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On the Water: Shallow water snapper — fun to catch, great to eat

By Staff | Aug 3, 2016

While visiting Florida, Alan Davis and his daughter caught a mess of snapper for a fresh dinner. They were fishing Pine Island Sound with Capt. Bill Russell. PHOTO PROVIDED

When we think summer inshore fishing around Southwest Florida, we generally think tarpon, snook, redfish, but seldom mangrove snapper. By no means the largest fish in local waters, but what the mangrove snapper lacks in size, it makes it up in availability, tenacity and excellent table fare.

This summer is looking to be another great one for inshore snapper fishing. They arrived right on time and in good numbers and size. What’s good about snapper is they are widespread and obtainable for anglers both from shore and boat. Their diet consists of both fish and crustaceans, while a live well of shiners or pilchards is a great way to catch them, these baits aren’t obtainable for all anglers. Shrimp work equally well – live works best but dead shrimp, either fresh or frozen, will catch plenty, as well as small shrimp-tipped jigs. I have also done really well on cut bait, including pilchards, herring and ladyfish.

Tackle is really important for catching the bigger snapper, not so much that you need an ultra-smooth drag and a ton of line capacity, but in the way the terminal tackle is rigged. Snapper have keen eyesight and can really get leader shy; after you catch a couple, it’s common for them to get suspicious. Although these guys fight incredibly hard for their size and are often caught around structure, it’s imperative to go light to consistently fool them. A light rig spooled with 8 to 15 lb. mono or braid is a good start. The leader and hook may be the most important factor. A fluorocarbon leader is nearly invisible and a huge advantage. You may start with 30 lb. but find it necessary to drop down to 12 lb. to get consistent action, and if using braid, go with a longer leader, often 3 feet or longer. Use a small hook – one of the biggest mistakes many anglers make is using way too big of a hook. A 1/0 or smaller circle hook is a good choice. I prefer Owner Mutu Lights, their small, super sharp and strong.

If you are fishing an area where you can get away without adding any weight, don’t, you will get a lot more action with the natural presentation of a free-lined bait. If you are fishing deeper water or in strong current, use just enough weight to get to the target area; old-fashioned egg sinkers rigged so the line slides through it are a time proven method. Remember, snapper don’t have a huge mouth, don’t use a huge bait. Also, if you get your fingers to close to that mouth, you will quickly realize how they got their name.

Mangrove snapper are common in about all our inshore waters, this includes the miles and miles of canal systems, bridges, piers, oyster bars, mangrove shorelines, channel edges, rocky bottoms (especially in the Gulf passes) and any other type of submerged structure. Some of my favorite summer snapper spots are in less than 4 feet of water. Look for structure in areas with a decent tide flow and odds are good the fish are there. In some areas like the Gulf passes where the tide flow can be super strong, the best fishing often occurs over the last hour of a tide, through the slack and into first hour of the next tide, while the current flow is less.

What’s not to like about snapper? It’s the perfect fish for anglers of all ages, boat or no boat. They fight incredibly hard for their size, don’t require a bunch of specialized tackle or bait and, best of all, they make for some really great eating.

If you have a fishing report or for charter information, please contact us at 239-283-7960, on the Web at www.fishpine-island.com or email: gcl2fish@live.com

Have a safe week and good fishin’.