June 2011 Web Xtra Coverage. In the June issue of FS, writer Ed Mashburn ushers in the June 1 opening of Gulf red snapper season with a must-read feature documenting hotspots, new tactics and tips for catching your limit. For the Pensacola, Destin and Panama City Beach areas, Mashburn runs down prospects for nearshore and offshore action with commentary from some of the best local captains. But the western Panhandle isn’t the only region where anglers will be snapping up fish on June 1 through July 18, the dates for this year’s federal Gulf snapper season. In other ports along Florida’s west coast, you can also catch great snapper limits and go for grouper and pelagics in the same day.
Right before the start of season this year, Amery Lim of Nokomis fished from Sarasota County and caught and released this beautiful red snapper, giving her a pretty good idea where to go when she can during the open season.
“I was the only girl among four experienced fishermen. It was only my fourth time out fishing in the Gulf and as soon as I hooked the fish I knew it was a monster. The guys all kept yelling at me that I better not lose the fish or the pole as it was practically bent in half as I fought to pull it up. After about a 10-minute fight we pulled this beauty up. I could barely hold him out for my photo because my arms felt like Jello. After the photo, we released him and needless to say he was the biggest fish of the day.”
Below, some terrific advice from top catchers from Port St. Joe, Steinhatchee, Madeira Beach and Naples.
“Red snapper fishing on the Forgotten Coast is amazing,” says Brent Romiti of Bluewater Outriggers in Port St. Joe, the FS.com weekly Fishing 4caster. He offers this thorough and encouraging rundown of red snapper fishing in his region.
“This area of the Panhandle can arguably be one of the best regions in Florida and if not the world, to catch trophy red snapper. Spring and early summer provide the best conditions for snapper. Because the water temperature usually is not over the 80-degree mark, the fish are more responsive and fill the entire water column.
“Red snapper make up a large percentage of bottom fish caught in our area. Since 2006, new bag limits for Gulf of Mexico snapper are 2 fish per person per day. I remember not so long ago having a 7-fish bag limit. With the current laws in effect for the past few seasons, anglers are seeing bigger and better fish. Most red snapper we used to catch were just over the 16-inch mark. Now the average red snapper in our waters is around 20 to 22 inches. State water red snapper will be on fire in June. Anglers can expect nice catches in water from 30 feet to 100 feet for the entire season this year.
“With the snapper population so massive in the Panhandle, you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars at the pumps and run for three hours to get to the ‘good’ spots anymore. Mexico Beach has a very healthy snapper fishery and most spots are in the 45- to 60-foot range and just 3 to 6 miles from land. This hot spot has been producing huge red snapper for years, and is still getting better. Traveling about 20 miles east, Indian Pass is another sleeper spot for catching state water red snapper. A short boat ride to the 48-foot ledge will produce fantastic red snapper and you can even see land. Most of these spots are inshore wrecks such as shrimp boats, bridge rubble and limestone bottoms.
“Twenty-seven miles due south of Indian Pass is the Empire Mica, a 463-foot tanker torpedoed by German U-boats in WWII. This site is a great spot to land a trophy red snapper. I fished this spot twice last season with great success. Drift fish it with bottom gear. However, try to stay up from the bottom to keep from getting caught in the steel wreck. When it comes to tackle and gear for these fish, standard bottom and light trolling gear will work just fine. Fishfinder or knocker rigs are the most popular, but a flatline may be the best for catching a beast. Live pinfish, cigar minnows (scad), and menhaden are great baits. Use 20- to 40-pound mono main line or braid if you prefer with a 4- to 6-ounce lead and 3 feet of 40- to 60-pound fluorocarbon for best results. Light spinning gear will prove to be the best for flatlines. With no lead to sink it, the rig will stay up in the water column and land bigger rogue fish swimming up off the bottom. My biggest snapper are usually caught this way.
“Chumming is a must for keeping the fish with the boat. Bunker chum or frozen blocks hung from the side of the boat will keep the action going. Snapper will eat squid and cutbait as well, but if you want the big ones, stay with the big live baits! For additional info on red snapper fishing in the Panhandle, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Capt. Brent Romiti
Blue Water Outriggers
Port St. Joe
(877) 216 9600
Last year on FSTV, we did a segment on Steinhatchee with Capt. Brian Smith out of Seahag Marina. Brian puts fish in the boat, has a good time and loves the sport. We caught a great mixed bag and topped it off with scalloping close to shore—it’s a fantastic summer getaway.
