Storms make fish do crazy things. They seem to fire into a frenzy as weather approaches, and when timed right some of the most incredible fishing days are when good weather is had right around changing weather.
Last Sunday I was able to venture offshore aboard the 35-foot Cabo, Reel Legends, with Conrad Szymanski, son Geoff Szymanski, and Jonathan Pinke. Hurricane Harvey had wrecked havoc in the western edge of the Gulf a week before while Irma was developing in the Atlantic. During the previous day, storms covered the entire eastern Gulf of Mexico over a stalled weather boundary.
It was the final chance for American red snapper following the extension of the recreational season, so we were all determined to go. After loading the livewell with shiners and pinfish, we pushed west toward storms in the distance. The storms proved fairly small as we pushed through a brief rain, and the spot in 140 feet of water, “Mango Stop,” had clear skies overhead upon our arrival.
The Raymarine fish finder showed stacks of fish below, and the only question was: how would the bite be?
The answer? It was on!
With seemingly every bait that was sent down, a red snapper made its way to the surface. We threw back smaller fish, and there were plenty of them.
To add a bit of fun, I fished light tackle. On a 4000 Penn Clash and an 8-foot Medium MHX rod, I dropped down a 3/4-ounce jighead with spanish sardines. Red snapper were hitting it on the drop, making for fun fights on what is essentially inshore flats tackle.
After 30 or 40 red snapper came over the gunnels, I asked: “Are there any other fish here?”
“We call this ‘Mango Stop’ because of the big mangos we caught here before,” Conrad said.
When a big red snapper spit up a freshly eaten spanish sardine — a wild one from the bottom and not one we brought — I hooked it up and sent it down. The reward? An instant fish that turned out to be a big mangrove snapper!
Next up we started sending some livebait down. Small shiners continued to produce smaller red snapper, so I dug for a medium-sized pinfish. As it made its journey slowly through the water column, I hooked into something much larger than previous 7- and 8-pound red snapper.
This fish fought and fought. Multiple times it had me locked up in the bottom, but I managed to pull it out. After about 10 minutes, the battle was finally in my favor. We looked below to see a white silhouette. It was a huge red snapper, the biggest one I’ve ever seen in 140 feet or less. It was swung into the boat and weighed in at 18 pounds. A great fight on light tackle.
We worked through many more mangrove snapper and red snapper, and eventually a school of mahi showed up behind the boat as well. After adding a few of those to the fish box, we decided to point east to begin our journey home.
The key to catching bigger fish was working baits slowly through the water column. The bigger snapper seemed to stay 30 to 40 feet above the bottom, and the jigheads helped to target those fish.
With red snapper season closing, most offshore anglers will most likely change their targets to gag and red grouper as the fall season approaches. Reports on both have been spotty, and it will be interesting to see how the fishery changes following the exit of Hurricane Irma.
Source: U.S. Naval Observatory data