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Red Snapper Rebound

BY JOHN PIOTROWSKI

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IN THE LAST FEW YEARS, ONE OF THE BIGGEST DEBATES AMONGST THE FISHING COMMUNITY AND MARINE REGULATORY AGENCIES HAS BEEN THE STRENGTH OF the American red snapper. Due to concerns over red snapper population levels, Florida set strict catch and bag limits for these beautiful and tasty fish. In most of Florida, recreational anglers are limited to two red snapper per person. That’s a pretty tight limit — especially considering these fish are mostly caught offshore, and the fuel costs are pretty high.

These fish are a favorite target for many anglers as they can grow quite large and are delicious table fare. The Lighthouse Point Saltwater Sportsmans Association has held an annual red snapper tournament and trip every year in June for over a decade — indeed, a fantastic trip! We fish out of Carrabelle, Florida, just southwest of Tallahassee. Carrabelle is a charming community nestled along the coast where oystermen and fishers gather. For South Florida anglers, this trip is unique because they experience some of the best bottom fishing anywhere in the world and it’s pretty often that we will travel 25 – 40 miles offshore and not see another boat all day.

One of the positive trends we are noticing as the red snapper population is apparently growing. We believe the snapper migrations affect the grouper and other bottom-dwelling fish. Based on historical catch data, experimental dives and underwater video, we believe that the snapper populations are pushing grouper to different areas of the gulf than they would usually congregate. In many cases, we are not catching certain species of grouper in areas where we have caught grouper for decades. When we look at the video and catch data, we see the snapper are so thick that they are eating everything and chasing bait (food) out of areas once dominated by grouper and other bottom snapper species. This has been a challenge for anglers looking to catch grouper. Not only are there fewer grouper in areas they have historically been, but the red snapper are also so thick that oftentimes you can’t get your bait to the bottom because the snapper are eating everything on the way down. Where grouper will usually stay closer to the bottom structure, snapper will school up higher in the water column — especially once feeding has begun.

Hopefully, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and other state marine organizations are monitoring this. The fishing community must share their catch data with the regulatory authorities. In the meantime, there are plenty of red snapper to be caught. Red snapper are commonly found between 45′ – 125′ depths on structure and near undulations on the seafloor. Natural bait (cut sardines, cigar minnows, LYs, squid and bonito chunks) is always good. Live pinfish or other small bait fish will work well too. There isn’t a need to use knocker rigs or long leaders like you would use for a mutton snapper. Your mainline to a weight and 3-4′ of heavy leader and a good-sized hook will work fine.

John Piotrowsk is president of the Lighthouse Point Saltwater Sportsman’s Association (LHPSSA). For more information, please vist LHPSSA.org and click “contact us.”

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