The Goliath Grouper of Florida is in a class of its own. Goliath Grouper can grow upwards to 700-800lbs and 6 feet in length, and must be fought with max drag and 600Lb test line. They typically take residence on inshore wrecks up to 80ft in depth and can be found cruising under bridges in South Florida. Currently, the Goliath Grouper is prohibited from harvesting because of the sheer numbers of fish that were targeted during the ’70s and ’80s. Regardless of their size, my quest to hand line a giant Goliath had been lurking on my mind for quite some time.
It was May 12th and I had set up a charter for the groomsmen at my sister’s wedding. Prior to booking the trip, Mark (who was soon to be my brother–in-law) had been extremely excited to catch something he could remember for the rest of his life. I knew a Goliath would leave him a lasting memory for years to come. Showing up to the boat with 6 groomsmen who were gym ready and built for sports, I chuckled inside my head at the reality that would soon set in for them. We eagerly jumped on the boat and sailed 10 miles west into the Gulf of Mexico out of Venice, Florida. Captain Eric White of “Legacy Fishing Charters” could see the crew he had was about to get a beat down.
While setting up the gear, Captain Eric pulled out a heavier outfit used for bottom fishing spooled with 150lb Mono with a 600lb leader and a 12/0 Mustad big game hook. After rigging a whole bonito, he threw the bait over the side and handed the rod to Mark. He had been smiling all day, more than ready to catch a few fish with his buddies and drink a couple of beers. When the Goliath first sucked up his bait, the rod immediately doubled over and he was caught off guard at the power of the fish. The fish went back and forth across each side of the boat dragging Mark around like he was nothing. When he finally put some heat on the fish, the line snapped with a ping. The 600lb leader had succumbed to the pressure of the tug of war match between Mark and the Goliath. With the look of defeat and exhaustion, Mark handed the rod over to me.
Although doing this type of fishing on rod and reel is a feat in its own, I had other plans. I had always wanted to hand line a goliath. I explained to Captain Eric that I wanted the hand line and he went below to grab the rope. After 5 minutes of preparing the rope and leader I was ready to go. I had caught a goliath previously, and knew the power through rod and reel but never on a hand line.
Tossing the head of a bonito overboard with the camera rolling, Mark began to film this experience. The bait had hit the bottom and I could feel my heart racing with the anticipation of going hand to hand with a true monster. Thump thump – I could feel the goliath playing with it as I held on tight. Then with one bite he sucked in the bait and turned for the rocks. I grabbed the line tightly trying to pull towards the surface, but he showed his brute strength and off he went to the bottom – the rope zipping through my fingers. Finally I got him to turn and I began bringing the rope back to the surface. I could feel his massive head shaking on the other end of my line and the true weight of this fish. I knew I had one of the larger specimens cruising this wreck. Again, he whipped around and was off to the bottom. This time I had one wrap that mistakenly twisted around my wrist and as he took off, I quickly released the line to avoid being dragged over and drowning.
Thankfully I was able to get free and started retrieving the line again. This time it felt like a Volkswagen that was on the other line. The fish began to tire and his head shakes were fading and less violent. We began to see the dark color of the fish rise to the surface and as it appeared all of our eyes lit up. We couldn’t believe the size of this fish. The Goliath looked like a prehistoric bottom dweller with large spines that ran down its back large enough to pierce my body if I got too close. I had to jump in.
I remember thinking to myself as I swam up to the Goliath that it could easily swallow half my body. I petted the sides of its large stomach, feeling the beast breathe as it regained strength. I quickly grabbed the tail and had a quick picture taken before yelling at Mark to join me. I told him “if you want to marry my sister, you have to prove yourself and jump in!”
He didn’t hesitate for a second and jumped in to share this experience with me. At that moment I knew he was part of the family for good and this would be something we would remember for years to come. We took a picture together and watched as the Goliath swam away gracefully. Captain Eric estimated our catch at around 300lbs and we had several others that day that tipped that size. Not only was this a trip of a lifetime, but one that sealed our brotherly relationship. A trip we can look back on and say we did something extraordinary before he married my sister.