Napoleon Wrasse (Grouper): The King of the Reef

We all come to fish the islands in the hope of landing either a monster giant trevally, permit, milkfish, or other saltwater fish species; however, there are some species that are less well-known to the average angler, but highly sought after by the veterans that come year after year. One of those species is the Grouper Napoleon wrasse, otherwise known as the grouper.

About Napoleon wrasse

Don’t be misled; this fish isn’t named after a short French guy with a bad attitude sitting on a horse: there isn’t anything small about this Napoleon wrasse. In fact, its fighting power is immense, often exceeding its size. There have been recordings of male Napoleon wrasse measuring two metre and weighing in at 180 kilograms! However, one thing that is undeniable is that these giants are a thing of beauty. 

Female groupers rarely grow over one metre in length. Mature adult male groupers will start to develop a large hump on their heads thus giving the fish its more universally common name of the humphead wrasse. Their colours and colour patterns change as the grouper matures. However, for the most part, the wrasse always displays blue-and-green or emerald-coloured scales. The wrasse has very distinctive eyelashes with a black line behind each eye. What makes the Napoleon wrasse distinctive is its large rubbery looking lips. Juvenile groupers are often found in shallow, sandy regions, while adults are typically found in deeper off-shore coral reefs near the reef edge or in deeper channels. They are not as territorial, but rather prefer not to venture too far from their breeding grounds.

Catching a Napoleon wrasse on fly

Napoleon wrasse are large, lazy, cumbersome-looking predators; they eat most living creatures able to fit into their mouths. This makes them a perfect target for fly fishing. The Outer Islands of the Seychelles is a mecca to hunt these beauties, as the atolls and islands are mostly isolated. These are all positive factors contributing to a large population of these elusive fish.

Our team of guides has developed a very effective way of targeting these monsters when the conditions are right (near windless), by venturing off-shore and drifting along in a skiff. Getting your depth is crucial. We find that if you are too shallow the groupers are absent. If you are too deep, you’ll struggle to spot them. Using our method, we simply drift along the outer reef very slowly with rod in hand ready to drop an 8/0 heavily weighted Mega-Clouser.

It usually doesn’t take long to spot the first Napoleon wrasse swimming below the reef. The trick is to watch your fly descend towards the reef, stopping it as close to the Napoleon wrasse as possible. This is much easier said than done as there are always giant trevally, bluefin trevally, Bohar snappers and various groupers that will also show a very keen interest in your fly. Most of the time you end up hooking one of the aforementioned fish. However, sometimes it all goes your way and you hook into the beast. Then it’s time to put on your big boy pants and hope that your drag system on your reel can handle the power on the end of the line.

“Landing a Napoleon Wrasse has the similar reward to that of landing a permit on the flats. It’s a big deal” (Keith Rose-Innes, renowned fly fisherman).

It’s not unusual to see Napoleon Wrasse feeding and tailing on the flats; however, they are generally extremely skittish on approach and are often spooked when presented with a fly. But don’t get me wrong − groupers have certainly been caught in shallow water; and those who have achieved such an accomplishment should never take it for granted.

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