Targeting mangrove snapper during their summer spawn can be quite like shooting fish in a barrel. While these fish are spawning out on the reefs in mid summer catching your limit of five fish can be of little challenge, unless we throw in a few stipulations. The first challenge is that we want to catch them during the day so as to not disturb our beauty sleep. And second, that we want large fish, not the puny ones, so desperate to commit suicide at first sight of a hook.
While most serious reef anglers know that the summer spawning mangroves bite best after dark, the five fish per day limit barely makes it worthwhile to stay out after sunset. The same spots that hold mangrove snapper at night also hold them during the day. The techniques for catching them during the day are slightly different than for night fishing. For night fishing the trick is to chum the fish right to the back of the boat and then to drift cut bait back to them, similar to the techniques used in yellow tail fishing. When fishing during the day chum is also the first step, and will bring up fish; however the larger mangroves will tend to stay on the bottom and farther back in the chum line. If after ten or fifteen minutes of chumming you do not see any smaller mangrove snapper in your chum line it is probably a good idea to try another reef.
When you do find a spot with snapper, you need to get bait behind the smaller eager fish and back to the more wary, trophy sized fish. A half to a three quarter ounce egg sinker is usually all that you need to accomplish this. A four o/t sized short shank hook like Mustad’s 9174 is a good choice for your terminal connection. When using twenty to thirty pound test line no other terminal equipment is needed, simply slide on the egg sinker and tie on your hook. This rig, called a knocker rig is both simple and effective. If you are using lighter line you will need to tie on a 20 to 30 pound leader and you should then be willing to have a fair number of these fish power you into the bottom. As any mangrove snapper fisherman will attest these fish are freakishly strong, and even with thirty pound test a lot of these fish find their way into cover and freedom.
Another important step in catching trophy mangroves is the selection of bait. While smaller fish are known to eat just about anything that will fit into their mouths as will most any size fish at night. The day mangroves of size are quite a bit fussier. Bait selection for day fishing must include two factors. First it must appeal to the large snapper, and second it must be tough enough to fend off an assault from the bait pickers like smaller snapper or grunts. Medium to small pinfish were custom made to fit the bill. They hold up to a lot of picking and they are attractive to the large snapper. Another bait that will fit the bill is the ever versatile ballyhoo plug. A word of caution when using ballyhoo for snapper is to not use too small of a bait. You should not try to get more than two pieces of bait from a medium ballyhoo. Too small of a bait will allow bait stealers to run off with the offering. By the way bait stealers nibbling on the bait will serve to attract the larger snapper to come over to see what all of the commotion is about. The bait however must be tough enough and large enough to thwart the thieves.
Whole volumes could be written about the proper technique and timing for setting the hook on a mangrove snapper. They confound even the most experienced from time to time. Suffice it to say, that snapper will often play with a bait for an extended amount of time before they have it deep enough into their mouth’s to set the hook. One technique for a proper hook set is to wait during the nibbling phase of the bite making sure not to let the fish feel you on the other end of the line. When the nibbling stops and the fish start to move off steadily, that is the time to let him pull the rod tip towards the water. When the slack is out of the line, strike the fish firmly and quickly pick up line with a series of fast pump and wind motions. Getting the fish away from the cover at the bottom is only the first step. Once the fish is clear of the bottom the second step is to get it into the boat before the barracuda‘s that usually lurk near spawning snapper, help them selves to the back half of your dinner. Keep up the pressure and if you can get the fish swimming toward you start to reel in a fast and steady motion. If a barracuda does leave with you with part of a snapper don’t hesitate to use it for bait. By keeping a rod rigged with a steel leader you can place the remainder of your snapper on the hook and fool most cudas. This accomplishes three things, first, being hooked and fought will discourage most cudas from biting for a while, second it will give you a great fight as most cudas give at least one great jump when first hooked and fighting a big cuda from an anchored boat is always a thrilling fight. Finally it will give you that great feeling of vengeance that is so rarely realized in this day and age.
If you don’t want to miss dinner while trying to catch dinner, get out and get some of those big day snapper.
Captain John Sahagian