Snapper require different tactics

Published August 12, 2006

While nearshore grouper action remains slow, anglers with the means to fish in depth more than 100 feet of water are still pulling in great catches. Snapper fishing has been exceptional.

The mangrove snapper, also known as gray snapper, are in spawning mode that draws together many of the largest fish. They will gather over large ledges or structures or other aberrations on the gulf's bottom.

Normally, these fish bite day or night. In some cases, the night action is better, but not always.

When snapper fishing in deep water, the size of the bait can help keep the smaller fish away and target only the big ones.

While half of a frozen sardine is popular snapper bait, it will be eaten by big and small fish alike. Tougher baits, such as live pinfish, are less likely to be nibbled down into bite-sized pieces, so they are often ignored by the little guys.

By dropping 3- or 4-inch pinfish into the school of snapper, you will catch mostly big ones and save the time it takes to weed though the others. Not having to land numerous small fish to get to the big ones is also better for the overall health of the fishery.

Tackle for snapper should be lighter than the standard grouper outfit. Their bite is far more subtle, and they tend to be more finicky, so use lighter leaders and weights, and smaller hooks. The ideal setup consists of a 20- or 30-pound class conventional rod-and-reel combination.

High-speed reels are helpful because snapper are bait stealers and checking to see whether you have been robbed in 100 feet of water can be tedious. With a fast reel, such as 6-to-1 ratio, you can bring your rig up with fewer turns of the handle. Rods should have fast taper with a relatively light tip to detect the subtle tap of a mangrove bite but a beefy lower section for the heavy lifting.

At the terminal end, many charter skippers like to use a long section of fluorocarbon leader to keep the sinker away from the bait. If the fish are showing up on the depth recorder but not biting well, lighter and longer rigs are needed. In most cases, 3 or 4 feet of 40-pound test fluorocarbon will do the job, but 6 to 8 feet is not out of the question.

Because the idea is to keep the rig as unobtrusive as possible, you want to use the lightest sinker that will make it to the bottom in a somewhat vertical manner. Too light and it will drift away before hitting the bottom; too heavy and the fish may be somewhat leery of it. In 100 feet of water, 3 to 4 ounces is usually sufficient unless there is a strong current.

Circle hooks make snapper fishing much easier. By using a 3/0 or 4/0 light wire circle hook, you will avoid gut-hooking the fish, which is not only better for releasing unwanted ones, but it may save your fingers from the chomping mouth of an angry snapper. These fish will try to bite you, and when they do, they will not let go. There are few things more painful than a toothy fish shaking and twisting while clamped down on one of your index fingers.

Anyone fishing in depths deeper than 40 feet should know the proper "venting" techniques.

Most fish pulled up rapidly from deep water will have expanded air bladders due to the rapid change in pressure. By inserting a sharp object behind the pectoral fin, this air, which is actually in the body cavity behind the stomach, will escape and the fish will have a much greater chance of survival.

The fish cannot remove this air on its own and will likely die if merely tossed overboard. When the stomach of the fish is distended, it resembles a fat tongue in the throat.

Do not pop the stomach. This too will lead to more dead fish.

In areas where short fish are numerous, bring them up slowly to increase their odds for survival. Proper catch-and-release techniques are crucial to the future of our offshore fishery.

Ed Walker charters out of Tarpon Springs. Call 727 944-3474 or e-mail info@light tacklecharters.com.