“The red snapper fishing offshore from Steinhatchee,” says Capt. Brian Smith, “and surrounding areas, has been the best that anyone around here can remember. Well, when the season is open, 60 feet on out (30-plus miles) from Steinhatchee is the place to start. The best bait runs the gamut from split-frozen fish, fresh caught cutbait, small live baits and tipped jigs. Whoop Ass jigs in white or chartreuse (they can be found online) in 2- to 4-ounces kick it.
“Leaders are best scaled down to 30-pound. Fluorocarbon does prove itself in red snapper situations. The best hooks match the size of the bait used. For example, don’t ‘anchor’ a butterflied pinfish off a stout hook.
“When is the best time to go red snapper fishing off Steinhatchee? Well, my boat has thrown back hundreds of pounds of 10-pound red snapper during this unnecessary closed season. June first is the official opening, come on and hook up!”
Capt. Brian Smith
Big Bend Charters
(877) 852 FISH
Captain Travis Palladeno, Live Wire Charters, takes it to the limit in a number of ways out of Madeira Beach. He’s known for his one day—one long day—trips to the Middle Grounds for big fish, red snapper, grouper and amberjacks, among others. That far out, there’s no telling what you’ll come across, but he’s certainly accustomed to targeting red snapper. Out of Johns Pass it’s 100 miles to the Grounds in 200 to 400 feet of water, but Palladeno has the boat for it, a 45-foot racing boat with twin diesel engines customized for fishing. Certainly you don’t have to go that far to limit out on red snapper. Here’s Palladeno’s take on what the season will hold:
“June 1, the first day of red snapper season, has become one of the most anticipated fishing days of the year. Here on the West Coast of Florida, this day ranks right up there with the first day of hunting season. Red snapper stocks have been so abundant over the last few years, it’s almost like catching a fish in a barrel.
“Legal size fish can be found in as shallow as 60 feet of water. The extra large red snapper are located in depths from 240 to 430 feet. Additionally, you should be able to find them on any large relief off the West Coast of Florida. To reach 60-foot depths it’s about a 25-mile run, 240 feet is 100 miles, and 430 feet deep is 130 miles out.”
No one really wants small legal size fish for their two-per person daily limit, though the smaller fish are certainly good for baking whole. So here are some tricks from Travis to target the large fish:
“Use a 6/0 reel on a 6 1/2-foot medium-action rod and go with light lead and a 80-pound leader with a 9/0 circle hook. This allows your bait to flutter down slowly to attract the alphas at the top of the school. Same concept applies if you are jigging: Use your standard jigging tactics higher in the water column. There are a lot of circle hooks on the market. Make sure you use one that has the point positioned 90 degrees to the shank (inline). This will dramatically improve hookups. Best live baits are extra large pinfish and best frozen baits are Boston mackerel used with vertical-style jigs. Good hunting on opening day.”
Captain Travis Palladeno
Live Wire Charters LLC
Madeira Beach, Florida
To the south, out of Naples, Capt. Vic Vazquez of Naples targets the red snapper, muttons and other snapper that make up a great portion of the healthy bottom fishery of the Southwest region of Florida.
“There are some big reds as well as muttons out there,” Vazquez says, “and we catch them at the same time. I catch the red snapper here off of Naples in 150 feet of water or more which usually means 60-plus miles. I really don’t know why they never come in closer than that here, but in the 25-plus years that I have been guiding in this area, I have only caught one inside of that depth. It was a single fish that I caught off a wreck in 90 feet of water.
“The best time for them is now or early in the season as I have found that the hotter the water temperature gets, the farther I have to go to find them. When you do find them, they really aren’t too picky on what they will eat. Small pinfish, shrimp, pilchards, threads and small pieces of squid work great but other live baits and cutbait will work as well. I expect the fishing to be fantastic for them at least the first few weeks of the season. I made a couple of long runs earlier in the year and was throwing lots of them back. After the first few weeks I am sure it will taper off as the temperature gets warmer and the pressure gets greater.”
Capt. Vic Vazquez