Fishing Report for the Florida Panhandle
Capt. Alex Crawford
April 28, 2005
Carrabelle - Saltwater Fishing Report
GET WRECKED FOR SUMMER SNAPPERS
By Captain Alex Crawford
Fishing for summer snappers in the northern Gulf of Mexico is nothing but pure, unadulterated fun. Wrecks are numerous along the Florida Panhandle and provide ideal habitat for many snapper species including lanes, mangroves, vermilions and the favorite target species, American red snapper. Throw in an occasional yellowtail or hogfish and you have the perfect recipe for terrific eats to celebrate your fish catching adventure. And go ahead and catch a big sow red snapper above 46 pounds and set the new Florida record. What’s not to like—it is all good!
Summer is spawning time and the fish are willing eaters. Any wreck in at least 50 feet of water is a good bet to produce your limit of snappers. For red snappers, the bag is 4 per angler per day, minimum of 16 inches overall length. The recreational season runs until the end of October.
Everyone knows that finding the fish is the secret to successful snapper catching. And wrecks make it easy. Once you arrive on your wreck waypoint, begin to idle in figure eights over the numbers. Invest extra time to find and confirm the best show of fish on your bottom machine. Always deploy a high quality marker buoy when your machine flashes like a big neon sign: ALERT, ALERT PARK HERE!
Depending on how long your wreck has been there, some of the steel superstructure may still be intact and standing up in the water column. Big snappers have the uncanny ability to eat your bait and cut you off in the wreck at the speed of greased lightning. Fluorocarbon leader material, stout sticks and fast cranking will put riders in the box and minimize break offs.
CHUNK ‘EM UP
Snappers love chunk baits. In preparation for your snapper soiree, spend time cutting large quantities of chunk baits. Highly recommended baits will include cigar minnows, sardines, pogies, shrimp, squid and quartered blue crabs. When snappers are on the bite with a strong current, they will eat almost any fresh offering. Cut snapper works great for these cannibals of the wrecks.
Live baits like cigars, pinfish, pogies, small hardtails and frisky finger mullet will be inhaled the instant they hit bottom. Always put a fresh dead cigar minnow behind the boat on a flat line. Bring your marker buoy in so it will not be in the way when a bruiser cobia comes to play. Minimum size outfit for flat lines should be thirty. If you want a smoker king, go to a wire leader, but fluorocarbon works best for sows that swim up for your flat line bait. Grouper will also come up at times. Don’t be surprised when a school of mahis respond to your chunk baits. Keep a few twelve pound class spinners with 1/0 live bait hooks ready to pitch bait the mahis.
It is common for 5 pound plus mangroves to come up in your chunk baits behind the boat. They are notorious for being leader shy, so scale down to light leaders and bury small hooks in the chunk baits. Allow your bait to fall naturally with the other chunks by playing out line with no weight. Visualize your own private aquarium behind your boat. Watching hefty, hand-fed snappers dining on your chunks on top is one of the ultimate fishing experiences. Mangroves on the Panhandle commonly grow to double digits. They pull and eat just a well as their red cousins. Plus, chunk-baiting these beauties is a total sensory experience. First, you see and hear the fish breaking on your baits. Then, you feel the connection to your target and hear the sweet string music. You get to actually touch these beautiful finny critters and celebrate your time on the water with the scrumptious taste of snapper cooked your way. And all of this with your best comrades, out on the brine, tide dancing, pumping and winding.
Most offshore enthusiasts prefer heavy tackle. Thirty, fifty and even eighty pound class gear is the norm. Snappers around my small pond average around 4 to 5 pounds. These fish can be handled with 20 pound gear. Because snappers are extremely leader- shy, heavy equipment will produce less hookups. Yes, you can catch twenty pound red snappers on 20 pound class tackle, even on wrecks. And yes, if you break off a really strong fish, you will say that you should have had a bigger outfit. But, bottom line, you will get more action on lighter stuff and have more fun catching fish.
The decision you make on hooks is an important one. Sharp out of the box, high quality J hooks in size 4 to 6/0 is my suggestion. Always hand-sharpen less expensive hooks. With their formidable canine front incisors, snappers are professional bait stealers. If you can hook up one out of three bites, you are doing great. My experiences over twenty four years of Gulf snapper fishing have taught me to go with relatively small hooks and light fluorocarbon. As the summer progresses, wrecks get heavy fishing pressure and the fish become shy. Chunk baiting, live baits and light gear will improve your odds.
A few of my flyrod customers enjoy targeting red and gray snappers on top. With the fish teased up on the surface, the angler presents his fly to a specific target fish. This is a thrilling pursuit. Many IGFA line class records are still open, particularly for females and kids. Who wants to be in the world record book? With sharp snapper teeth, a bite tippet is mandatory. Crab patterns will work. All of my recent snappers have been full of juvenile blue crabs. Try your twelve weight wand and throw a chartreuse deceiver.
Depending upon who you talk to across the Gulf coast, the red snapper fishery is as healthy as ever or totally overfished. The argument goes on, but here are some facts to consider. Red snapper fishing regs are exceedingly more restrictive. Both recreational and commercial interests have seen reduced bag limits, increased size limits and smaller quotas. The recreational season in the Gulf lasts only 6 months. The historical modus operandi of fisheries managers has been restrictive. Expect this trend to continue. Recently, the National Marine Fisheries Service implemented a moratorium on all new guide permits for reef species including red snappers.
A revolutionary new “live stocking” initiative has been implemented in the Gulf. Sow red snappers are captured and their young are raised in captivity. The fish are “stocked” on artificial reefs in the Gulf. Dive teams observe the behavior of the juvenile fish. The capability to replicate this program on a large scale will be one extremely proactive solution to maintaining the resource.
CELEBRATE YOUR CATCH
The bragging rights photos, the world-class dinner party with good friends and the fishing memories with your best comrades all make these experiences so special. Snappers lend themselves to many styles of gourmet cuisine. Lots of folks love it fried golden brown, cooked super fast in peanut oil. A classic Gulf coast snapper recipe is simply chargrilled with a baste of lemon, garlic and butter. One of my favorites is sautéed mangroves with onions, mushrooms and dill butter, served over pasta. Baking a whole red snapper will feed the whole family, with leftovers for a week. Snappers lend themselves to freezing very well. A friend loves snapper filleted paper thin with a lime juice marinate, she calls it sashimi heaven. Whatever your tastes, snappers are a culinary feast. Life is short, eat well!
LOGISTICS AND TRIP PLANNING
Summer snapper fishing on the Forgotten Coast of the Northwest Florida Panhandle is an ultra-spectacular adventure. You can find many wreck numbers in the public domain or email me for some private lat/longs. If you plan to pull your boat here to get in on the exceptional snapper fishing, following is some info that will be helpful.
Apalachicola Chamber of Commerce—(850) 653-9419
Beach rentals on Saint George Island- Prudential Resort Realty—(850) 927-2666
Scipio Creek Marina—(850) 653-8030
Bryant House (B&B)—(850) 3270
Captain Alex Crawford is a full-time guide and freelance outdoor writer based in Apalachicola, FL. He may be reached at (850) 653-1325 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.topknots.com.
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