Daily Limit: 2
Minimum size: 24" TL
Season: All Year (No Sale March-April)