Catch and release fishing
Most Gulf Coast recreational anglers have had June 11 on their radar since it was announced as the opening of red snapper season.
It’s a short season, ending July 12, and as luck would have it, Mother Nature has other ideas for those looking to head west on opening day.
Southwest winds around 15 knots are predicted through at least Friday, causing most to delay their first trips. Next weekend might be the time anglers finally get to head west and snatch their limits (2 per person) of the popular snapper.
But what do you do when that is done?
Having been offshore, red snapper aren’t the challenge. The challenge has been avoiding them.
Charters that have been running offshore since June 1 have easily bagged limits. Some boats have reported six-person limits in as little as 5 minutes.
If you’ve got any deepwater spots that have had red snapper in the past, there’s a 99 percent chance they will be there now.
So you’re lucky enough to get a quick limit — now what?
June 1 also marked the opening of gag grouper season. Gag grouper often occupy the same structure as red snapper in deeper waters, but red snapper beat them to the bait.
To get gags, you want big bait. Preferably something alive like a big pinfish, mullet or blue runner. Big dead bait such as a ladyfish are a good option. Baits such as squid or sardines rarely last long enough for gags.
It seems like divers have had stringers full of gag grouper in 40- to 60-foot depths, but summertime shallow water gags can be a challenge to get to eat a hooked bait. The best bet for these fish is patience and going lighter on tackle. Scaling down to 40-pound leader and light weight might be what it takes.
The other main targets during red snapper season should be other snapper. Yellowtail snapper and mangrove snapper have been plentiful around structures such as the pipeline, wrecks and springs.
Keys for catching both fish involve fishing light tackle, chum and good timing.
Light tackle is usually spinning rods, from medium to heavy depending on the depth you are fishing. Using 20- to 40-pound class tackle is good with light leader from 20 to 40 pounds as well.
I like to fish the lightest jigheads possible, usually one-eighth to one-half ounce depending on depth and current rigged with chunks of dead bait or shrimp.
Chumming will bring snapper up in the water column and the jigheads will provide a more natural presentation. Summertime currents can be strong but when you time it right, yellowtail and mangrove snapper can be chummed all the way to the surface.
That is exciting fishing.
When you head out for red snapper this summer, remember other targets most likely will occupy your time once your limit is hit and you try to avoid catching more.
Be prepared for a little bit of everything. You never know when a big wahoo will show up or the yellowtail snapper will be swarming behind your boat. It’s an exciting time of year and I can’t wait for it myself.
If you want to see what offshore boats caught this weekend, head over to Bradenton Yacht Club on Sunday afternoon, when the Fire Charity Fishing Tournament weigh in will take place.
The weather might have been a bit spotty but fish should have been chewing with the low pressure.