Summertime is snapper time, and snapper time means fishing big structures with light tackle. Now is a great time to head offshore with small baits and plenty of chum, luring snapper up from the deep.
On Friday, I fished with Capt. Josh Prunier, and snapper were willing to chum to the surface from 80 feet of water. We went to ultralight tackle and 15-pound leader before finally getting bites from the weary mangroves. However, the light tackle often meant a snapper would turn into food for something bigger.
The ocean's food chain is extremely apparent on bigger structures in the Gulf of Mexico like the barge we were fishing. Visit most reefs or wrecks and you’ll no doubt see all fish from small to huge. But now I must ask, is there a goliath problem at these locations?
It seemed any snapper that decided to make a run for the bottom was immediately inhaled by a goliath grouper. We could see the goliaths below the boat coming up to the surface after any hooked fish. This was in 80 feet, but it’s happened this summer to me as shallow as the 3-mile reef and as deep as 150 feet.
People are now targeting goliaths in Tampa Bay around the Sunshine Skyway and even around docks in the Intracoastal. Goliath grouper are extremely aggressive to the point of making spots almost unfishable with their huge appetite. When they get too large they have no enemies to worry about as a protected species.
We were able to land a half-dozen nice-sized mangrove snapper for dinner, so I decided to see exactly what was below. If you’ve read my past stories, you know how much I love to capture what is down below by rigging up my waterproof GoPro camera and sending it to the bottom. I’ve had a fear of sending it down to bigger structures like the enormous barge we were fishing, thinking it could become stuck. I put that fear aside and sent it down.
Playing back the video, it was easy to see why we were having problems keeping our snapper away from the goliaths. The top of the barge was 65 feet deep. About 30 feet below the surface was a school of snapper we were targeting. About 10 feet below them was no less than a dozen goliaths I could see through the 20 feet of visibility who thought they had a free meal anytime a snapper was hooked.
The goliaths have obviously played this game before. Many had hooks, leader and weights hanging out of their mouths like scars of battle.
They almost curiously swam down with the camera, where a smaller, maybe 15-pound goliath was surrounded by hundreds of grunts and mangrove snapper as it reached the bottom. The baby goliath was much smaller than his bigger counterparts, who probably averaged 200 to 300 pounds.
In situations where the goliath grouper are so aggressive, eating just about everything we have hooked, it makes me wonder how many of the precious gag grouper, red snapper and other popular gamefish are they eating in their daily diet.
Perhaps some type of season or lottery is inevitable to harvest goliath grouper, as they have made their presence felt now more than ever. I would be the first to sign up and try my best at wrestling a few away from their labyrinths below. I know many other anglers would be right behind me as well. It could give a few of these reefs a chance to repopulate with other gamefish.
To see the video visit YouTube.com/chapper15.
Looking to see some big fish? The 20th Annual DeSoto Fishing Tournament Weigh-in will start at 11 a.m. Sunday at Tarpon Pointe Marina. The offshore division will weigh in beginning at 2 p.m.
Source: U.S. Naval Observatory data