Red Snapper aren’t always on the “allowable” list, but when they are, you should jump at the chance to be on Captain Josh Baker’s boat for a real treat.
This ANGLR Expert has been fishing for over 25 years and has been an avid tournament angler for over six. He’s a charter guide captain based out of the Cape Canaveral area in Central Florida and has plenty of experience landing these mules.
Red Snapper Controversy and Regulations!
Red snapper is a pretty controversial thing in this area because of the fact that they are highly regulated by the government. They’re overseen by conservation laws put in place to help foster healthy fish populations, since numbers can be depleted if they’re caught faster than they can reproduce. There is no red snapper season whatsoever within the state waters of the coast of Florida. Anything further than three miles offshore is considered to be federal waters.
There’s very rarely red snapper season there, either. Fisherman have to hang on baited breath waiting to hear if they’re going to announce a season each year. We’ve gone multiple years with no season, whatsoever, and we never know for sure if there’s going to be one or not until we get to December, and they may decide it’s too late to have one.
Typically the season is only open on the weekends: three days Friday-Sunday, for just two or three weeks. This last year we got nine days. There’s also a limit on catches. You’re usually only allowed one or two (depending on the season) – per person – per boat – per day.
Considering chartering someone like me to go offshore will cost between $100-150, that becomes a pretty expensive one or two fish trip! That’s not taking into account that charters will usually be more expensive during red snapper season, since the aggressive fighter is so sought after.
The season usually lands at the end of summer, right around when hurricane season starts and it’s a pretty sure bet we’re going to get a tropical storm the weekend red snapper season falls. A lot of guys want to go out in five or six foot rollers or eight foot seas to catch a red snapper. Being on the weekends, the boat ramps and docks and waters themselves, get pretty crazy. Some people will pull right up next to you to fish, with miles of ocean surrounding you!
I think the season should be open for two weeks. That would give us 14 days to go out when the weather permits, without risk, and the ramps and such wouldn’t be so crowded.
The Problem With Red Snapper Catch-and-Release
The numbers here off of the Ponce Inlet are so heavily populated that when we go out deep sea fishing, we’re almost guaranteed to catch a red snapper every time we drop a line in the water. We’ll sometimes catch 20-30 snappers before we get to the target species like grouper, amber jack, mutton snapper, or mangrove snapper. Anything we’re allowed to catch, keep, and eat is difficult to get to because the red snapper are sort of like the bully on the block.
They love to eat, they’re very aggressive, and they’re always the first one to attack the bait. So we joke about catching “the elusive, endangered red snapper.”
So, when my clients catch really nice, big, beautiful fish, and they want to keep them, I have to say “no.”
The bigger issue is these fish have come up from maybe 80 to 100 feet in depth, and their swim bladder has inflated. That makes returning to the bottom a problem. Standard practice is to actually puncture the fish to deflate the swim bladder, a procedure called venting, so they can return back down again. As a fireman and EMT, I have a hard time with that concept. What we’re seeing is that a lot of them don’t make it back down to the bottom.
Venting isn’t the only option, but it may be the best. Recompression devices can return the fish to a specified depth, allowing it to equalize before being released. My issue with that is you’re basically hanging a piece of meat off of your boat for any shark, barracuda, or other predatory fish to snag a hold of.
I believe a lot of them are actually wasted, not really making it back down to the reefs. Where the regulations are involved, I fear we’re causing more harm than good. Instead of being able to harvest them responsibly and utilize them, we wind up returning them like we’re supposed to, and some of them wind up belly up, anyway, wasted.
Where Can You Find the “Elusive” Red Snapper?
Anywhere where you find a natural reef, shipwreck, man-made reef, or anything similar, you’re going to find red snapper hanging around. If they’re not already there, it’s only a matter of time before they find it and call it home. They love some kind of structure to hang out in.
There are a lot of man made reef systems here where organizations like the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) have gone out and dumped old bridge pilings, culverts, or crushed concrete in certain areas. Those coordinates are published, so everyone migrates to those numbers. I’ll start at one of those known areas, and then widen my search out to include the smaller, unknown areas close by.
As long as bait fish are present, red snapper will be there, too. The structures will hold the grunts, juvenile triggerfish, juvenile pinfish, and other baitfish that tend to start out small and like to live in a rocky or reef structure will be a prime meal for red snapper.
Using the ANGLR App is a a great addition to trips. Once you’ve located red snapper, you can always drop a pin so you know right where you can locate them again when the season opens up. The Bullseye has been a real game changer for me. As captain, I don’t have the luxury of trying to log things as they’re happening. I have to stay on my game handling the boat and paying attention to the fishermen, so the Bullseye takes that pressure off of my shoulders.
They’re mostly off of the bottom, but I have seen them come up and eat chum literally right off the top of the water. If they’re doing that, I’ll start throwing bait on the top of the water and catch them that way.
Pursuing Red Snapper: Bait and Gear
I use anywhere from 80-100 pound mainline, since you could wind up with 30+ pounds of snapper, and a 60-80 pound leader. I use conventional rods most of the time. At that depth, it’s all about presentation. If he’s hungry, he’ll eat.
99% of my red snapper are caught on threadfins, cigar minnows, and grunts. They don’t tend to have a preference to live bait versus cut bait, but I prefer live bait because I can feel the little fish get really nervous when the snapper is close by.
My number one preference is live threadfin.
As much as these fish love to eat, we all had trouble getting them to take bait the first two days of the season last year because the season happened to fall right after we had two days of a full moon. The fish were full from feeding all night on shrimp and other things, so they weren’t hungry during the day.
Circle hooks guarantee a hook up, with less chance of gut-hooking the fish, making it easier to release. I have to laugh, as some of my northern clients have a hard time catching on to it, as they’re used to bass fishing and setting the hook.
Landing Red Snapper
The key is getting the fish up out of the structure, similar to grouper fishing. Where our red snapper are, there are a lot of large grouper and goliath grouper – they’re like Volkswagen Beetles swimming in the ocean, eating anything and everything, so I prefer to use heavier lines to avoid having them break off. I’ve had a 200 pound leader line broken off by some of these groupers.
They aren’t small. I normally average between 22-36 pounds. That’s where almost 85% of my fish fall. They’re monsters. I tell people, when you get a bite, you’ll know! As soon as that fish bites, you’d better start reeling him up off the bottom, otherwise, he’ll beat you. These red snappers are like little bulldogs. They want to go straight down to the bottom and hide in the rocks, fighting the entire time, making them really fun to catch. Fortunately, they don’t lodge themselves in a hole like grouper. Instead, they take you around the structure and try to break you off.
After a good sweat-breaking fight, you’ve got a great picture opportunity with a stunningly beautiful fish. And if it’s snapper season on my boat. . . .you’ve landed one hell of a good meal.
To book a trip with Captain Josh Baker, give him a call at 407-801-3474
This article was contributed by an ANGLR Expert
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