Scamp Fishing- The Ultimate Guide
I’m often asked, “What is your favorite fish to eat?” Without even giving it a second thought, I can snap back, “Scamp”. These deep-water groupers are the prize of any bottom fishing trip, and even better if you have a cooler full of them. Putting together a box of these bottom dwellers is not easy, however, it requires planning, attention to detail, and skill. The good news is I have been lucky enough to fish with some of the best scamp fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico, and they’ve been very generous in giving me more information to help you improve your Scamp fishing.
What is a Scamp Grouper?
The Scamp Grouper, also known by its scientific name Mycteroperca phenax, is a species of fish belonging to the family Serranidae. It is a type of marine fish that is primarily found in the western Atlantic Ocean, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico and the southeastern coast of the United States. You can learn how to identify a scamp grouper fairly easily, they have a dark brown or reddish-brown body, covered in small, light-colored spots. They have a caudal fin that forms the signature “Broomtail”, a large mouth, and a protruding lower jaw. They can grow up to 3 feet in length and can weigh over 30 pounds. In fact, the current All-Tackle World Record Scamp weighed 32 lb 0 oz and was caught in 2016 by Theodore Wingfield fishing out of Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.
Scamp vs Gag Grouper
Scamp and Gag Groupers are two different species of grouper that can be found in similar areas and are often caught together, but they have some distinct differences in appearance. Here are some key differences between Scamp and Gag Groupers:
- Body shape: Scamp Groupers have a more robust body shape, while Gag Groupers have a more streamlined body shape.
- Coloration: Scamp Groupers have a darker body coloration that is typically brown or reddish-brown with small, light-colored spots. Gag Groupers have a grayish-brown body coloration with dark, rectangular markings on their upper body.
- Mouth: The mouth of a Scamp Grouper is larger than the mouth of a Gag Grouper, with a protruding lower jaw.
- Size: Scamp Groupers can grow up to 3 feet in length and can weigh over 30 pounds, while Gag Groupers can grow up to 4 feet in length and can weigh up to 80 pounds.
It is important to note that both Scamp and Gag Groupers are subject to different fishing regulations and it is important to know the regulations in your area and identify the fish correctly to ensure compliance with these regulations. If you are unsure about the identification of a fish, don’t box it.
Where can you catch Scamp Grouper?
In the United States, Scamp Groupers can be caught in waters off the coast of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, and the Carolinas. They are typically found in deep waters, ranging from 60 to 300 feet deep and even deeper. They are often associated with rocky or reef habitats with structures, such as ledges, pinnacles, and ridges, where they can hide and ambush prey. While you may find Scamp in an area today, habitat preferences of Scamp can vary based on factors such as the availability of food, water temperature, and currents. They can be “here today and gone tomorrow”.
Scamp Fishing Techniques
One of the best Scamp fishermen that I know is Delynn Sigler, from Pensacola, Florida. Delynn is a true “Grouper Whisperer”. I recently caught up with Delynn on an episode of the Northwest Florida Fishing Report and he was kind enough to let me pepper him with questions on Scamp fishing. His decades of bottom fishing knowledge were on full display in this interview.
Q: When it comes to scamp fishing, how do you calibrate your electronics and what are you looking for once you have them dialed in?
A: Scamp are often found on natural bottom but a lot of times your natural bottom is small. Scamp are bottom fish so they are going to be relatively close to the bottom, most times. So let’s say you’re in say 300 feet, I zoom in to the bottom 30 to 60 feet that way I can see details. I can see a fish coming off the bottom and going back down to the bottom and about what size I think they are. If you’re in 300 feet of water and you’re zoomed all the way out and looking at rocks that are maybe a foot off the bottom, you’re almost looking at nothing. you have to zoom your machine in. Additionally, I turn my gain on manual. I turn my gain all the way up till I get just a little bit of “snow” on the screen. It’s just little specks. That way you’re seeing everything, you can put it on auto and get rid of all that stuff, but you also lose a lot of your fish and a lot of your detail.
Q: Do you like to drift while Scamp Fishing or is it important that you hold up on a spot?
A: I know people have a lot of luck drifting. I don’t like to drift at all. I like to get fish fired up under my boat and keep them fired up right there until they’ve stopped biting and I know it’s time to leave. I’ll stay right there within 30-40 feet of where I want to be and that’s it, I camp out until it’s time to go somewhere else, it works for some people just doesn’t work for me.
