- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.
Red snapper are one of the most prized species inhabiting the Gulf of Mexico. The main reason for this is not because of some very exciting way they are caught, neither is it in the way they resist capture. Simply put, no matter how they're cooked, they taste absolutely wonderful!
Because of that “fatal flaw,” red snapper have been a primary target of both recreational and commercial fishermen for as long as boats appropriate for pursuing them have been around. Mismanagement of their stocks was commonplace; until recent years, many supposedly protective regulations on them were only token measures. Nowadays—mainly because of one state’s gross ineptitude in managing all of its fisheries, including that of the red snapper—the National Marine Fisheries Service is attempting to rebuild the stock by imposing a very restrictive set of laws governing the fish in federal waters Gulf-wide. These measures include strict minimum size and possession limits. Another is a 6-month moratorium on fishing for them.
The ever-popular red snapper is severely over-fished in some of its range, which has led to a 6-month, Gulf-wide moratorium on snapper fishing. That closed season will be here soon, so get 'em while you can!
Now, as autumn waxes and with it some of the best action of the year with these fish, you have until October 31 to amass enough of their succulent fillets to last you until the season opens again next April. Across much of the Gulf that should not be too difficult if you adhere to the following guidelines—at least it shouldn’t be outside of that particular state that allowed its stocks to become so ravaged and thereby allowed the feds to bestow so much grief on the rest of us!
Red snapper are creatures of hard structure. Across the Gulf that comes in several forms. Off Texas, for instance, these fish are now taken atop wrecks and rock outcroppings on the seabed and alongside petroleum platforms. At this time water roughly 60 to 100 feet deep should be targeted. Here, as elsewhere across the Gulf, unless you have a suitable boat, this is a charter fishery. Sizeable Texas fleets are based at Port Aransas, Port O’Conner, Freeport, and Galveston to take advantage of that state’s opportunity.
Off the Louisiana coast there is a virtual forest of petroleum platforms standing in suitable water. In the western half of the state, however, access to them is mainly confined to a small charter operation in Cameron and a couple of public back-down ramps in that town and in nearby Grand Chenier. On the other hand, further east at Cocodrie—south of Houma, Fourchon, Grand Isle, and Venice—charter and private-boat fishing for red snappers is a way of life for many folks, skippers and anglers alike. Here, “rig-fishing” is a time-honored tradition, and limits—and some pretty big fish—come easily.
There are a number of charter operations along Mississippi’s “Casino Coast.” This is a great place for someone who likes the nightlife as much as he does snapper snatching. Most of the fishing is done around platforms in Louisiana’s Main Pass area—that being north and east of the Mississippi River Delta, though there are a handful of productive ones in Mississippi’s waters.
It might be surprising that the waters off Alabama’s rather short coastline offer an extensive and productive opportunity for these fish. While there are indeed petroleum platforms hereabouts that give up consistently fine catches, Alabama boasts the most extensive artificial reef system in the Gulf. These are made up of everything and anything including car bodies, culverts, bridge rubble, barges, boats, liberty ships, planes, petroleum platforms, and tanks—obsolete military weapons, not containers! And they draw many species like magnets! An extensive charter fishery operates out of Orange Beach, a short drive from Gulf Shores, which is tourist-oriented and sports some lovely beaches to entertain any non-fishing members of your party.
In federal waters Gulf-wide (The Exclusive Economic Zone or “EEZ”), four fish of 16 inches or more in length are allowed per angler per day. Obviously the effort and the cost required to catch four minimum-sized snappers would result in a meager mess of fillets, which would reflect an incredible cost per pound! Therefore it would be wise to target the largest fish.
Gear That Won't Snap
When sizeable snapper are possible (autumn is a fine time to catch them), don't mess around with light tackle.
No matter where you find them, the first step in catching them is to use appropriate tackle. I once carried out an up-the-country crew who had come south thinking they could fish offshore with bass tackle. Sure they could fish; the “catching” was the hard part! That was really a shame, them coming so far to get eaten up so badly!
The purpose of the relatively heavy gear required for most red snapper fishing is not because of the size of the fish—good ones being 10 pounds or more, though they do get much larger—but to keep them from swimming into the structure that has attracted them and subsequently cutting the line. This is especially critical when fishing around platforms in 100 feet or more of water.
A 7-foot fast-action “boat rod” equipped with a conventional reel like the Ambassadeur 7000 is an adequate and popular outfit. Fifty-pound super-braid line is proving its worth on the grounds, as it is both abrasion-resistant and quite sensitive. Thread a suitable-sized egg sinker onto it and tie it to one end of a black barrel swivel.
To the other end of the swivel tie around three feet of 50-pound fluorocarbon. If slamming home a hook trips your trigger, finish the leader with a size 6/0 j-style hook. On the other hand, a similar-sized circle hook can lead to a better hook-up rate—if you have the knowledge that you shouldn’t try to set it yourself and the patience to let the fish do it for you!
The fact that red snapper taste so good apparently has absolutely nothing to do with what they eat. That seems to be virtually anything they can get into their mouths, and some of those items are not very conducive to creating appetizing fish-flesh. Chunks of freshly caught little tunny, bluefish, and blue runners (a.k.a. “hardtails”) about twice the size of your thumb work well. Whole cigar minnows are a favorite enticer, and squid, large shrimp and menhaden also take their share. If you want a really huge fish try a live hardtail about six inches long.
Finding fish is usually easy enough, though the really big ones require more technique and a lot of luck. Artificial reefs are normally marked with buoys, their GPS coordinates being listed on the websites of the various states’ fisheries agencies (also, see: www.dto.com/swfishing/plan/). Wrecks and rock outcroppings must be discovered with a depth recorder and marked with a GPS unit—or they must be connived from a charter boat skipper who you have well lubricated in a marina’s bar. These forms of structure are best worked by anchoring upcurrent of them, then allowing the boat to drift back over them. The fish are usually found directly atop the structure.
Across much of the Gulf Coast, petroleum platforms in roughly 60 to 100 feet of water are now a sure bet for red snapper.
A platform should initially be worked by dropping your bait to the bottom, timing how long it takes to get there. Then quickly retrieve it upward, as sometimes a host of small snappers and bait-stealers are found around a platform’s base. Then drop it again, though this time for not quite so long. For instance, if it took 30 seconds for your bait to tag bottom, drop if for 25 seconds the next time, then 20 seconds, and so on until you find the level the good fish are holding. You can also ask a companion who just caught a good one “how many cranks off bottom” if he is using a reel similar to yours, and then follow suit. Remember, too, that the biggest fish are often suspended well up the water column.
No matter how big a fish you hook, get it headed north as soon as you can and keep it coming; the drill of “snapper snatching” is just as the term implies—at least it is if you want to catch the fish instead of lose it. It may lack finesse, but there’s a little bit of sport in it—sort of like the reciprocal of getting beaten up by yellowfin tuna. Whatever, you are still actually fishing, and the ends more than justify the means!
But you’d better get your fill of ‘em while you can, because the time to do so is growing short!