“How is the fishing?” is usually one of the first questions I ask captains to start a conversation.
Most will answer truthfully, and this summer there have been few negative responses with most reporting constant action even during “downtime.”
If the response is positive, I follow with a “what have you been catching?” This year there has been a common answer among inshore, nearshore and offshore captains: mangrove snapper.
I’m guessing if you’ve been out you have had an encounter as well.
Mangrove snapper are most known for being found around larger structure offshore. They are a very smart and leery fish, often ignoring hooked baits with their keen eyesight. When they get put into a frenzy however, it can be a great way to fill up the cooler.
Inshore captains have seen the biggest surge of mangrove snapper in recent years. Mangrove snapper are a fairly common target among those who know the heat of summer made flats fishing tough in the middle of the day. Normal downtime around slow tides are a great time to target mangrove snapper to keep the action going.
The effective way snapper have been targeted was anchoring along the edge of rocky channels or artificial reefs. Light tackle and leader, small hooks, and small whitebait or shrimp would consistently bring decent catches home for a tasty meal.
In recent years, snapper numbers have seemed to grow exponentially, meaning they have expanded their habitat and grown more aggressive. Now they are mixing with snook and trout schools on the flats, and anglers have noticed.
While fishing for snook on outgoing tides near creek and bay mouths, I’ve caught mangrove snapper. While fishing grass flats for trout, I’ve caught mangrove snapper. While fishing pot holes trying to chum up redfish, I’ve caught mangrove snapper. While fishing the edges of Tampa Bay for snapper… well, of course, I’ve caught snapper. Docks in the intercoastal? Tons of mangrove snapper. They seem to be everywhere!
If you want to really target them, areas of rocks around the bay seem to be holding the highest concentrations. Reefs as shallow as Emerson Point and the Egmont Key reef give good action on snapper and the occasional grouper.
They seem to be at historic levels for anglers like myself who have spent their lives fishing around Tampa Bay.
Nearly every single change of elevation seems to be holding snapper from grass flat drop-offs, to channel edges around the bay, and of course normal structure like bridges and piers. There seem to be thousands in some locations meaning anglers are catching them at high rates.
That’s a good thing. They are one of the best eating fish so seeing them as by catch on the flats is a welcome sight. Maybe you too have noticed snapper being out of their normal offshore haunts and visited some of your shallower spots. If you see them but they won’t bite, downsize your tackle. Lighter leader, smaller hooks hidden inside baits, and less terminal tackle.
Chances are you’ll be able to bring a few home for dinner, no matter where you are fishing.
Source: U.S. Naval Observatory data