Red snapper season opened for recreational anglers on June 11, but in the nearly two weeks since, few days have been calm enough to allow their pursuit. But on those light wind days when the opportunity has been there, fishing has been great.
I was fortunate enough to venture offshore about 60 miles on the 32-foot Contender Legal Limit with Caleb and Kyle Grimes as well as a few of their friends. It was a windless day with some leftover western swell allowing a speedy trip to target the popular bottom fish.
We started the day catching bait in Tampa Bay filling the livewells full of whitebait, pinfish and some cigar minnows. Our destination pointed us due west to an area of spots that have treated me well in recent years on big red snapper.
They’re nothing more than some small holes around hard bottom that could easily be overlooked. The goal was to catch of a limit of red snapper, mix in some grouper and be prepared for whatever else might swim our way.
When we arrived to the first spot, the Garmin marked fish 160 feet below. Kyle Grimes sent down a whole squid and was almost immediately hooked up with a nice fight. He worked a solid red grouper from the depths and the fishbox opened for its first guest.
Next up came the red snapper. In short time we had four in the box with the biggest around 18 pounds. A few throwback triggerfish and smaller red snapper were released as a handful of mangrove snapper were caught and added to the growing fishbox.
The bite slowed so we moved less than a mile to another spot found last year on the Legal Limit.
When we first drove over the mark it looked barren. But a second and then third look confirmed the presence of fish below that seemed to welcome our arrival. The Rhodan GPS trolling motor was locked into place and baits were fired down. Rods bent and red snapper came up to the surface as well as a few more red grouper.
Danielle Ellis grabbed a big spinning rod rigged with a 1-ounce Hogball to send down a live shiner. As her bait dropped through the water column, she hooked into something large that was acting a bit funny.
The fish didn’t want to run to the bottom like a snapper or grouper, instead making a run for the surface. Tuna? Kingfish? Shark? The thoughts of varying pelagics danced through our mind.
With a captive audience watching her fish take to the surface, all eyes were glued to what was on the end of the line. Then it broke the surface with an aerial display.
And a big one at that!
We cleared all other lines on deck as we watched its beautiful jumping across the calm Gulf waters. Ellis fought the sailfish around the boat a few times and after about 20 minutes it was boat side, brilliantly lit up in the blue water.
Kyle Grimes readied a pair of gloves for the unhooking and release.
The line was wrapped around its bill a few times so the sail was slid onto the gunnel and another pair of hands helped untangle and unhook the fish. After a quick picture it was back in the water, revived and released to fight another day.
It was an unforgettable experience.
When the adrenaline wore off, we went back to red snapper fishing. The limit was soon done with and we tried to focus on other species such as grouper and mangrove snapper, catching a few more of each. On our calm journey back eastward, we came across a school of mahi that were hanging around a big patch of sargassum, adding to the already colorful box.
Once again the Gulf provided a few surprises as it always seems to do this time of year. So when you get out, be prepared for anything. The week ahead should be beautiful weather, allowing anglers to get after them.