Scamp Grouper Fishing Rigs
Q: What are the most important rigs to fish? Let’s say you’ve got five guys fishing, what are you sending down?
A: I’m a big Carolina rig guy. But two hook rigs can be impressively deadly for Scamp. You can fish live bait or dead baits with them or artificials on a two-hook rig. A lot of people don’t realize that you can put a little scented curly tail jig on a two-hook rig and jig it up and down and Scamps will eat it up from time to time on artificials. Carolina rigs are probably the best but two hook rigs work really well, they’re not real picky.
Best Bait for Scamp Fishing
Q: What is your preferred live bait for Scamp Fishing?
A: My preferred bait of all time for scamp has to be a little small hardtail. I think they like little hardtails better than anything else. But if they’re feeding on little Tinker mackerel offshore, they’ll bite live cigar minnows over anything else. But as a rule, that little small hardtail, they love those. They’ll tear those up. That being said, I bring everything I can get my hands on in a reasonable time. If you get out there and for whatever reason, there’s a little school of small white snappers, and that’s what they’re eating then they’ll just annihilate pinfish. Herrings are also great bait for them. It just depends on what they’re feeding on at the time.
Q: If you’re going out and you want to put some dead bait on the boat as a backup, what’s your dead bait?
A: If I take dead bait, it’s generally squid. The big Boston mackerels, I’ll take those and they’re too big for scamp generally, but you can fillet them off and put little fillets on there. A whole squid works really well for scamp with a two-hook rig or Carolina rig.
Q: Do you ever use jigs?
A: Yeah, jigs worked really, really well actually. Slow-pitch jigging works amazingly well sometimes. Diamond jigs, any kind of curly tail jig works. They can all work. I’ve seen them all work really well, it depends on how aggressive they are. It’s not my preferred method of fishing, but I know people that just mash them on jigs. Don’t get over about 20 feet from the bottom and drop it back.
Scamp Fishing Tackle
Q: What do you look for in a bottom rod?
A: I like a rod that bends! I would rather you see you fish with a rod that’s too light than too heavy. Scamp aren’t the most aggressive fish in the world. A good friend of mine brought a little bass rod out with me and he smashed the Scamps on that rod. He could see the bite and never pulled the hook.
Q: What do you look for in a conventional reel for scamp fishing?
A: High gear ratio is great for checking your bait in deep water. But it’s harder to turn your handle when you had a fish on. Just don’t reel so fast you pull it out of his mouth before you hook him. I’m a big Talica fan but I still have a bunch of Penn 4/0’s. I think they work just fine. I don’t think you want anything bigger than that. Any kind of reel about that size or smaller.
Q: What is the Best Hook for scamp fishing?
A: I match the hook to the bait and the line. You don’t want a giant 15/0 hook and I don’t use those 4x hooks. In fact, I use a 2x hook when Scamp Fishing, even a wire hook. If you’re only using 40-pound line, use some kind of wire hook, you’re not going to straighten it on 40-pound test. So if you can’t straighten it with your line, then it’s plenty heavy enough. The light wire hooks let the bait move more naturally and it doesn’t kill the live bait as much. They swim faster and get more bites and it’s easier to drive home. Lighter is better for Scamp fishing.
Scamp Grouper Size Limit Florida and other States
It is important to note that fishing regulations can change, and it is the responsibility of the angler to stay informed of the current regulations in their area. Violating fishing regulations can result in fines or other penalties, so it is important to know the rules and follow them carefully. Scamp Fishing regulations can be found in the links below. Be sure to comply with regulations in both State and federal waters.
- Florida and Florida Atlantic Waters
- South Carolina
- North Carolina
Scamp Grouper Recipes
Scamp Grouper is considered to be a delicious fish to eat and is highly sought after by many seafood lovers. Scamp Grouper has firm, white meat with a sweet and mild flavor that is similar to crabmeat in its texture. Scamp Grouper can be cooked in a variety of ways, including grilled, baked, fried, or broiled but in my opinion, Scamp needs to stand alone in a dish. I recently took my good friend Hank Shaw on a scamp fishing trip and if you want advice on how to cook just about any kind of seafood, Hank is your chef. Check out his recipe for Pan Seared Scamp.
If you want nearly year-round access to what some feel is the finest-eating fish of them all, focus your energy on scamp fishing. These beautiful fish are fun to catch, especially with a group of friends. Remember, focus on depth before structure and bait before technique. Lighten your tackle and apply the lessons from this article and you’ll be on the fish in no time.
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