June 1 marked the start of a nine-day American red snapper season, and so far anglers have been disappointed by the fishes’ cooperation. I witnessed this firsthand twice in the past four days.
On May 31 I headed far offshore, joining Jay Travis aboard his 32-foot Contender. For this trip the weather looked perfect after a week of preparation. We would spend the night and begin fishing over 150 miles offshore in depths greater than 300 feet, where giant red snapper, gag grouper and other species frequent.
When we woke up the morning of June 1 to a Gulf of Mexico sunrise, everyone was full of anticipation. Travis found the spot and the fish, got us positioned to do some deep dropping, and told us to hang on when we reached the bottom. We dropped. Nothing. Reposition, drop again. Nothing. Try new baits, different tackle. Nothing.
The Raymarine electronics showed us what we wanted to see, fish, and lots of them, but they refused to cooperate. When we did hook fish they were either amberjack or something we couldn’t stop. We moved deeper, nearing 400 feet of water, to another spot where Travis has caught many big fish before. Another bite, and another monster we can’t turn. Two big scamp grouper finally broke the ice but not the seemingly nonexistent red snapper.
Travis moved us shallower to more familiar depths in the 190 foot range. The depth finder showed fish but did little to assist us in cooperating bites. A few big red grouper would eat but strangely enough that was it.
We worked toward home and set up on a crack in 180 feet. We saw the first red snapper and then another. It took a bit of work but our five-person limit was achieved on this one spot.
Travis knew the bite was off and had a good feeling the fish just didn’t want to cooperate. Arriving back at home we hit social media and received reports from others who were also out. The consensus? The bite was awful. We weren’t alone. People fishing offshore noticed the same, very slow fishing and few red snapper. Spots that were producing last week had seemingly no hungry fish, and a mystery as to why that may be lingered over those who struggled.
On Friday I was determined to get back out and joined another awesome offshore fisherman, Taylor Chadsey Jr. Chadsey also experienced slow fishing on opening day. I came prepared with a few of my best spots for big red snapper where they surely had to be hungry. When we arrived at the first spot in 170 feet, his Garmin showed what I was looking for, fish below.
Baits went down and we waited. Nothing. Here we go again, I thought, before a red grouper and mangrove snapper were pulled to the surface. It wasn’t quite what we were looking for. We moved to a ledge. This time the mangrove snapper seemed hungry and Chadsey did an awesome job of landing a nice gag grouper on light snook tackle. But once again, no hungry red snapper here despite the knowledge I have of these spots.
By the late afternoon we had worked over a dozen proven red snapper spots, landing about 16, with half of those keeper sized. We weren’t alone as I heard many reports of people landing only a few fish in their honey holes. If you fished offshore and struggled, trust me, you weren’t alone. There were people who caught fish, but it wasn’t nearly as good as years past when nearly everyone who fished offshore reported limits.
Reports from Saturday were slightly better. It seems the shallower depths are producing more consistent bites. That could be contributed to the strong south current in deeper depths. My suggestion would be to start shallower and work further offshore until you find hungry fish.
With red snapper season closing this Friday it looks like weather will restrict the fishing days with tropical weather approaching. 2016 may go down as the worst red snapper season in recent memory with the horrible bite and tropical weather. Would I have gone again with the knowledge of what we would catch? You bet. Both days were filled with great company, nice weather, and something that will make those good days that much better, and with a little luck maybe it calms down after the storm and the fish decide to eat.
As Chadsey said at the end of our trip, “You just don’t know unless you go.”
Source: U.S. Naval Observatory data