“Watch, you’ll see them coming up,” I said. “As soon as your bait gets down to about 30 feet, they’ll come up to get it.”
Like watching live television, I stared intently at Tom Howard’s Simrad fish finder. It had such a clear read of the bottom, the fish, and even the jigs we were dropping below. With each shrimp that went down a snapper or grouper rose from the ledge 50 feet below to seek out their next meal and the screen was able to show it all.
I was introduced to Howard months ago through local Facebook fishing groups. Our shared interest in targeting nearshore species like snapper, hogfish and grouper brought us together aboard Howard’s beautiful 26-foot Gause on Wednesday afternoon. We were armed with about 15 dozen shrimp and a mixture of pinfish, whitebait and blue runners thanks to leftovers from Capt. Ryan Harrington, who was cleaning fish at the Rod & Reel pier.
We only had a few hours to fish when we started dropping baits in about 43 feet. I showed Howard a custom jig I have been making and perfecting for hogfish. It keeps the bait right on the bottom, the ideal location where hogfish want to eat.
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The bite started quickly, and each bait that hit the bottom was hit immediately. We fished 4,000-sized spinning tackle with 20-pound leader and half-ounce jigs tipped with half shrimp to start. After a mixture of grouper, sheepshead and blue runners, Howard landed a hogfish on the custom jig, a sign we may be in the right area.
When the bite slowed, we pointed northwest a few miles to an area of ledges that Howard frequently dives. “I’ve seen plenty of hogfish and snapper there before,” he said.
With the Rhodan trolling motor deployed, we kept right on the spot. It was getting late in the day, and the magic sunset hour was upon us. I landed another nice hogfish and soon after, Howard landed a small kingfish from the bottom. A few drops later that jig was gone when Howard was overmatched after a tough battle with a bigger grouper.
I talked up mangrove snapper stories from the past about the sunset bite being incredible at times. I rerigged to a lighter, 1/4-ounce jig and called my shot” “There’s a 5- or 6-pound mangrove snapper here.”
My line slowly worked its way down the water column. That’s when I saw the snapper on the Simrad inching their way up off the bottom.
With a mighty thump my line started peeling off the spool as I quickly turned the bail over on the 4000-Penn Clash.
“This is a good fish,” I grunted.
A bit of back and forth and I was able to get it turned toward the surface. Howard couldn’t help as he was fighting his own fish on the other side.
I grabbed the net, and in the boat it came. Easily one of the biggest mangrove snapper I’ve caught in that depth over 5 pounds.
The fishing was absolutely on fire as Howard switched to a lighter jig and began to get “the feel” as I like to call it. Slowly feeding line out as the bait drops through the water column and waiting for the bite was the way to go.
A few more nice snapper and grouper were coaxed into eating before the only thing that could stop us finally won out, a setting sun to the west with Thanksgiving obligations ahead. We left them biting to arrive back inshore with a glimmer of daylight remaining.
For only a few hours of fishing it was apparent that hungry fish were prevalent. By fishing light tackle, light jigs and rocky structure we put good fish in the cooler in short time.
The jigs we used are about ready to go into production, and they work extremely well.
For more information, contact Jon Chapman at email@example.com.