Red Snapper are one of the most sought after, and definitely one of the top targets of all anglers along the Florida Panhandle. Recent years have seen a huge increase in size and numbers.
When to Catch Red Snapper
We catch red snapper year round. How many and when we can keep them is always a issue, as regulations determine this.
This year we have 70 days in state waters, from May 23 to July 12, and reopened for Saturdays and Sundays in September and October, including Labor Day and Sunday, Nov. 1. Minimum size limit is 16 inches in total length, two per harvester per day.
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Where to Catch Red Snapper
There are several types of places to fish for red snapper. Here in the Florida Panhandle we catch snapper in water 40 ft to 250 ft deep. We find them on natural bottom (coral and rock), wrecks and man made reefs. You can get the GPS numbers from several places to fish. You can buy charts from Half Hitch, or you can look online at www.myfwc.com/conservation/saltwater/artificial-reefs, or on a county site like www.co.okaloosa.fl.us/dept_pw_resources_reefs.html.
Optionally, you can have a reef company build your own private spots. Most reef builders build you 10 to 12 spots at a time. Normally they are built from used chicken coops. Our reef builder here in Destin build 11 reefs at a time, each reef is built from two chicken coops chained together. I have them put out in strings about 1/2 mile apart. I like a string of four about 10 to 15 miles down the beach in 60 ft to 80 ft of water. The next string of four, I like 20 or so miles down the beach just inshore of the state water line. The last three of my order I like 20 or so miles from home in water 150 ft to 200 ft deep south of my two inshore strings, these will produce snapper, grouper and amberjacks. The cost to get 11 spots like this is about $5000.
When getting GPS numbers, the counties have built many nice places. Many times they put a large reef like a tug boat down first and then make a X pattern around the tug boat using Florida Special reefs. Most people want to go and fish the tug boat in the middle of the cluster but I often find the best fishing on the far ends is the X pattern of reef modules up to a 1/2 mile from the larger anchor wreck. The reason for this is it is easier for people to find the larger center reef and it just gets fished more.
Using Google Earth to find places is another good way of finding edges, breaks and rocks in water from 180 ft to 300 ft deep. Google Earth has a neat feature now; there was a study done of the Florida Bank or Destin Dome. If you look at Google Earth and really start to zoom in on our area you will see two lines start to appear along the coast from 180 ft to 300 ft. All the area inside these lines is hi-definition bottom. You can see all the rocks and ledges in this area. When you first open Google Earth you need to make a couple changes to the settings. First go to view and turn on the status bar and on the bottom right you will now see the GPS number and water depth for where you cursor is pointing. Now click on the Google Earth icon on status bar and click preferences and change the GPS format from degrees-minutes-seconds to degrees-decimal-minutes and you are ready to start looking for spots. At this point, the cursor is a little hand and it is a little hard to hover over the exact number you want, but turn on the ruler to use you a bull’s eye cursor that is very accurate. I have checked known numbers for rocks and they are within 20 ft. You can even use Google Earth to organize all your places.
To really catch red snapper you will need a good bottom machine and GPS unit. When you get to your place to fish you want to see something like this:
Rods, Reels and Line
Use a medium to medium heavy rod, 6 1/2 ft to 7 ft, and a mid-size conventional reel filled with 50 lb to 60 lb mono or 65 lb to 80 lb braid. If you like spinning rods and reels a 8000 size reel on a 6 1/2 ft to 7ft medium heavy rod with 65 lb braid works good and is also great for when you want to butterfly jig for snappers or flyline for kings.
Shimano Torium 30 & Tallus Rod.
Shimano Stradic 8000 & Tallus Rod.
Penn Squall and Ally Rod.
Penn Battle and Squadron Rod.
Power Pro Braid.
Terminal Tackle and Rigs
Rigs are fairly simple.There is the simple egg lead rig and my favorite is the snap lead rig. The leader should be 60 lb test 6ft long with a 7/0 Owner Mutu Light hook or similar. As for the size of lead I like the lightest possible to be able to fish straight up and down in the current. A good rule of thumb is 1oz for every 1 ft of water.
I like the snap lead rig because you don't have to retie if you want to change lead size and can unclip the lead when running in and out and from spot to spot and the rig stores better on the rod. The only real difference is at the top of the rig, on the egg lead rig you use a barrel swivel and the snap lead rig you use a 3-way swivel at the top.
Another neat rig for your spinning outfit is a knocker rig, very similar to a egg lead rig but with no swivel allowing the lead to slide down to the hook. With this rig you use a much lighter lead no matter the depth of the water, only about 2 oz. When you arrive at the spot toss as far up current as you can and let it slowly drift back to you. By the time the rig is under the boat you will often have a snapper bite already, and many times one of the larger ones you will catch all day, as the bigger snapper will often be very close to the surface, closer than you may think.
Regular mono works good for leader material, but when fishing gets tough, or you just want a extra edge, make your rigs out of Seaguar Fluorocarbon. Fluorocarbon is the same density as saltwater and does not refract light making it nearly invisible to the fish.
Egg lead rig.
Snap lead rig.
Flourocarbon is nearly invisible to the fish.
There are a variety of good natural baits. You can use frozen but of course live is better.
To catch bait, look just inside the pass and just outside the pass for schools of bait fish flipping.
Use a Sabiki rig to catch the bait fish. Most of the time a regular Hayabusa bait rig works great. Sometimes during a full moon the bait fish can be very finicky and difficult to catch. During this time you may need the fluorocarbon Hayabusa bait rig to get them to bite.
One of the things most people hate about catching bait is how to store the Sabiki rigs at the end of the day. I cut 4 or 5 pieces of pvc pipe 5’ long and zip tie to attach them to a leg of the T-top, I slide the bait rig lead first into the pvc pipe and hook the last hook on the edge. This way the rigs does not just stay tangled on the rod at the end of the day.
For those of you who are like me and sometimes get bored fishing with bait waiting for a bite there is always butterfly jigging. Jigging works great for snapper, grouper and amberjack. While it will work on any rod and reel, having all the right components makes the whole think work. You need a fast powerful reel like the Shimano Torium of Shimano Talica II filled with braided line and a wind-on leader. You fish a tight drag to get the fish out of the wreck on a powerful rod. Braid does not stretch and that is why you need the wind-on leader to act as a shock absorber so you do not either pull the hook on the fish or break the fish off.
Another lure that can be used on the Knocker Rig is a Savage Shrimp. Works Great!!
Staying on the Spot (Reef, Wreck, Natural Bottom)
For me trying to watch the bottom machine and GPS and stay on the spot is difficult just because I do not do it often enough. You see the charter boats just hover in place looking only at the electronics. For me tossing over a Suremark buoy when we get to the spot makes it so much easier. The nice thing about the Suremark Buoy over other models is once you throw it over it feeds out just enough line to stay right on top of the wreck and not drift out of place.
Accessories make your trip better!!
Calcutta rod belt.
Cush-It rod knobs. My favorite for ease of use.
This article was provided by Half Hitch fishing expert, Tim Broom. Get the PDF here: GCSSS-redsnapper.pdf